For nearly a month now, a ginormous Calvin Klein billboard has overlooked Manhattan’s busy Houston Street. The picture is clearly inspired by the brand’s iconic ’90s-era campaign, and features Lara Stone in underwear-clad repose, giving the same insouciant stare Kate Moss did 20 years ago. Striking as the image is, however, many people would say it’s a pale imitation of the original thing.
"There will never be anything like the era of the supermodel again," famed fashion photographer Peter Lindbergh firmly told the Telegraph last year. "There were ten faces ruling the world, but those ten faces were eventually corrupted by the beauty and fashion industries. They lost all of that freshness, all of the independence and simply became what the women in magazines had been before."
Model Eva Herzigova, who came up in the age of the Holy Trinity, would agree. "There will never be another group of supers like us," she said in an interview with the London Evening Standard in 2011. "There might be famous models but they won’t be referred to as supers. The term ‘supermodel’ is a phenomenon of the ’90s, and it belongs to that era." But I think it can be argued that just because modern models don’t have the same title as a comic book character doesn’t mean they haven’t earned it. As this article for Forbes points out, women in the industry used to be best known for their pretty faces and the men that that dated. But thanks to the boom of social media, they’ve turned what used to be a pretty one-dimensional job into an interactive lifestyle worth sharing with millions of fans daily.
"Hiya NYC #MyCalvins #Underwear #HoustonXLafayette #MeReallyBig @calvinklein," Lara captioned a Twitpic shot of her CK advertisement the day it went up. The post got 59 retweets, 158 favorites and 8 comments from the 94.9K followers she updates daily. That type of interaction is, in my opinion, what sets this new guard of models apart. Take Cara Delevingne, for instance, who nearly broke Instagram when she created an account for her new pet bunny Cecil. The rabbit racked up over 7,000 followers in less than 15 minutes, and currently has 108,437 users tuned into his feed. Small potatoes, of course, compared to his It Brit owner’s own bunch of Insta fans, which at 6,413,247 are several million higher than original supes Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington numbers combined. So why the huge disparity?
Part of it is the frequency, and the type of things that she posts. Like so many of her contemporaries, Delevingne essentially narrates her day-to-day life on Instagram and Twitter, and takes the time to interact with her legions of followers. It’s not uncommon for her feed to feature a re-posted fan messages or photos. Old school supers on the other hand, have somewhat embraced new technology, but don’t approach it with the same un-filtered gusto as this younger generation. Whereas people might be interested in Naomi’s accounts because she’s glamorous and mysterious and sometimes uploads a picture of her friend Kate Moss on a yacht(!), they can better relate to the content of this modern, approachable generation of models, who talk about everything from their workouts (hey Karlie! I’m trying ModelFit tonight because of you!) to family pictures (Flynn Bloom is the cutest) to kitchen mishaps (Christy Teigen, you’ll get ravioli right one day, I just know it!).
Another surefire sign that Gen Y models are taking over the world is the mainstream magazine covers they’re starting to occupy: Joan Smalls for the January 2013 ELLE, Teen Vogue spotlighting Kendall Jenner in next month’s issue and—perhaps the biggest beacon of all—Vogue‘s recently debuted September 2014 edition, starring "Instagirls" Joan Smalls, Cara Delevingne, Karlie Kloss, Arizona Muse, Edie Campbell, Imaan Hammam, Fei Fei Sun, Vanessa Axente and Andreea Diaconu. As those coveted spots have been solely occupied by popular actresses and musicians for well over a decade now, the sudden shift is signaficant. It’s a barrier even that even some of the biggest supes haven’t been able to break.
Perhaps that’s because the statuesque crew associated with George Michaels’ Freedom video, flippant comments about getting out of bed for $10,000 and whole lot of Steven Meisel photography were only expected to be good at one thing: posing for pictures. These days, making it isn’t just about looking good on camera. You’ve got to be a one-woman brand as well, with the ability to swing between editorial work, TV hosting, clothing collaborations and lifestyle blogging with ease (all while documenting the process on your iPhone, of course). In that respect, perhaps Herzigova was right; the gig attached to the original supermodel title simply doesn’t exist anymore. But as for beautiful, captivating women that get us excited about fashion? They’re still here and, I’d say, still pretty super.