When I was a kid (which despite my crusty appearance, wasn’t that long ago), access to Hollywood icons and pop stars was limited to the local drive-in and weekly programs. For information on pop stars, you watched shows like Solid Gold and Video Hits. For information on movie stars, you watched films. Now we can see as much of whoever we want, whenever we want, and the notion of ‘reality’ in TV, film, and the Internet has permeated virtually all facets of fame to mean that anyone who can garner enough follows or likes has a very real chance at becoming a celebrity.
I’ve read different ideas about the decline of supermodels, like the fashion industry had had enough of their petulance, was tired of forking out hundreds of thousands of dollars in modelling fees, and resented the emphasis on models over garments (Stein 1998). While these are all valid possibilities, I think it’s also that our culture has just changed the way it perceives and consumes notions of fame and celebrity and that fashion advertisers have responded to this cultural shift.
The rise and popularity of ‘reality’ TV programs has completely changed how we view fame and our personal understanding of celebrity in relation to ourselves. With mobile phone and camera technology and social media programs like Instagram and Twitter, anyone can feel like they’re accessing a discourse of fame on a personal level that simply did not exist 20 or 30 years ago. This removes the barrier somehow, making the idea of celebrity an entity that we identify with more readily as consumers.
Out of the ten covers for Vogue (U.S.) 2016 so far, only one (August) features an actual model, i.e. a person whose original source of fame has come from modelling fashion. Gigi Hadid holds what looks like a javelin while posing with decathlete Ashton Eaton. Most of the front cover text incorporates terms such as ‘athlete’, ‘Olympian’, ‘game on’, ‘gold medal’, ‘winning’, and ‘USA’. The horizon in the background caps calm water at Gigi’s eye level while Ashton looks over the horizon into the distance. The line of a diagonally placed yellow-gold background in the lower right hand corner converges with the javelin’s suggested trajectory and Ashton’s line of vision off-page, suggesting future, gold-coloured triumph for team U.S.A. Through this analysis, it’s fair to say that this cover is not about the model at all, which is in stark contrast to the magazine covers of the ‘90s.
The example I’ve chosen for comparison is the January 1990 Vogue UK cover which crams five supermodels into the frame above the heading ‘The 1990s What Next?’, set against a blurry, indistinct background. The fact that the models are plainly dressed and shot in black and white focuses viewer attention on their faces – on them. This is the magazine’s leading image for a new decade, demonstrating the significant impact these women had in shaping fashion and beauty consumer behaviour during this period.
American Vogue’s remaining covers for 2016 feature actors and pop stars, with the exception of Kendall Jenner who, although employed as a model, is arguably better known as a reality TV personality.
The most interesting 2016 cover is of Ben Stiller in his role as Derek Zoolander together with co-star Penelope Cruz (February). A celebrity actor playing the role of a supermodel, on the actual cover of a prominent fashion magazine, like a ‘reality’ vortex. What’s left? A model to model clothing while acting like model Derek Zoolander in a ‘real’ fashion shoot for an actual designer…
Stein, Joel. 1998. TIME Magazine. November 09. Accessed September 29, 2016. http://content.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,989517-1,00.html.
Vogue UK cover: Tenea, Anca. 2012. ‘Five Supermodels in One Place: Another Vogue Cover That Made History’ in Visual Thirst. March 27. Accessed September 29, 2016. https://visualthirst.wordpress.com/2012/03/27/five-supermodels-in-one-place-another-vogue-cover-that-made-history/.
Vogue US February 2016 cover: Gay, Jason. 2016. ‘Derek Zoolander Lands His First Vogue Cover Alongside Zoolander 2 Costar Penelope Cruz’ in Vogue.com. January 15. Accessed September 29, 2016. http://www.vogue.com/13384256/derek-zoolander-penelope-cruz-ben-stiller-february-2016/
Vogue US August 2016 cover: Feiereisen, Sharon. 2016. ‘The Glossies: All the August 2016 Covers We Loved and Hated’ in The Fashion Spot. July 22. Accessed September 29, 2016. http://www.thefashionspot.com.au/runway-news/703993-august-2016-magazine-covers/#/slide/19