“About Face:Supermodels Then and Now”

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The HBO documentary: “About Face: Supermodels Then and Now”, directed and produced by Timothy Greenfield Sanders in 2012, is a look into the world of well known models, the fashion industry, photographers, female roles in fashion and society, self image, youth and aging, ethnicity, designers, magazines and advertising. The hour and a half movie, at first, might seem to be about superficiality and the business of the modeling industry, but underneath, interviews and clips highlight personal experiences and the changes in the field. The film adds a focused lens into a world in which one glimpses an ad or a cover, but then it directs the viewer to an understanding of the psyche at varying times in society. Female beauty is a topic and what does it mean to be beautiful. Some of the models who appear in the documentary are; Carmen Dell’ Orefice, Isabella Rosellini, Carol Alt, Marisa Berenson, Beverly Johnson, Christie Brinkley, Cheryl Tiegs, China Machado, Lisa Taylor, Christy Turlington and Paulina Porizkova. Director, Timothy Greenfield Sanders, is a portrait photographer and has had exhibitions at national museums, seeing life through the eye of an artist. Each model speaks about their time in the limelight and expresses their thoughts and experiences as their life as a model. The camera’s focus delves into the mind’s of modeling insiders and leaders. Thus, an interpretation of the title: About Face.. modeling and fashion has turned around and a face and body are ways of communicating style, signs of the times, confidence and insecurity, acceptance and rejection, exclusion and inclusion, youth and maturity.. the list goes on.

In the beginning, the modeling world attracted actresses who did not make it to the top of the acting world and turned to modeling. Many thought a fashion model was akin to being a prostitute, but after WW2, advertising brought modeling to the forefront. In the 1930’s -1950’s, society ladies such as; Wallace Simpson, Gloria Vanderbilt, the Morgan’s and the Whitney’s, would make trips to Paris and other locations abroad to buy haute couture. Modeling illustrations and photos showed females as “ladies”, not as the creative muses which we see today. Many were to look more ladylike and have an attitude so they would be untouchable or non approachable.

Italian star, Carmen Dell’ Orefice, has been modeling for 40 + years and now has the confidence to get in a yellow taxi and walk away when she does not like a job. She has had a long running career and speaks about how the modeling world was a smaller arena and looked for models with a stereotypical look and cookie cutter image. Beverly Johnson was the first black model to appear on a Vogue US cover in 1974. Model, China Machado’s entry was hard because she was told she would have to work in editorial positions, but would not be on covers or do a lot of high fashion work. Machado was neither black or white, but of mixed European and black African heritage. Her look was viewed as exotic, but not very marketable. Machado became an editor at Harper’s Bazaar and had a studio, became a mom, but she did not appear on the cover of Bazaar Magazine while former Editor in Chief, Diana Vreeland, was in charge. China Machado praises Ebony Magazine for the promotion of models with darker skin tones. Christie Brinkley, one of Cover Girl’s top “all American models”, has been featured in many magazines. She became recognized for her long blond hair, big white smile and fit tan body which is captured in several of the annual Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issues. Brinkley was living in Paris, as an artist, when discovered and had not planned on a modeling career. Lisa Taylor, an affluent Caucasian model, discusses her relationship with Halston and a sheltered upbringing in relation to the diverse city and sexualized modeling industry. Jerry Hall, Mick Jagger’s flame, talks of her Texas roots and transition from Studio 54 nights to fashion career. Marisa Berenson, a socialite and model, explains her era’s top models and thinks fashion is about self expression and creativity, not only looks. She did not see herself as especially beautiful and her family did not encourage her to pursue this as a long term career. Marisa is an actress who starred in Cabaret, a long time UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and is the maternal granddaughter of fashion designer, Elsa Schiaperelli. At the time, modeling was a very short lived career and would last 2-4 years. Isabella Rosellini, whose mother is actress, Ingrid Bergman, found it hard to fill her mother’s shoes. She speaks about not feeling beautiful or having conventional looks and how aging is still a current issue. Rosellini came back as a spokesmodel for Lancome and Tresor perfume. Lancome’s target market aimed for females over 40, but society was not quite ready for the “mature” women. Rosselini states, it is her daughter, Elettra, who gets invited to the it parties.

Carol Alt, an 80’s era modeling star and a small town girl, saw a transition in modeling from the 60’s and 70’s to the 80’s. Maybe the changes in modeling are due to world events such as; the Vietnam War and the sexual revolution. Carol Alt worked on long running cosmetics campaigns and was a covergirl. She now reflects that much confidence came from an inner sense of self as opposed to a modeling portfolio. She did pose for Playboy, but it was tasteful and revived her fashion career. Alt, recently, developed skin care line, Raw Essentials. The products contain raw vegetables which help nurture and heal the skin through nature’s greens and colder temperatures. Iconic fashion photographer, Francesco Scavullo, is known for snapping many fashion shoots. In the 80’s, he was known for filming vignette TV commericals for Calvin Klein Jeans, starring Brooke Shields. Some might recall Brooke Shields wearing the tight jeans as she lay on the floor, softly whispering; “You know what comes between me and my Calvins, nothing”. Scavullo had picked Shields to do an Ivory Soap ad at the age of 11 months. In the documentary, Scavullo and Calvin Klein reminisce about their fashion work and its relation to the times of Studio 54, Warhol, teen starlets and models.

The 90’s supermodels; Paulina Porizkova, Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford, Helena Christensen, Claudia Schiffer, Stephanie Seymour, Karen Mulder, Naomi Campbell and Elaine Irwin were part of the era in which the term supermodel was coined. It instantly linked model’s names with a brand, established a pop culture connection and brought these beauties fame and instant worldwide recognition. Paulina Porizkova fled communist Czechoslovakia with her family and settled in Sweden. She came to NYC and became the face of Estee Lauder, an all time covergirl, major Swimsuit Illustrated model and top fashion persona. Paulina says she did not recognize her great beauty then, but now appreciates her physical and emotional self more. She went on to marry Car’s musician, Ric Okasak, and has been a judge on Project Runway. Porizkova was a love interest in Okasak’s music video, Drive. Christy Turlington modeled for the big name high fashion runway designers in NYC, Paris, Milan and London. Turlington had many fashion and cosmetic contracts, a long run with Maybelline and Calvin Klein Eternity Perfume, makeup and latter CK underwear ads, until Kate Moss became the muse of the moment. In addition, Turlington had constant editorial work and her face seemed plastered on magazine stands since she appeared on multitudes of magazine covers. After the peak of her modeling career, she founded, Every Mother Counts. It is a worldwide non-profit organization which helps with life threatening and complicated pregnancies, especially in less developed countries. Christy Turlington’s experience with a traumatic pregnancy, peaked her interest in helping with maternal health. Many in the supermodel group are featured in George Micheal’s music video Freedom. The song’s lyrics refer to modeling, celebrity, sexuality, exploitation and plastic surgery. The models, replace Micheal’s presence, as they are seen in sensual poses while lip syncing to the dance tune. Cindy Crawford, the dark haired supermodel with the infamous mole above her lip and voluptuous curves, is one of the biggest supermodel names. The list of her modeling projects is beyond long and she was linked with Richard Gere. She is now married to restaurant entrepreneur, Rande Gerber. She has a son Presley who does modeling, but daughter, Kaia, is a spitting image of Cindy C., and has made an entrance to international modeling.

The 90’s brought out more supermodels in the high stakes fashion world and they often worked with actors and were linked romantically with musicians. Thus, bringing the new combination and trend of MTV, pop music and fashion. Stephanie Seymour is a known 90’s fashionista and had a contract with Victoria’s Secret, endorsing the lingerie and walking down the VS catwalk. Many of the supermodels signed contracts with Victoria’s Secret and lent their names to the annual runway show, merchandise and catalogue. VS became a lingerie store in every mall and made it appealing to be sexy. People associated themselves with a store known for a mysterious name, Victorian decor, supermodel pictures on the store walls and goods as well as being able to leave with a trademarked pink striped shopping bag. At the VS flagship store on Fifth Avenue, a floor is dedicated to the store with models’ pictures and outfits worn in the fashion shows. Seymour dated the reckless Guns N Roses rockstar, Axl Rose. In his video, November Rain, she plays Axl’s bride and the music and theme are a mini drama about marriage and death. Stephanie is now married to avid art collector and publisher, Peter Brant Sr.. Brant owns the Brant Art Foundation in Greenwich, Connecticut which exhibits contemporary pieces. They have 3 children together and another is a son from a previous relationship. She has started her own lingerie line, Raven and Sparrow. Helena Christensen has been a highlight in fashion, posing for VS, jewelry and clothing brands. She is intertwined with music and is the love interest in Chris Issak’s black and white video, Wicked Game. Christensen and Issak frolic on an exotic beach with clouds, sky shots, palm trees, guitar singing and romantic embraces lit on fire with a mysterious melody. The scenic images are filmed by fashion photographer, Herb Ritts. The song is used in the David Lynch movie; Wild at Heart. Christensen is half Danish and half Peruvian which contributes to her olive complexion, dark hair and green eyes. Helena dated lead INXS singer, Micheal Hutchence, but the relationship, tragically ended. She now has a son with actor, Norman Reedus, and lingerie line; H.C. for The Triumph Collection. Helena Christensen, a photographer and model, and artist, Camilla Staerk, opened Staerk and Christensen. The NYC design studio decor is noir, romantic and gothic with Nordic mythological symbols. The Danish styled space focuses on photography, architecture, art, film and fashion projects, exhibitions and sales which reflect their heritage. Helena and Camilla model for their line which includes: black bathing suits with thematic names: the knot and the wave, Danish swallow patterned sandals, sunglasses, turbans, and mod short boots. 30 % of apparel sale profits go to City Meals, the organization provides 250,000 food deliveries, which help those housebound with COVID. A recent resort collection photo shoot, at The Dorado, Ritz Carlton Reserve in Puerto Rico, promotes the brand and has been featured in fashion and design publications. Some profits go to those affected by Hurricane Maria as Helena travels the world to work with displaced persons and refugees. Christensen is busy as a creative director for high end perfume, Strangelove, founder and creative director for Nylon Magazine and operates Butik, a NYC downtown boutique which focuses on antiques, decor and design with many Scandinavian/Danish items.

The controversies of modeling. Plastic surgery is a topic which is central to the film’s content. Modeling agencies, the industry, pressure and insecurities can lead females to choose surgery to enhance their appearance or maintain youthful looks. Some models disagree with getting plastic surgery and state they would rather look natural and appear less frozen, remaining authentic to their beauty. Eileen Ford, the founder of The Ford Modeling Agency and the gold standard of agencies, speaks about protecting the young girls from the wild and exploitative sides of the field in the big city. Many of the younger models lived in the Ford apartment, as a way to shield them from dangers. Carol Alt and Christy Turlington say living with other models under Eileen Ford, helped them from being exposed to the fast life. The film explores the life of rising model, Gia Carangi. “Baby Gia” was not as shielded and succumbed to drugs and HIV. The supermodel times were essential to the development of the fashion and modeling world. It allowed models an exposure to celebrity status and designer brands became bigger household names for sale. Consumers identified with the models and were more likely to develop a connection with a product and fashion line when they saw a familiar face or could hope to be like them. Stores such as; Guess had many of the supermodels in their ads, making the jeans and clothing popular with females who saw the images of current models dressed like old time starlets; Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe and Bridget Bardot. The Fashion Cafe in NYC, run by a group of four 1990’s supermodels, was a hang out for those who wanted to eat and view modeling memorabilia. Sadly, it has closed. During this time, an April 1992 Vogue US cover which celebrates the magazine’s 100th anniversary, hit the shelves. The cover features a line up of nine supermodels who are dressed identically in white shirts tied in a knot and white jeans, interspersed between ladders. It is a memorable cover and piece of fashion frozen in time. By the end of the 90’s and in the early 2000 period, modeling saw a wave of girls from South America and Eastern Europe. Names like; Alessandria Ambroiso, Adriana Lima, Giselle Bundchen, Natalia Vodianova and Sasha Pivovarova emerged on runways and ad campaigns. They had their run, further expanding diversity and inclusion. Some companies have chosen to replace actresses in fashion and cosmetics campaigns, hoping a return to old Hollywood.

Despite the fashion history time frame, the age old topic about aging, ethnic factors and eating disorders, modeling is not always an easy path nor is it constantly glamorous. It reflects, shapes and impacts the economy and continues to evolve. Currently, YouTube, TikTok, Snapchat, Pinterest and Instagram have replaced video fashion channels like MTV’s House of Style, hosted by Cindy Crawford, and Elsa Klench’s CNN Style, a narration of streaming runway shows. Modeling does reflect, shape, and impact purchasing power and its effect grows exponentially. Online retailers and their websites are new and effective merchandising tools. It is easy to go online and browse the David Yurman site in order to buy from their latest necklace collection. One can look on Yoox or Net a Porter for this coming season’s wardrobe. Graphic design, interactive store chat spaces, avatars which measure your size and moving images on a computer screen are an attractive shopping alternative to brick and mortar stores. This is especially true in the new times of COVID-19 where there is the need to shop from home. The future of cosmetics companies such as; Estee Lauder and Shiseido, let a consumer try on lipstick through digital technology and take their picture with the look as well. This will help your online purchase and show the look beforehand. Some have these try on screens in the stores. Technology can utilize this digitalized try on concept for clothing, jewelry and shoes sold at boutiques. Celeb fashion stylist, Rachel Zoe, has Style in A Box, DVF has an online delivery service, DVF Link to rent clothes and stay at home sales. Rent the Runway offers monthly and weekly subscriptions or one can choose a business outfit for the day. Hair products; sprays, keratin, masks, the much needed hair coloring and personalized hair style looks can be futuristically marketed, as if one was right in the salon chair. Nail colors, repair polish, top coats, buffers and other tools, sold at nail salons, benefit consumers with online tech, color selections and tips from technicians. High end nail design salons; Paintbox and JINsoon offer nail kits and tutorials for issues ranging from how to remove acrylic tips and gel polish and how to maintain a healthy nail bed and practice cuticle care. Origins, the Frederic Fekkai Hair Salons, Kiehl’s and MAC do provide online skin, makeup and hair assessments which address questions and concerns. One can upload a picture to video and receive immediate advice. Spas and doctors are providing aesthetic tele -medicine consultations with Zoom and FaceTime while doctor’s offices are closed. Instagram Live has been holding interactive discussions, product demonstrations and lectures with plastic surgeons, dermatologists, dentists and personal trainers. Fast and international global commerce, universal social media, rebranding a new high tech genre and social media influencers, create a unique fashion era. The newer models, Bella and Gigi Hadid, Taylor Hill and Dev Windsor are fashion role models for the Millennial and Z Generations. Roy Orbison’s song; “Look in the Mirror” plays during the movie and speaks volumes for an eternal fashion whirlwind. Be prepared for the changing rhythms and landscape of the modeling and fashion industries.

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