Chani Ra

Define super.

If you asked 100 people what ‘supermodel’ means in 2023, you might get 100 different answers. Attributes such as social media following and political stance are just as important as being ‘really, really, ridiculously good-looking.’ In a world where we can see a model, literally, every single day on our phones, it’s no longer necessary to see them walk 80 shows per season. Nor are we waiting on the edges of our sofas to see their Revlon ad come on TV – they’re posting 5 TikToks per day!

It’s repeatedly commented that the golden age of models has burnt out, and we are left with a troupe of influencers who lack charisma and, worst of all, can’t walk, and honestly, I’m not buying it.

Ever since the days of the Ebony Fashion Fair and the Battle at Versailles, vibrant, beautiful, and very often Black models were twirling, sashaying, and putting on shows that, in turn, put designers on the map. The girls were not simply clothes hangers to show the dresses; they were women showing how to live in the dresses. They were there to sell the dream to clients, editors, and buyers alike that the clothes could turn you into somebody – or at least make you feel like it.

Of course, as this went on, the cream rose to the top, and people began to have favourites. Familiar faces that people would wait for with bated breath to see command the catwalk once again. They became stars in their own right, Pat Cleveland, Anna Bayle, and Iman all the way through to the 90s: Naomi! Linda! Christy! Cindy! YASMEEN! There were many designers who knew how to create hysteria with the it-girls of the moment, Marc Jacobs, Gianni Versace, Anna Sui – however, others weren’t so thrilled… The TLDR is that in the late 90’s Miuccia Prada started a revolt against modelmania. She had felt that the models had outshone the clothes for one season too many and decided to start a new trend: every model would look the same. Very thin, very white, and walking was simply just to get from point A to point B.

Many years later, fashion has been forced to reinstate the lost diversity with today’s audience demanding representation (although this past season the size inclusivity was dwindling.) Models have used their platforms to speak up about malpractice in the industry. This generation's faces come with voices, which allow them to take more charge in how their careers play out. Authenticity is in, and the chameleonic ability to take on a character is just a bonus feature.

Critics might announce that models have lost their charm, but nobody can say they’ve lost their influence. Ashley Graham and Emily Ratajkowski are dominating the podcast space, and thanks to the wonderful Aaron Phillip, wheelchair users can now see themselves in the pages of Vogue partaking in fashion (and looking phenomenal.)

As positive as these changes are, it’s hard to ignore the lack of pizzazz. It seems odd that in the current climate where the trend cycle is nostalgic for nostalgia itself, brands are still hesitant to let the models loose on the runway. Bella Hadid caused a viral moment with Coperni’s spray-on dress for SS23, and this season Gabriella Karefa-Johnson let her models go old school during her section in the Moschino SS24 show; videos of Ajok Daing and Adut Akech owning the runway took over the feeds of every social platform.

Di Petsa’s SS24 show was a spectacle from the set design (a dimly lit runway winding around a huge illuminated rock) to the beautiful and emotional performance from the models. The collection was inspired by the journey to womanhood and the complexities of love with references to Greek mythology. Of course, the clothes were stunning, but the production quality of the show left a feeling that you wish you could keep in a bottle, a feeling that maybe you could buy back for the price of one of their wet-look gowns? Model, Cameron Valentina, was a part of the dancing goddess troupe that opened the show, and after witnessing the moment, it’s hard to imagine her being booked without the intention to let her perform at that level! If models were given these opportunities to shine and then pushed to do it again and again and again, would stars not be born?

Gianni Versace was an example of a designer who knew how to embrace the huge fanfare around these women, delivering perfect moments wrapped in a huge Versace bow that the press devoured every time. It’s amazing that nobody has jumped on Gianni’s blueprint and really leaned into what a brand and muse partnership can be. Bringing out recognizable faces season after season and creating characters that would be remembered and referenced for decades to come. Thierry Mugler is another perfect case study of a designer who worked with his team and muses to create timeless magic. As much as people like to reflect on the wonder years of modelling as if being ‘super’ is simply a genetic disposition, a lot of it is experience: if the opportunities aren’t being created, then what?

We see streams of compilation videos dragging models for their walks. Maybe there should be compilations of the backstage pep talks and directions lining the walls such as ‘do not stop at the turn’ ‘no swaying hips’ ‘walk strong and fast’. Designers, creative directors, and producers are the keepers of the keys. Like mothers who don’t want to loosen the apron strings, keeping the girls under a watchful eye. The tides will only change when they are choreographed to.


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