When considering the women who graced the runways, held the eyes of all magazines, and inspired legions of models to follow them, the word iconic comes to mind. The ladies who represented the modelling industry in the 90’s were notable figures. They flaunted confidence, team work, sexiness, and success. Their faces dominated the 90's and were plastered onto every magazine cover and were featured in campaigns for all the hottest brands.
But what was it about this group of women that made them a legacy? Let's talk about it.
They say that to qualify as a supermodel, one must have a high salary, carry a global reputation, make multiple appearances on the runway, both in haute couture and commercial modelling stints. But what makes the models of the 90's super was what they represented. They had headstrong characters and an ability to use their power. They were more than just mannequins displaying clothes but became role models. They told women it was okay to be powerful, it was okay to be sexy, and it was okay to demand your rights and demand your worth.
It was in the 90's that supermodels gained a greater celebrity status and were publicized in ways unlike before. Instead of being fixed images in magazines, they would do interviews, talk shows, gossip columns, and publicity stints. They acquired a new level of celebrity fame, a new dollar value, and as a result it gave them more power in their line of work.
In 1990, the British Vogue cover revealed the black and white, unified photo of Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, and Tatjana Patitz. The photo, shot by Peter Lindbergh, illustrated the camaraderie and raw strength of these women. These five continued to have their collaborated appearances across media; another notable appearance was the George Michael's music video for "Freedom! '90".
These women were idolized as a supermodel group, but equally so had unconquerable reputations as individuals. Each woman was a powerhouse in the industry and held a rebellious attitude that perfectly shaped the 90’s. Linda Evangelista was known for being somewhat versatile in her appearance. Her hair was always changing and she was admired by employers and fans for her shape-shifting ability. Turlington was known for her reliability as a model and being one of the easiest and most professional people to work with. Naomi Campbell was significant in becoming the first black model to be featured on the covers of Time, French Vogue, British Vogue, and American Vogue. She was also famous for throwing a cell phone at her assistant but hey...nobody’s perfect - not even models.
The core five women were shot a la nude for the Rolling Stone, by Herb Ritts. It became clear that fashion and beauty in the 90’s had a new level of sex appeal. With skin showing, people were able to see the beauty of these women's bodies. Something worth recognizing is that while these models were thin, they looked happy and they looked healthy. These ladies who walked haute couture runways, strutted in lingerie, and modelled in some of the most noteworthy campaigns were never criticized for having bodies that were bigger than a starvation level of rail thin. They had curves and muscle tone and while yes, they were lithe and lanky models, they still had body types that showcased healthy and glowing women. As we live in a society today in which seeing bones and having a thigh gap is glorified, the models of the 90's combated this image. Granted, I am neglecting to consider the influence of the diet industry in the 90's, and odds are these women were involved, either through their lifestyles or promotion, but all I'm saying is that they set a level of healthy body types for women in the modelling industry, and it's a shame that in spite of how fierce and dominant these women were in their decade, models of today seem thinner than ever.
The solidarity of these women was later joined by blonde bombshell Claudia Schiffer and the unique face of Kate Moss. Kate Moss…somehow everyone’s favourite model. Kate Moss, discovered in the JFK airport when she was only 14, compellingly beautiful as she was is somebody that is likely an influence to the armies of skeletal models. She popularized a genre or grunge style that was called “heroin chic” which basically embodied resembling a drug addict. The image of having dark bags under your eyes, being alarmingly thin with angular features, and having ghostly pale skin, was highly on trend in the latter half of the 90’s. Kate Moss’ most notable work was modelling in the 1993 Calvin Klein ads. It was a scandalous campaign; she was gaunt and showing skin in the black and white portraits wearing nothing but intimates. Her frail body showed signs of her not taking care of herself but nevertheless, the imagery was and still continues to be wildly iconic. Even today, young girls worship and share what is now a vintage Calvin Klein campaign, wishing they could look just as hungry as Kate Moss had. After all, it was she who famously said “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”. Dangerous words to be thrown into a society so increasingly influenced my media in all forms.
I think some inevitable dangers of the modelling industry is that if you really only think they’re modelling clothes, you’re wrong. Today, girls worship Kaia Gerber and Bella Hadid, figures that are even more publicized as their 90’s counterparts. What we have now that we didn’t in the 90’s is social media, which basically offers access into celebrities’ meticulously curated personal life. Fashion models outside of there career are also role models who have been given a tremendous amount of influence. Every single move they make is documented and shared making every young girl want to look like this or that model. And then came the birth of the “influencer”, allowing just about anybody to also become a form of a model. In the worst scenarios, young girls endure self-loathing and body insecurity. They may go through eating disorders or even undergo surgery to change things about themselves. It encourages young girls to want to be somebody else and despise their very selves.
For these reasons, I’m often conflicted about the modelling industry and specifically about the models of the 90’s. I adore beautiful imagery. Photoshoots can be striking, creative, and a work of art. This is why I love some of the images from the 90’s. I also respect the attitude of the models at this time. While they got a lot of backlash for being divas and as the famous Linda Evangelista quote goes, “not getting out of bed for less than $10,000,” it’s fair to say they showed just how powerful a pretty face can be. They established the ability for models to be more than just tokens and to negotiate their own value.
However, I also am resentful, perhaps not towards the models specifically, but what came along after them. One can say that the culture of “influencing” all began in the 90’s when models turned into highly idolized public figures.
Undeniably, they left a legacy and our OG supermodels were a force to be reckoned with. Here are some endearing photos of the 90’s supermodels’ friendship and most iconic images: