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the rise of the it-model: fashion’s new super fame

With celebrity models like Kendall Jenner and Cara Delevingne on the runways, fashion is generating a new level of household fame for itself. Anders Christian Madsen explores how it-models came to be.

Anders Christian Madsen

Mitchell Sams

Kendall Jenner's breakthrough on the runways last season felt like the culmination but also the ultimate beginning of a new fashion phenomenon: it-models. Sure, famous models have been around since Twiggy's 60s, the supermodels of the 80s and 90s, and the Victoria's Secret and Sports Illustrated models, who've become household names. But the new it-model is different in her fame. These girls - Kendall, Gigi Hadid, Ireland Baldwin - may be celebrity kids, but unlike the wave of those children of famous people that hit us, and especially Britain, throughout the 2000s, they don't come from silver screen or stage royalty, but rather something more substandard: TV entertainers.

Fashion has always loved its tongue-in-cheek subversion. We like to flirt with the trashy, the tawdry, or the camp; take someone uncool and make them cool. It's a transformation observed all around the current fashion landscape, from the celebrity pin-ups we invite to shows and events to certain very successful fashion designers, and now models, too. But what's interesting about these new American girls is that their British counterparts, who've made their rise to fame possible over recent years, are, in certain ways, their total opposites. Cara Delevingne, who arguably ignited this new wave of it-models, comes from an upper-class background just like her fellow British it-model Suki Waterhouse.

For more than a decade, Britain has cultivated the daughters and sons of its native ageing rock stars and actors, putting them in fashion shows, campaigns and on red carpets. This is the climate that still easily creates an it-model like Georgia May Jagger, while Suki (the daughter of a plastic surgeon) and Cara (the granddaughter of a viscount) have breathed new air into a kind of celebration of Sloane Rangers, even if they don't wear the Chelsea girl uniform and frequent Peter Jones. Kendall, Gigi and Ireland all come from wealthy families, but they're not posh by American standards; they're not Ivy League girls, who hang out with the Kennedys and summer in the Hamptons. They're much more LA, much glitzier.

While it's not so weird or new that high fashion would embrace posh British girls like Cara and Suki, or rock star royalty like Georgia May, its acceptance of Kendall and Gigi in particular is something entirely new, which signals a shift in high fashion, which has always been somewhat snobbish and elitist, and definitely not welcoming of something as low culture as reality TV.

Kendall rose to fame on Keeping Up with the Kardashians, and has Bruce Jenner, an Olympic gold winner, for a father and Kris Jenner, reality TV's most impressive businesswoman, for a mother. Gigi Hadid is the daughter of businessman Mohamed Hadid, while her mother is Yolanda Foster, who stars on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. (She's now married to songwriter David Foster, who produced some of the best pop songs of our time, and who used to be married to Linda Thompson, who's the mother of Bruce Jenner's sons Brody and Brandon Jenner. Small town, Hollywood.) Ireland, of course, is the daughter of Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin, and was indeed the child the latter called "a rude, thoughtless little pig" on a leaked voicemail message in 2007. All very TMZ.

While it's not so weird or new that high fashion would embrace posh British girls like Cara and Suki, or rock star royalty like Georgia May, its acceptance of Kendall and Gigi in particular is something entirely new, which signals a shift in high fashion, which has always been somewhat snobbish and elitist, and definitely not welcoming of something as low culture as reality TV. It's hard to imagine Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton making it to a Paris runway in their The Simple Life days. So why are we loosening the reigns on the high cultural fortress of fashion? Maybe it's an just extreme degree of the subversion fashion has always dabbled in, or perhaps it's symptomatic of our increasing thirst for entertainment in fashion.

When Kendall walks a show, she's not just a model walking a show. There's a celebrity element that can't be denied, no matter how professional she is about her work, and how great she is at modelling. When her overwhelmingly famous sister Kim Kardashian goes backstage with Kanye West at the Balmain or Givenchy shows, Kris Jenner in tow, Kendall has to step out of her model role and into her world-famous celebrity role and get her picture taken with her family and the designers. It would be weird if she didn't. And so, fashion gets an element of household fame at every single show Kendall walks. Her very presence is so powerful that it literally turns a fashion trade show into a high-profile fashion event with the celebrity attendance required for such an event.

Cara and Suki weren't famous for anything but modelling before they became models, which puts them in a different category of it-models. But because of her noble family, her socialite sister Poppy, and her parents' ties to the entertainment world (Joan Collins is her godmother), Cara quickly caught the attention of tahe conservative press, which eventually catapulted her into mainstream stardom. The addition of a Hollywood girlfriend, Michelle Rodriguez, only intensified her celebrity, much like Suki, who didn't become a fixture on The Daily Mail's website until she started dating Bradley Cooper.

All of a sudden, the posh British it-models crossed over into the show business territory occupied by Kendall, Gigi and Ireland, creating a kind of unification of low culture fame, high culture fame, niche fame, and mainstream fame, which eventually simply turns into world fame. The American girls, of course, did the same thing, just the other way around. And there you have it: fashion's very own superstar models, famous not just in fashion (like most models are) but outside fashion, too. They're the property of the industry, who created them and trademarked them, and we get to use their gigantic spotlight every we'd like the eyes of the world, and not just those of fashion, to look our way. The funny thing is, their fame easily exceeds that of most designers, prompting the question: who really has the power now? Fashion or the it-models fashion created?

Credits


Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Mitchell Sams