A supermodel (also spelled super-model and super model) is a highly paid fashion model who usually has a worldwide reputation and often a background in haute couture and commercial modeling. The term supermodel became prominent in the popular culture of the 1980s.
Supermodels usually work for top fashion designers and famous clothing brands. They have multi-million dollar contracts, endorsements and campaigns. They have branded themselves as household names and worldwide recognition is associated with their modeling careers. They have been on the covers of prestigious magazines such as French, British and Italian Vogue. Claudia Schiffer stated, "In order to become a supermodel one must be on all the covers all over the world at the same time so that people can recognise the girls."
An early use of the term supermodel appeared in 1891 in an interview with artist Henry Stacy Marks for The Strand Magazine, in which Marks told journalist Harry How, "A good many models are addicted to drink, and, after sitting a while, will suddenly go to sleep. Then I have had what I call the 'super' model. You know the sort of man; he goes in for theatrical effect ..." On October 6, 1942, a writer named Judith Cass had used the term supermodel for her article in the Chicago Tribune, which headlined "Super Models are Signed for Fashion Show". Later in 1943, an agent named Clyde Matthew Dessner used the term in a "how-to" book about modeling entitled So You Want to Be a Model! According to Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women by Michael Gross, Gross stated the term supermodel was first used by Dessner. In 1947, anthropologist Harold Sterling Gladwin wrote "supermodel" in his book Men Out of Asia. In 1949, the magazine Hearst's International Combined with Cosmopolitan referred to Anita Colby, the highest paid model at the time, as a "supermodel": "She's been super model, super movie saleswoman, and top brass at Selznick and Paramount." On 18 October 1959, Vancouver's Chinatown News described Susan Chew as a "supermodel".
The term supermodel had been used several times in the media in the 1960s and 1970s. In May 1967, the Salisbury Daily Times referred to Twiggy as a supermodel; the February 1968 article of Glamour magazine listed all 19 "supermodels"; the Chicago Daily Defender wrote "New York Designer Turns Super Model" in January 1970; The Washington Post and Mansfield News Journal used the term in 1971; and in 1974 both the Chicago Tribune and The Advocate also used the term "supermodel" in their articles. American Vogue used the term "super-model" to describe Jean Shrimpton in the 15 October 1965 edition and "supermodel" on the cover page to describe Margaux Hemingway in the 1 September 1975 edition. Jet also described Beverly Johnson as a "supermodel" in the 22 December 1977 edition.
Model Janice Dickinson states that she coined the term supermodel in 1979 as a compound of Superman and model. During an interview with Entertainment Tonight, Dickinson stated that her agent Monique Pilar of Elite Model Management asked her, "Janice, who do you think you are, Superman?" She replied, "No ... I'm a supermodel, honey, and you will refer to me as a supermodel and you will start a supermodel division." Dickinson also claims to be the first supermodel.
Lisa Fonssagrives is widely considered the world's first supermodel. She was in most of the major fashion magazines and general interest magazines from the 1930s to the 1950s, including Town & Country, Life, Vogue, the original Vanity Fair, Harper's Bazaar, and Time. Dorian Leigh has also been called the world's first supermodel, as well as Gia Carangi, and Jean Shrimpton.
In February 1968, an article in Glamour described 19 models as "supermodels", of whom were: Cheryl Tiegs, Verushka, Lisa Palmer, Peggy Moffitt, Susan (Sue) Murray, Twiggy, Sunny Harnett, Marisa Berenson, Gretchen Harris, Heide Wiedeck, Irish Bianchi, Hiroko Matsumoto, Anne de Zogheb, Kathy Carpenter, Jean Shrimpton, Jean Patchett, Benedetta Barzini, Claudia Duxbury, and Agneta Frieberg.
In the 1970s, some models became more prominent as their names became more recognizable to the general public. Sports Illustrated editor Jule Campbell abandoned then-current modeling trends for its fledgling Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue by photographing "bigger and healthier" California models and printing their names by their photos, thus turning many of them into household names and establishing the issue as a cornerstone of supermodel status.
In 1975, Margaux Hemingway landed a then-unprecedented million-dollar contract as the face of Fabergé's Babe perfume and the same year appeared on the cover of Time magazine, labelled one of the "New Beauties", giving further name recognition to fashion models.
Lauren Hutton became the first model to receive a huge contract from a cosmetics company and appeared on cover of Vogue 25 times. Iman is considered to have been the first supermodel of color.
Donyale Luna was the first black model to appear in British Vogue, Naomi Sims, who is sometimes regarded as the first black supermodel, became the first African American to feature on the cover of Ladies' Home Journal in 1968. The first African American model to be on the cover of American Vogue was Beverly Johnson in 1974.
Other notable "supermodels" of the time were Iman, Cybill Shepherd, Patti Hansen, Penelope Tree, Grace Jones, Lauren Hutton, Janice Dickinson, Rene Russo, Gia Carangi, Jerry Hall, Wilhelmina Cooper, Christie Brinkley, Edie Sedgewick and Kelly Emberg.
In October 1981, Life cited Shelley Hack, Lauren Hutton, and Iman for Revlon, Margaux Hemingway for Fabergé, Karen Graham for Estee Lauder, Christina Ferrare for Max Factor, and Cheryl Tiegs for Cover Girl by proclaiming them the "million dollar faces" of the beauty industry. These supermodels negotiated previously unheard of lucrative and exclusive deals with giant cosmetics companies, were instantly recognizable, and their names became well known to the public.
In the early 1980s, Inès de la Fressange was the first model to sign an exclusive modeling contract with an haute couture fashion house, Chanel. During the early 1980s, fashion designers began advertising on television and billboards. Catwalk regulars like Gia Carangi, Cheryl Tiegs, Christie Brinkley, Kim Alexis, Paulina Porizkova, Kathy Ireland, Brooke Shields, Heather Locklear, Carol Alt, and Elle Macpherson began to endorse products with their names, as well as their faces, through the marketing of brands such as the beverage Diet Pepsi to the extension of car title Ford Trucks.
As the models began to embrace old-style glamour, they were starting to replace film stars as symbols of luxury and wealth. In this regard, supermodels were viewed not so much as individuals but as images.
By the 1990s, the supermodel became increasingly prominent in the media. The title became tantamount to superstar, to signify a supermodel's fame having risen simply from "personality." Supermodels did talk shows, were cited in gossip columns, partied at the trendiest nightspots, landed movie roles, inspired franchises, dated or married film stars, and earned themselves millions. Fame empowered them to take charge of their careers, to market themselves, and to command higher fees.
The defining year and turning point for models, fashion, and popular culture was 1990 when the combined power, singular beauty and influence of five women created such an impression on the world that a new word was coined especially for them: supermodel. January 1990 began with a British Vogue cover presenting five models - Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, and Tatjana Patitz - who had gradually attained fame since the mid-1980s, and were now the industry's top stars, responsible for expanding and positively changing ideals of beauty due to their individual and idiosyncratic looks. Handpicked by photographer Peter Lindbergh for the January cover of Vogue, the now famous cover inspired pop star George Michael to cast the same five models in the music video for his international hit song, "Freedom! '90", directed by David Fincher. Each supermodel attained world-wide fame and fortune, sharing covers of all the international editions of Vogue, walking the catwalks for the world's top designers, and becoming known by their first names alone.
In 1991, Christy Turlington signed a contract with Maybelline that paid her $800,000 for twelve days' work each year. Four years later, Claudia Schiffer reportedly earned $12 million for her various modeling assignments. Authorities ranging from Karl Lagerfeld to Time had declared the supermodels more glamorous than movie stars.
As the phenomenon progressed, the supermodels were joined by Stephanie Seymour, Claudia Schiffer, and then in 1992 Kate Moss. They were the most heavily in demand, collectively dominating magazine covers, fashion runways, editorial pages, and both print and broadcast advertising. Excluding Moss, they are known as the "original supermodels".
In the 2006 book, In Vogue: The Illustrated History of the World's Most Famous Fashion Magazine (Rizzoli), the editors cite the "original supermodels" and Claudia Shiffer when quoting Vogue Magazine Editor-In-Chief, Anna Wintour, who said, "Those girls were so fabulous for fashion and totally reflected that time ... [They] were like movie stars." The editors name famous models from previous decades, but explain that, "None of them attained the fame and world-wide renown bestowed on Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Tatjana Patitz, Stephanie Seymour, Claudia Schiffer, Amber Valletta, Yasmeen Ghauri, and Karen Mulder in the late 1980s and early 1990s. These models burst out beyond the pages of the magazines. Many became the faces of cosmetics brands and perfumes, had their own television programs and physical-fitness videos and their own lines of lingerie ... Their lives, activities, influences, and images were the subjects of all types of sociological and historical analysis."
In the mid-1990s, the initial era of the supermodel ended and a new era for the supermodel began driven by heroin chic. By the late 1990s, actresses, pop singers, and other entertainment celebrities began gradually replacing models on fashion magazine covers and ad campaigns. The pendulum of limelight left many models in anonymity. A popular "conspiracy theory" explaining the supermodel's disappearance is that designers and fashion editors grew weary of the "I won't get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day" attitude and made sure no small group of models would ever again have the power of the Big Six.
Charles Gandee, associate editor at Vogue, has said that high prices and poor attitudes contributed less to the decline of the supermodel. As clothes became less flashy, designers turned to models who were less glamorous, so they wouldn't overpower the clothing. Whereas many supermodels of the previous era were American-born, their accents making for an easier transition to stardom, the majority of models began coming from non-English speaking countries and cultures, making the crossover to mainstream spokesperson and cover star difficult. However, the term continued to be applied to notable models such as Laetitia Casta, Eva Herzigová, Carla Bruni, Tatiana Sorokko, Yasmin Le Bon, Shalom Harlow, Nadja Auermann, Helena Christensen, Patricia Velásquez, Adriana Karembeu, Milla Jovovich. and Valeria Mazza.
2000s and present day
Emerging in the late 1990s, Gisele Bündchen became the first in a wave of Brazilian models to gain popularity in the industry and with the public. With numerous covers of Vogue under her belt, including an issue that dubbed her the "Return of the Sexy Model," Bündchen was credited with ending the "heroin chic" era of models. Following in her footsteps by signing contracts with Victoria's Secret, fellow Brazilians Adriana Lima and Alessandra Ambrosio rose to prominence; however, this "new trinity" were unable to cross over into the world of TV, movies and talk shows as easily as their predecessors due to their foreign accents.
Several seasons later, they were followed by Eastern Europeans barely into their teens, pale, and "bordering on anorexic. They were too young to become movie stars or date celebrities; too skeletal to bag Victoria's Secret contracts; and a lack of English didn't bode well for a broad media career". The opportunities for super-stardom were waning in the modeling world, and models like Heidi Klum and Tyra Banks took to television with reality shows like Project Runway and America's Next Top Model, respectively, to not only remain relevant but establish themselves as media moguls.
Contrary to the fashion industry's celebrity trend of the previous decade, lingerie retailer Victoria's Secret continues to groom and launch young talents into supermodel status, awarding their high-profile "Angels" multi-year, multi-million-dollar contracts. In addition to Klum, Banks, Bündchen, Lima, and Ambrosio, these models have included Karolína Kurková, Miranda Kerr, Izabel Goulart, Selita Ebanks, and Marisa Miller. Although some, such as Claudia Schiffer, argued that Bündchen is the only model who comes close to earning the supermodel title.
American Vogue dubbed ten models (Doutzen Kroes, Agyness Deyn, Hilary Rhoda, Raquel Zimmermann, Coco Rocha, Lily Donaldson, Chanel Iman, Sasha Pivovarova, Caroline Trentini, and Jessica Stam) as the new crop of supermodels in their May 2007 cover story, while the likes of Christie Brinkley, Christy Turlington, and Linda Evangelista returned to reclaim prominent contracts from celebrities and younger models.
Critical perception of the supermodel as an industry has been frequent inside and outside the fashion press, from complaints that women desiring this status become unhealthily thin to charges of racism, where the "supermodel" generally has to conform to a Northern European standard of beauty. According to fashion writer Guy Trebay of The New York Times, in 2007, the "android" look is popular, a vacant stare and thin body serving, according to some fashion industry conventions, to set off the couture. This was not always the case. In the 1970s, black, heavier and "ethnic" models dominated the runways but social changes since that time have made the power players in the fashion industry shun suggestions of "otherness".
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