Tian Yi, Du Juan, Liu Wen, Emma Pei, Sun Feifei, Shu Pei, Liu Yifei, He Sui, Ming Xi, you name them, have been ruling runways form Shanghai to New York and bagging brand endorsements from Bread’nButter to Balenciaga. The Middle Kingdom has generated a new generation of TopShop models ((超模, literally “extreme model”) who have been taking over the fashion spreads for the past 8 years. A treat of tasty, tempting, toothsome rapture, the real question becomes: How did models go from “starlet” to “super”?
Please note: This piece was originally written by Elsbeth van Paridon and first published as a column on China’s very first mobile fashion app LaWo.
Vogue Magazine In its 15 October 1965 edition first Coined the term “supermodel”. A new generation of models stepped up and Marched down the catwalk.
The China model has come a long way ever since Pierre Cardin hosted the nation’s first fashion show in Beijing in 1979. And so have models trotting their stuff all over the globe. This post is not necessarily about the Chinese supermodel, as it is about the rise, the rush and the Reign Supreme of the Supermodel. Who in turn paved the way for the rise of the in-demand China Model. A little fashion history 101 because the modeling scene all started once upon a time, and not in a kingdom far far away. Now, let’s stretch those legs and get strutting!
Hollywood stars and society muses such as Wallis Simpson alike proved the fashionable Orson Welles of the day.
Models On The Rise
Vogue Magazine (est. 1892) in the 1910s realized before anyone else that people were interested to take a peek behind the high society curtains and fashion consequently aped high society. Performers and actresses possessed that much-coveted star quality; socialites exuded an air of money and class. Speaking in modernday mode: Both the former and the latter enjoyed millions of Weibo and IG likes plus followers, rightfully carrying the modeling-torch of the era. At a time of bootleggers and flappers, the first modeling agency in 1923 saw the light in the city that never sleeps, aka New York. Nonetheless, since John Doe deemed modeling tob e somewhat of a “cute pastime thingamajob”, for the first half of the 20th century, every secretary in town still wanted to ooze a Joan Crawford aura. Hollywood stars and society muses such as Wallis Simpson alike proved the fashionable Orson Welles of the day. Then came the Swinging Sixties…
Amid social mayhem, revolutionary music and changing fashions, a fresh set of model muses emerged, in the process altering the public perception of “beauty” and carving out/coining the term “supermodel”. Vogue in its 15 October 1965 edition used the term “supermodel” to describe Jean Shrimpton, one iconic model who trail-blazed the path for a new cover girl crop spawning from the mod fashion and multifarious cultural scene that flourished in London, aka the Swinging London movement. “The Shrimp” was discovered by famed (and Diana Vreeland — Empress of American Vogue at the time — favorite) photographer David Bailey in 1960 and went on to feature on endless fashion covers, as well as popularize the mini-skirt. Inarguably the Queen of Mod, and perhaps the best-known face of that era, Twiggy hit the Big Ben time at just 16-years-old. Her signature look of the cropped haircut, spider eyelashes and boyishly petite frame, soon became synonymous with “mod(ern)” and landed her the cover of every magazine that mattered.
On a highly important and revolutionary note, Beverly Johnson in 1974 became the first-ever African American model to feature on the cover of American Vogue.
A New Crop Rushes Fashion Week
Much like the supermodel of the 1960s, the 70s model reflected the changing times in society-at-large. They, too, managed to break down barriers, shaking and stirring things up. Every girl left her own footprint on the industry. Think Lauren Hutton, who in 1973 became the first model ever to sign an exclusive cosmetic contract with beauty giant Revlon. On another highly revolutionary note, Beverly Johnson in 1974 became first-ever African American model to have her face put on the cover of American Vogue. Having strutted down the unbeaten path, she went on to appear on more than 500 magazine covers. By 1975, every major American fashion designer had at long last started to employ African-American models. Jerry Hall, Janice Dickinson and Iman graced the covers of many a mode publication; all were known to (wo)men across the globe.
As we head into those fashionably-incorrect-to-some but fashionably-fun-to-me 1980s, we see the likes of Carol Alt and Christie Brinkley ruling the waves of exclusive advertising. For the first time since 1923, models were raking in the cash through beauty campaigns, Sports Illustrated deals, and so the list continues. No longer just a symbol of status, modeling had become a means to big bucks. And they’d only just begun. A storm was brewing in the late 80s and early 90s, and soon fashion would witness an intoxicating era of never-before-seen supermodels saying, and being misunderstood in doing so, they “wouldn’t get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day”. Brilliant. These models would be in music videos, grace billboards across the world and dominate magazine covers for years to come… They became household names and brands in their own right. ‘Twas the dawn of the Holy Trinity: Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington. They put the “super” in “supermodel”.
The 90s Supermodels were omnes-agreed-upon beauties with lean-yet-toned physiques, literally working their… buns off at the gym.
The Supermodel Reigns Supreme
The age of the Supers began in 1990, with that defining British Vogue cover of Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, and Tatjana Patitz shot by Peter Lindbergh. The image created such a stir in the fashion world that these women became the ultimate embodiment of the term “supermodel”. Campbell, Crawford, Evangelista, Patitz and Turlington were viewed as “The Big Five” supermodels of the 1990s, with Claudia Schiffer joining in a little later to boot. From The Big Five to Elle “The Body” Macpherson, Helena Christensen, Stephanie Seymour, Tyra Banks, Kristen McMenamy and Veronica Webb, these were omni-agreed-upon beauties with lean-yet-toned physiques, literally working their… buns off at the gym. They managed to be firmly in control of their careers and for the most part have worked more or less steadily for the past 20 years. Take a look at Evangelista’s ad campaigns for Prada and John Galliano in recent years or Crawford’s several successful businesses such as the organic Meaningful Beauty line. Think Macpherson Intimates, the model-turned-entrepreneur’s signature lingerie line or model-turned-photographer Christensen who co-founded Nylon magazine. The legs go on and on.
By the 90s, supermodels had become superstars. They went on Leno and Letterman, they were gossiped about on Page Six (including that one rumor of Crawford and Turlington making out at some trendy nightspot), they partied at the hottest clubs with the hottest stars, they landed (often much regretted) movie roles and they inspired franchises. It didn’t end there. Their love lives included moviestars, musicians and celebs du jour such as Robert Deniro, Adam Clayton, Kyle McLachlan and Christian Slater. Fame had empowered them to take charge of their careers, to market themselves and to command higher fees. At the end of the epoch, they’d earned themselves millions and millions of cold hard catwalk cash. Beauty met brains in that once upon a time simply perfect Supermodel Superstorm.
The Supermodels paved the way for a new catwalk generation, including the new crop of the China Model. And so the cycle continues. Plus, should you seek some fashion-meets-fitness inspiration, by all means, model yourself after these women.