Who killed the supermodel?

Who killed the supermodel?

by Robyn Pullen
6 min

Back in the 90s, supermodels ran the world. More than just anonymous vessels used for walking clothes up and down a runway, supermodels were household names that rolled off the tongue without an ounce of effort. Icons like Kate Moss, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Gisele Bündchen, and Christy Turlington came to mind when the word “supermodel” was mentioned. More than just being living, breathing mannequins, they were celebrities who were revered, hounded, hated, and awed.

But try to compare the fashion sphere now with the supermodel frenzy of the 90s, and you can’t – it’s impossible. We’re sorry to drag Kendall Jenner’s career (again) but considering she’s one of the highest paid, most widely recognised models in luxury fashion today, her model status still barely scratches the surface of what supermodels used to be. Despite fitting into the technical description of a supermodel – “a successful fashion model who has reached the status of a celebrity” – few would place Kendall on the same stage as Christy Turlington or Naomi Campbell. (Sorry Kenny, we do love you. But it’s the truth.)

@miumiu ©

You might ask, “but if there’s no supermodels anymore, what do we have instead?” We get influencers and celebrities on the runway. Whilst your gut reaction to influencers and celebrities on the runway might be negative (as many people’s is) it’s actually not what it sounds.

For example, whether you’d call her an influencer or a celebrity, Julia Fox is far from a conventional model, yet she’s walked for numerous brands in the past year. Most notably her parts in Tommy Hilfiger’s FW23 and DSQUARED2’s SS24 shows were immense, stealing the spotlight and creating enough buzz to boost the brand’s collections into viral status, and why? Because people feel like they can relate to her.

@tommyhilfiger ©

Celebrities have also taken to the runway due to their cult followings, like London-based artist Slawn who walked for Mowalola’s FW23 show. Similarly, tons of K-Pop idols have made a cameo on the runway in the past few years, and it’s obvious why if you just take a glance at their millions of screaming fans: people are obsessed with them.

The main reason that brands like to cast influencers and celebrities in their shows is because they help capture the attention of younger audiences. Bretman Rock might seem like an interesting choice for the cover of Vogue when compared to the icons that’ve been featured before him, but the reality is that in 2023 people don’t give a f*** about icons – we’re more interested in seeing people we feel like we know and like on the cover. This is because we relate to them, we feel like they’re our friends, our peers who we could easily grab a drink with (despite the fact we’ve never met them and probably never will).

Jack Chipper / Culted ©

Our generation is so obsessed with social media that it’s no surprise the people we follow on TikTok and Instagram are making their way onto the runway. I mean, isn’t the very job of the runway model to influence you to buy a brand’s clothes? We’re just more prepared to copy the style of a person we respect, know, and relate to (e.g. Bretman Rock) than a supermodel we think we could never look like anyway, even if we did buy the same jeans as them.

@coperni ©

You might be screaming at your screen that there are a few remaining supermodels, and if so it’s debatable but we’ll humour you. Arguably, you could say that some of the last of the dying breed are the likes of Bella Hadid, Adut Akech, Anok Yai, Imaan Hammam, and Palomma Elsesser. And undeniably they’re all iconic models with breathtaking walks and enough confidence to justify them as more than worthy of the “supermodel” title. However, they’re also not nearly as much in the public eye as the past generations’ supermodels were, whilst celebrities like Julia Fox (DSQUARED2), Mia Goth (Miu Miu), and Dua Lipa (Versace) are.

Louis Vuitton©

Whether or not you agree that the “supermodel” has been buried by influencers and celebrities in 2023, brands are certainly starting to think so. As more influencers and celebs are welcomed onto the runway, creating a louder buzz every time, more and more brands will follow suit. Pharrell’s first Louis Vuitton show was the perfect example of it, putting Pusha T on the runway and being met with a viral reaction from fans.

From our perspective, the era of the supermodel is just kind of over and maybe it’s not for the worse. We’re actually looking forward to seeing more of the people we know, like, and probably follow on social media take to the runway.

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