Linda. Naomi. Kate. Christy. Cindy. It’s been, what, at least fifteen years and still we call them by one name. Supermodels! Larger than life, beautiful, and sometimes (a couple of them) kind of mean, they’ve made headlines for hurling things and announcing exactly how much (a lot) it takes to get them out of bed. They are photographed possibly snorting coke with their relapsing rock-star boyfriends, they get thrown off transatlantic flights. They haven’t always been tranquil, yogic citizens but here they are, either north of 40 or pushing it, and working more than quite a few of the poreless nymphs less than half their age.
Let’s take a survey. This year alone, Linda Evangelista was the face of Prada, and on the cover of two (!) Italian Vogues. Christy Turlington got out of savasana long enough to snag an Escada campaign as well as the cover of Paris Vogue. Naomi Campbell was on the cover of Italian Vogue’s famous “black” issue, which got the whole industry talking about race more openly than it had in years, and she did the Yves Saint Laurent ad campaign. She’s slightly younger, but Shalom Harlow was the sole model in spring’s Viktor & Rolf show.
Thousands of tender young teenagers, fresh from Brazil and Eastern Europe and the corn fields of Kansas, are eager to put on the platforms and be shot by Steven Meisel. And fashion, it’s been said about 10 million times, thrives on the young. So why are we so hung up on these middle-aged moms?
One theory: nostalgie de model. “They were the last girls to get the covers,” says the casting agent James Scully, with a little sigh. What he means is this: Before our whole world was run—positively dominated—by anyone with even the wobbliest claim to West Hollywood fame, models modeled clothes, and the especially stunning ones modeled those clothes on the covers of the big books: Vogue, Elle, Bazaar. Being on the covers of magazines made them famous, not the other way around. They had personalities, and George Michael serenaded them. They weren’t afraid, they didn’t hide, they looked really good in clothes, and then they became even more famous.
Now, magazine covers—as well as a goodly number of sittings—are the exclusive domain of celebrities with something apart from themselves to promote. Most models are relegated to an attractive, silent anonymity, existing predominantly in a space in which the clothes are the stars. They are young. They are very, very thin. And quite often, they’re on their way home to Russia, Brazil, or Kyrgyzstan before we’ve even learned their names.
No wonder we want the supes! They stand for a solid, womanly, accomplished glamour in a way that a very homesick homeschooled Latvian farm girl just can’t. They wear $3,000 dresses and $4,000 shoes like they mean it, and they do. They mean it to death. For the supes, modeling is a profession and a skill, and it’s not a profession casually pursued. They are legend. And we’re happy to see them working it for as long as their really long legs will stand for it.