Models are portrayed as either completely silent or brash and stupid. Liam O’Brien gives them respite from media critique
Throwing the accusation of stupidity at models is a pretty easy thing to do, and is something that the non-fashion media likes to engage in – a lot. Private Eye’s ‘Supermodels’ cartoon depicts their main life goal as being extraordinarily thin, ignoring of course, the fact that most of the models that can justifiably be prefixed with ‘super’, like the Christy, Naomi and Linda set of two decades past, were of (at least compared to the nymph-looking models dominating catwalks today) a fuller, feminine figure.
A favourite of late night clip shows is the famous Dennis Pennis interrogation of Helena Christensen. Pennis asks her “Why did the model stare at the orange juice?” The punchline: “Because it said ‘concentrate’”. Helena, native to Denmark, does not understand the joke, but interestingly self-deprecates so as to ruin Pennis’s attempt at humiliation. “I didn’t get it, but I guess I wasn’t supposed to,” she says, shrugging it off.
These are old examples now. Often removed from education when still in their teens, models appear to be under the obligation of an enforced silence. Heard Kate Moss speak recently? The media, in reality, only have short soundbites courtesy of Rimmel and Virgin mobile’s advertising departments to judge her by. The model has reverted to the traditional, simpler function of clotheshorse; a product of what she wears outside of the catwalk, where she goes and whoever she goes with. Though it’s probably what the various model management companies have decided is the safest, least potentially embarrassing option, such silence is a sadness given the plethora of bad publicity around modelling at the present time.
Shows like America’s Next Top Model and its maudlin British counterparts give a sinister portrayal of bitchiness, in-fighting and general vapidity, all serving the purpose of sabotaging one another’s chances of getting an exclusive contract at the end of the whole charade. There a couple of reasons why the peculiar morality on television modelling cannot be applied to real life. Firstly, none of the winners ever go on to be stratospherically successful. Apparently Elyse from the first American cycle is big in Japan. Adrianne Curry, the first winner, has the honour of sometimes having cum dribble from her mouth on PerezHilton.com. Additionally, the people that apply are the brash or naïve types willing to go on a reality TV show, and thus willing to submit themselves to the sensationalised producership that goes with the genre.
Aside from Tyra Banks and Heidi Klum (chief organiser of the annual Fashion Rocks spectacular), who tend to escape criticism because of presenting talent and a friendly disposition, endeavours by models other than making friends with Karl Lagerfeld and bringing out a range of shampoo are met with derision. Criticisms of models’ musical ventures are common. After Naomi Campbell’s singing career, the sub-genre became eminently lampoonable. Perhaps after seeing Whitney Houston turning from model to singer and appearances in George Michael and Michael Jackson videos, dear Naomi thought ‘Why not?”
However, Agyness Deyn and Kate Moss have shown themselves to have sweet, credible voices that do not detract from the projects they have attached themselves to. Moss’s backing singing for Babyshambles was welcomed more times than it was booed off, and initial doubts over Deyn’s collaboration with indie band the Five O’clock Heroes were dispelled when both the song and its video achieved a reasonable artistic standard.
Perhaps more importantly, though, Deyn’s recent appearance on Jonathan Ross’s chatshow was memorably witty and bright. Alexandra Shulman, editor of British Vogue, recently commented on the lack of models that can pull off a front cover, and part of the problem must be the lack of personality within the industry. We know what Gisele eats, what Lily Cole endorses and what Moss wears, but no-one is willing to take the risk of saying what they actually think, conscious of the fact it will be ripped apart by eager hacks. Well tough.
Models need to be something more than a face, long limbs and a moody pose. Media outlets should give them the space to do so.