The Super Elite

...Are the great supermodels of the eighties back again?

by Sara Wilson
It has been hard to miss the nineties’ resurgence creeping through our youth culture like a kid sister stealing your cherry chapstick. From dip-dyed grunge to Fresh Prince prints, the decade considered by most as the ‘ugliest’ is making a comeback in style. Has it really been that long? It may have been the decade to dirty up your denims and not wash your hair, but it all started in a much more glamorous way. The late eighties saw the Queen of Fashion rise up to take the Swarovski crown, the Supermodel was born. Does this mean the iconic beauties of the era will also be making a comeback?

When the word 'supermodel’ is spoken, images of Linda, Naomi, Cindy and Christy immediately begin to pose at the centre of your mind. This may be society’s view on the phrase, however the slogan was coined much earlier on. Many believe Janice Dickinson was the first supermodel since she graced 37 Vogue covers through the 1970s. Vogue was synonymous with the supermodel status, as it was the most fashionable platform to elevate fashion careers. It was the editors and magazines that made the girls. Bearing this in mind, we could say that the first supermodel was in fact Lisa Fonssagrives, who prettified the covers for over an astonishing 200 Vogue editions from the 1930s – 50s. Still, it wasn’t until the Swinging Sixties that the model gained a celebrity status to rival that of an actress. The likes of Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton found themselves in the dazzling spotlight as David Bailey began to change the ways of fashion photography. Steering away from high-class stigma and forced poses, fashion became more accessible to the young woman, automatically making the models who wore the fashions household names.

Like all fashion trends, the ideal model appearance was to change again. From the hourglass figures of the 1940s pin up actresses to the boyish frame of Twiggy in the 1960s, in 1990 we saw the sex on our shelves with the help of the magazine, Sports Illustrated. It was the healthy bodies of these models that offered a refreshing ‘California’ look. Girls aspired to look like them, men wanted to be with them. It was a recipe for a whirlwind romance between the post-punk youth culture and our glamorous fashion industry. You could say the supermodel played the crucial role of cupid.
The trinity to lead the way for this new curvaceous woman were, of course, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington. This later became six with the addition of Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford and Kate Moss, whose lack of curves made her perfect for the heroin-chic movement. These women became the pinnacle of runways with Versace, Chanel and Isaac Mizrahi pushing them into the limelight. Who could forget the George Michael ‘Too Funky’ video, dubbed one of the 'coolest events in pop culture’. It was then that the cosmetic deals came rolling in, the commercials and later TV work with Cindy successfully breaking the model boundaries by starring in her own TV show; MTV’s House of Style.

Like all relationships, the cracks began to appear once a power struggle was identified. As the supermodels' status grew, so did the egos. The models started to outshine the designers, becoming the stars of the shows rather than the clothes. Linda famously commented, “We don’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day” marking the beginning of the end for the supermodel generation. Kate Moss’s waif like figure added to this change with a shift in attitudes from the industry towards body shapes. Coat hanger types were favoured by the couture houses who had grown tired of the supers’ high demands. In the late '90s the public began to favour the more believable qualities found in celebrities forcing
actresses onto our magazine covers. As the greats became nothing more than a fond memory, we were plummeted into the slender Noughties with Kate Moss driving the fashion train through to the next millennium.

The appearance of fashion models has taken a battering from society in recent times, with most women finding the small frames unattainable and most men finding them undesirable, a far cry from the Baywatch days. Does this mean we are due for another shift in body shape from the fashion industry? Will we see a busty figure, similar to Anna Nicole Smith, in front of Testino’s lens, or did we take the supermodel for granted, banishing her from our Vogue covers forever? There is hope, as we see the good girl of modelling, Gisele Bundchen, head up some major Spring Summer 12 campaigns, including Versace. Not only did we see the Brazilian bombshell on the cover of Vogue's December 2011 issue, but it was also time for the supermodels' oldest withstanding friend, pop music, to lend a helping hand. An all star line up graced the cover of Harper's Bazaar’s December issue, in support of the comeback single and music video for a band that has always been associated with these iconic women – Duran Duran. Naomi, Eva, Yasmin, Cindy and Helena all posed as members of the band for a re-launch that will surely go down in fashion history.