why you've got to be more than just a model these days
Once upon a time, if you wanted to be the world’s next top model you had to be tall, thin, beautiful, have flawless skin, glossy hair, ten toes and, as any self-respecting Tyra fan will know, be able to ‘smize’ fiercely. Whatever happened, your job was...
Whether you want to put it down to the reaction against years of Photoshopped perfection, the rise of social media, fashion's festishisation of the new, the world's thirst for the real, Boots' two for one deals on sea green dip dye, or an increase in the amount of cool kids walking up and down the street, when it comes to modelling today, it's all about personality.
Cara Delevingne is a model, actor, singer, designer, and, according to her Twitter profile, a professional human being. She has over 6 million followers on Instagram, and has starred in every campaign you can imagine. Sure, she may have eyebrows that could launch 1000 ships, but her personality would launch a million. And she's not alone. No longer just a pretty face, the top models of today are those who have that extra something: there's the super bright, and super sharp, Edie Campbell - who famously accepted her Model of the Year award with the following: ''models don't usually have to speak, so this might be a career ending moment''; gothic princess Lily McMenamy who's weird, wonderful, and still wearing braces; mother of one Jourdan Dunn who has her own cooking show and is pretty happening at the Harlem Shake; skateboarding superbabe Natalie Westling; the former pink haired pixie Charlotte Free, and i-D's pre-fall cover girl Binx, who loves playing football and dresses like a tomboy.
"Now with girls like Cara and Joan, we're allowed to have personalities,'' muses Binx, ''we don't have to be this beautiful blonde-haired, blue-eyed thing anymore, we can be real people."
A hashtag away from the silent mannequins of old, those otherworldly visions of perfection, and a million 'like' years apart from the mythical, magical supers of the 80s, the new generation of models are loud, proud, and full of personality. But above all, they're just themselves. ''Now with girls like Cara and Joan, we're allowed to have personalities,'' muses Binx, ''we don't have to be this beautiful blonde-haired, blue-eyed thing anymore, we can be real people.'' So real, in fact, that Jeremy Scott just had them skate down the catwalk for Moschino, while Karl Lagerfeld sent them down his runway turned French boulevard, armed with custom Chanel megaphones and protest slogans, as they shouted for women's rights.
In an age where the all-seeing iEye of Instagram allows us to see everything about the lives of our favourite models from what kale 'n' carob combos they scoff for breakfast to what they feed their pets, an age where intimate selfies can be snatched from the clouds and where footage of celebrity scuffles go viral, the more we see of those we idolise, the more we idolise what we see. Gone are the days of mystic reverie; today we want to see our models as real people with real lives, and who better epitomise this than a star of the world's most watched reality TV family.
Fresh from her editorial debut in American Vogue's September issue, and having walked for practically every show this season, it's safe to say that 2014 has been a very good year for Instagirl (she has over 13,000,000 followers) Kendall Jenner. But why is the world so obsessed with her? The answer is, of course, down to the fact that we know everything about her; we've watched her grow up from the comfort of our tablets and TV screens. But it doesn't stop there. Not only do we want to see our models as real people, 2014 has also seen a rise in the amount of real people being cast as models: cue the dawn of street casting and the rise of the anti model.
Photographing cool kids off the street is nothing new; i-D was founded in 1980 as a street style fanzine dedicated to documenting the safety-pinned culture of the punks, with their aggressively spiked, brightly coloured hair, pasty skin, and brutally made up faces. At the same time, the catwalks and magazine covers of the day were dominated by the tall, tanned, toned likes of Christie Brinkley. Then again, i-D has always identified itself as being counter culture, whereas today you can find street cast models in every mainstream magazine from Vogue to Vanity Fair. Indeed, what started out as a reaction to normative standards of 'model' beauty soon turned into a social revolution.
Soon, like sky-rise buildings shooting up from the ground, platforms such as AAMO, Anti Agency, Tomorrow Is Another Day, Joel B, and other agencies of the so called 'real' began to spring up, until suddenly a whole city had been built upon this premise of personality and non-conformist looks
It began with the younger stylists first, scouring the streets for lilac haired beauties with septum piercings and skull tattoos, and then, as social media took off, all eyes turned to the freeways of the online world. Soon, like sky-rise buildings shooting up from the ground, platforms such as AAMO, Anti Agency, Tomorrow Is Another Day, Joel B, and other agencies of the so called 'real' began to spring up, until suddenly a whole city had been built upon this premise of personality and non-conformist looks. And, just like nineties nostalgia and the Ice Bucket Challenge, things began to spread.
"For so long model agents have dictated what beauty is to a degree, as that has been the gene pool we have had to choose from,'' says Angus Munro, AM Casting and i-D casting director. "Over the years we have seen a huge increase in the number of jobs that we ''street cast'', as I think that clients more and more want a real beauty, someone with a story," he adds. Flying the flag of revolution, for his first ever Diesel Reboot campaign, Nicola Formichetti cast his net over the wide streams of social media. At the same time Rick Owens sent a gang of stomping step dancers down his spring/summer 14 catwalk, while Donna Karan cherry picked a cool mix of skateboarders, artists and DJs for autumn/winter 14. Then, earlier this year, Katie Hillier and Luella Bartley were the talk of Twitter as they announced their #castmemarc campaign, before all eyes turned to back to DKNY as it launched its #CARAWANTSYOU crusade.
Although revolutionary in their giving visibility to diversity, and placing currency on personality as opposed to superficial looks, some have questioned the authenticity of these campaigns. Are they really trying to uproot our institutionalized notions of 'model' beauty? Or are they just in it for the free PR? I'm not entirely convinced by the latter, especially in the case of Champions of Diversity, and Avengers of the Marginalized, Meadham Kirchhoff, who recently held an open casting for their spring/summer 15 show. ''I feel that the old ideals of model beauty, the way fashion is presented, distributed, sold and viewed have become completely irrelevant," muses Meadham, "we look merely for an amazing personality that shows in their faces and how the kids carry themselves."
The same can be said for Nasir Mazhar and Ed Marler who also sent triumphant hoards of street cast models down their runways this season. "We used street cast models because the show was about different characters," says Marler. "I feel as though models are usually moulded into the girl you want, but it's nice to have someone who is their own person bringing something unexpected to the clothes through their attitude and walk," he concludes.
So, have we finally rid ourselves of the shackles of superficiality, where modelling is no longer about the surface? Has substance finally triumphed over style? It's hard to say. But the wheels of revolution have started to turn, and long may they continue.
Text Tish Weinstock
Photography Harry Carr