There are more than 430 million people working in the fashion industry around the world. Sewers, patternmakers, designers, illustrators, craftsmen, tailors, merchandisers, and so many others, are responsible for making the fashion industry operate from start to finish.
Today, we will talk about the role of one of these jobs in fashion. This job is one of the most well-known, and its role has changed throughout the years as the way we interact with fashion has changed. Today, we will talk about fashion models and their role in fashion.
Before the Industrial Revolution, fashion models weren’t a thing. People were making their own clothes or hiring sewists to make their clothes. It was until the 1800s that Charles Frederick Worth (known by many as the first couturier) hired models instead of using mannequins to sell his clothes. The transition from using mannequins to hiring live models may seem like a strategy to make the clothes look more “lively.” However, for many years, even during the first decades of the 10th century, the live models were referred to as “mannequins.” (It was common to hear people say, “she works as a mannequin at X boutique).
For the first part of the 20th century, the aesthetic of fashion shows was fairly similar. Yes, the clothes varied from one designer to another. But there wasn’t a lot of livelihood in the way models walked the runway. The backgrounds were very modest, and the music was meant to be complimentary, not distracting.
In the last couple of decades, fashion shows have been all about storytelling. Karl Lagerfeld’s fashion shows for Chanel were based on a supermarket-inspired runway or around a spaceship. Maria Grazia’s shows for Dior are all about celebrating cultural diversity, collaborating with artisans from Spain, in a fashion show based in the heart of Sevilla, with flamenco dancers on a summer night. The livelihood of these fashion shows has required fashion models to develop a strong identity while also being chameleonic and able to interpret different attitudes and vibes season after season.
The role of the fashion model has changed throughout time. Let’s talk about some of the roles that fashion models are taking in today’s political fashion world.
Fashion models as celebrities
In the 1990s fashion models became recognizable, not just by their faces, but also by their names. Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Kate Moss. These names appeared on the cover of magazines. They were seen walking on the runways and sitting next to the most important Fashion Designers at galas and parties.
Their faces were very recognizable, as they appeared on billboards, on the cover of magazines, walked to events with fashion designers and celebrities, and hosted parties that became part of the aspirational lifestyle of being a fashion model.
Fashion models as nepo babies
The term nepo baby became very popular in 2022 on Twitter, particularly when referring to Maude Apatow, an actress starring in Euphoria, who is the daughter of director Judd Apatow and actress Leslie Mann. A lot of fans found out that one of the most beloved talents of Euphoria wasn’t necessarily a self-made artist as many people believed she was.
Nepotism babies, or nepo babies are children of celebrities who follow a similar (or even the same) career as their parents. For centuries, wealthy kids have inherited the wealth of their families. Businesses, empires, last names, and places. Some of them simply continue the legacy without bringing anything new to the table. Others use the resources they have and create their own identity and businesses. (Paris Hilton, great-granddaughter of the founder of Hilton hotels, had great support in her early years but managed to build her own brand identity, businesses, and career).
So many fashion models in today’s world are not necessarily talents who fought incredibly hard to stand out in casting and get the opportunity to model. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t good models. It’s just that they were born with an advantage and used it to start a career in modeling.
Kaia Gerber - Daughter of Cindy Crawford
Kaia Gerber is a big name in today’s fashion. She started her career when she was 16 years old, and she has walked runways for Fendi, Stella McCartney, Versace, Chanel, Prada, Moschino, Alexander McQueen, Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford, Coach, and so many more fashion houses and relevant names in the industry. Her editorial appearances include the cover of Vogue Japan, Vogue India, British Vogue, and Vogue Italia. Kaia Gerber is a nepo baby, as she is the daughter of iconic fashion model from the 90s Cindy Crawford, and businessman - former model Rande Gerber.
Kendall Jenner - Daughter of Kris Jenner
Kendall Jenner is another great example of nepotism in fashion modeling. The beginning of her career was televised on Keeping up with the Kardashians, the attention and support her mom provided her through the empire she built and the network Kris Jenner was constructing through partners and contracts have been essential to the appearances, Vogue covers, and contracts that Kendall Jenner has received as a fashion model.
Lila Grace Moss - Daughter of Kate Moss
Lila Grace Moss Hack is following the steps of her mom, iconic British fashion model Kate Moss. The mother-daughter duo arrived at the Met Gala in 2022 with Burberry dresses. One of the many headlines of this event pointed out how Lila had an insulin monitor and pump, and fans celebrated that she didn’t make any effort to cover them with sleeves, makeup, or accessories.
Fashion models as social media personalities
Being a fashion model is a professional career. It requires character, strength, discipline, persuasion, and well-developed skills to interpret different personalities and attitudes on the runway and in photoshoots.
In many ways, being a model is similar to being an actor. It’s about interpreting a character and communicating a message through body language.
Social media gave small businesses and emerging designers a huge opportunity to start their own businesses with platforms that can make their work visible around the world. However, if everyone with a smartphone and a small business has this opportunity, the internet gets saturated with similar photos with the same intentions.
In order to stand out, fashion businesses leverage the influence that social media personalities already have. This way, the fashion company can be known by the followers of the personality, and the personality can be known by those who followed the brand.
This is why it is very common to see fashion influencers walking on runways or models becoming influencers. These careers are not synonyms, as modeling still requires a lot of work, discipline, and coordination. But if, on top of that, these models have a notable number of followers, this might be particularly attractive for fashion companies.
This doesn’t mean that only folks with millions of followers can make it to the catwalk in Fashion week. Several brands prefer to focus on micro-influencers. This means personalities who can target a specific demographic or whose voice hasn’t become so mainstream. That is how their modeling and social media advertisement can seem slightly more organic and less scripted or generic.
Fashion models as diversity advocates
Many kids dream of being supermodels when they grow up. They see fashion shows online. They see the cover of magazines. There is something magical about the voluminous dresses, the professional makeup, the extraordinary hairstyles, and the fantastic backgrounds in fashion editorials that seem like an escape from reality.
But kids grow up, and when they desire to pursue a professional career in modeling, it turns out their legs are too wide or too narrow. They are too short. The hands are too long. The feet are too big. The forehead is too wide. The breasts are too small. The hips are too wide. And the list goes on and on. Turns out that the fantastic land they thought modeling would be, ended up being a complete fantasy. However, in a fight to address many of the misleading messages that the fashion industry stimulates with its restrictive ideals of beauty, things have started to change a little bit.
We have talked about how fashion has started to take baby steps toward inclusion. Little by little we start to see a variety of bodies, ages, colors, and sizes on the runway. Several factors have opened these doors to inclusion, but the most important one is the consumer’s demand for diversity.
And we seem to forget fashion models are humans. We forget that fashion models eat, feel, laugh, fall in love, get rejected, cry, and buy clothing. Fashion models are fashion consumers as well. And it is maybe their previous negative experiences as fashion consumers that motivate them to speak about areas of opportunity in fashion, starting conversations about the importance of making room for people of different backgrounds and celebrating each other, not as an act of sympathy or pettiness, but as an act of kindness.
Rebekah Marine, also known as the Bionic model, is an activist, public speaker, and fashion model. She was born without a right forearm. Throughout her career, she has raised awareness of the importance of adaptive clothing. She is also an ambassador of Lucky-Fin Project, a non-profit organization.
Winnie Harlow started getting mainstream attention through American Next Top Model. Ever since, she has worked as a fashion model in different parts of the world, and served as a spokesperson for vitiligo, a skin condition that one in every 100 Americans has.
Fashion models as activists
The concept of fashion models simply as props for showing clothing at a boutique is truly outdated. Today, a fashion model is her personality, her lifestyle, her voice, and her values. When we look at runway shows, we are not just looking at the clothes. We see who is walking, what their attitude is, how the styling looks, what is the background of the fashion model and how influential this model is. Gigi Hadid, Hailey Bieber, Cara Delevinge, Winnie Harlow, Adriana Lima, Liu Wen. These names carry a lot of weight when the fashion press addresses them as part of a fashion event. They are so much more than the role of “mannequins” that models/mannequins had in the 19th century.
Perhaps activism is not the primary passion of some of these models. But they understand and leverage their power and their influence to start conversations about certain matters. In the last couple of weeks, Cara Delevinge has opened up about her journey to sobriety and healing. In an interview for Vogue, she stated how she would sometimes take the “easy” route to run away from the truth, which in the end, always catches up. Delevinge said that being in the public eye raises people’s expectations and adds a lot of pressure. She was able to seek help and address the matter.
Fame and addiction had led to tragic endings throughout the years. Fame and influence can be much more than thousands of followers and millions of dollars. It can be about delivering messages, helping people, and sharing knowledge. This is perhaps one of the most optimistic sides of fashion in today’s world. Because social media is not just a platform for fashion businesses to sell their clothes, it’s also a space for fashion models to raise their voices. Fashion magazines are no longer focused on how pretty a certain person is. It’s more about the work they are doing, what they have accomplished, and the ideas that they want to share with the world. (Selena Gomez talked with Vogue about mental health. Serena Williams about her legacy in tennis, and now Cara Delevinge about sobriety and healing).
As the variety of clothes seems to keep getting bigger and bigger. It’s exciting to see a broader background of voices getting louder and louder. Getting to know the history of the person behind the model is fascinating, because in today’s Political Fashion world, the ideas that the fashion models are sharing, are as important as the clothes they are wearing.