In the aftermath of London Fashion Week, Ruth Croft explores the most iconic supermodels of all time and their impact on modern society.
Every September, just as the leaves begin to fall, the streets of the capital seem to quiver with anticipation as London Fashion Week returns. The revolutionary event first took place in October 1983, and is showcased twice a year – once in the spring, and then in the autumn – for designers to present their upcoming collections to the public. It is organised by the British Fashion Council, a not-for-profit establishment that, in addition to coordinating fashion events and awards, is responsible for supporting the next generation of designers. This year, the event was held from the 16th to the 21st of September, leading with the talents of Bora Aksu, Halpern, Molly Goddard, Rejina Pyo, and ERDEM, to name but a few. The shows were split between both physical and digital events, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But as always, it was remarkable to see the hard work of everyone involved in such a prestigious experience, and to express our appreciation of their dedication and genius.
With this reminder of such talent, it rouses the conversation around to the other true power shining from events such as this: that which brings the designers’ dream to life, and styles it out magnificently on the runway. I am, of course, referring to the role of the models – more specifically, the elusive supermodel. The vague definition of said supermodel is simply a highly paid fashion model who is beautiful and famous enough to have cultural dominance. They typically have an illustrious reputation amongst prominent fashion designers, magazine editors, and beauty brands. Though it may seem undemanding to stand on the stage and look pretty, the art of modelling is a complicated role which requires a lot of energy. It is their job to showcase the designs, to cast them into the light, and reveal them as something entirely visionary. They are the presentation of ideals. And most of the time, they find themselves even more renowned than their creators, making themselves household names throughout the entire world.
In light of this, here we explore the top most iconic supermodels of all time…
Perhaps the most influential supermodel of the ‘90s, Naomi Campbell was the first person that came to mind when I thought about writing this article. Her era in the fashion industry began in the 1980s, and continues to this day, although her first appearance in the spotlight was when she starred in a Bob Marley music video at age seven. Known for her beauty and committed attitude to her work, Campbell soon established herself as one of the most reputable models in the entire industry early on in her career, being awarded the title of ‘supermodel’ by the international press. It’s worth noting that she was the most famous black model of her time. Since then, she has also earned notoriety for being particularly philanthropic. Not only has she raised significant funds for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Funds, and raised awareness for breast cancer through Fashion Targets Breast Cancer, she is also the founder of the charityFashion for Relief, which organised fund-raising fashion events to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Rising to fame in the 1980s, Cindy Crawford soon became a part of what is now known as ‘the Big Six’, consisting of the top supermodels on the runway at the time. In her time, she had a reliable presence on fashion and lifestyle magazine covers, as well as various modelling campaigns and catwalks. She is best known for her voluminous, wavy hair, strong eyebrows, and her trademark beauty mark.
Jean Shrimpton has been described as having ‘the world’s most beautiful face,’ known for her doe eyes and pouty lips. She was particularly poignant because of her contrast with the former curvaceous look presented by models in the ‘60s, earning her the nickname, ‘The Shrimp.’ She even helped popularise the mini skirt.
The girl-next-door from Australia, Elle MacPherson was known for her smart and athletic aesthetic. She was enrolled at Sydney University to study Law, but began modelling to pay for her textbooks. She was soon posing on the covers of many American magazines, however, her most prominent exposure is arguably her record five covers in the annual Swimsuit Issue in Sports Illustrated. This eventually earned her the nickname, ‘The Body.’ She is also an ambassador for RED, an enterprise designed to raise money for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.
Gisele Bündchen rose to fame in the ‘90s, after being discovered by Elite Model Management in Rio de Janeiro. Her very first runway show was during New York Fashion Week, and she soon went on to work with Dolce and Gabbana, Valentino, and Versace. The media referred to her as ‘the return of the sexy model,’ as well as ‘the Brazilian bombshell.’ It is reported that Bündchen has been the highest-paid model in the world since 2004, however, she has used her wealth philanthropically. Not only did she donate $150,000 to the Zero Hunger Program in Brazil, but she has also campaigned for St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and the Red Cross to aid those in Haiti after the earthquake in 2010. She is a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Program.
Twiggy (real name Lesley Hornby) was the star of the Swinging Sixties, storming into the modelling world at only 16 years of age. She is best known for her huge, dark eyes that she made even more prominent with drawn-on eyelashes, and her delicately slender frame which inspired her nickname.
Known as the first Chinese Supermodel, Liu Wen debuted her international runway career in 2008, walking for Burberry. She has since worked with huge fashion brands, such as Oscar de la Renta and Alexander Wang. She became the first East-Asian woman to ever walk in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in 2009. She resides in New York, and is continuing to rise in global success.
In 2008, Jourdan Dunn was the first black model to star in a Prada show for over a decade. She has since spoken about the lack of diversity in the modelling industry, and the discrimination she has faced during her career. Despite these hardships, she has campaigned with the likes of Marc Jacobs and Yves St Laurent, and is considered to be one of her generation’s supermodels.
The British model that everyone loves, Kate Moss was a pioneer of the ‘90s fashion world. She was the face of ‘heroin chic,’ a style that represented the androgynous, slender, pale skin trend that rose in the early 1990s. It was a deviation from the previous supermodel look, awarding Moss worldwide attention. She has been associated with many brands over the years, and is still considered to be one of the world’s most influential people.
Supermodel, actress, and singer… it seems Cara Delevingne has it all. She was signed to Storm Management in 2009, but didn’t break through properly until 2012, when she walked in all four of the big Fashion Weeks: New York, London, Paris, and Milan. She has since become the face of Rimmel, and twice won an award for ‘Model of the Year’ in the British Fashion Awards.
Their reputation is undeniably befitting. To be a model is to work with dedication, and a lot of willpower. The industry is known to be controversial, at best. To rise to power, one must be determined to look past every rejection and heartless comment. It is not an easy ride. But then again, perhaps that’s why we call them ‘super’.
You can read more of Ruth’s work on Instagram by following @thewriterruth.