The Silver Spoons of Fashion

What does it take to become a model?

How long does it take to become a successful supermodel?

What are the immediate risks with stepping into such an ever-changing and uncertain industry, that could either make or break their careers?

There’s no doubt that today’s cohort of well-known models, or Instamodels, in other words, spur from the new age of social media in the current fashion zeitgeist. From reality television stars to social media celebrities who are cast by a count of their followers, the tantalising success at which the industry has placed on these so-called models has had an impact on both modelling, fashion and the outside consumer market much more than you’d think.

The blazing success for the new generation of models cast online, manufactured by the materialistic and superficial contest of social media, has changed the way models used to be cast, and how supermodels have come about since the early 80s and 90s. Unlike iconic predecessors, such as Naomi Campbell, who had to gradually build up her career with luck and timing through years of editorial shoots and runway seasons, this industry that was once more homogeneous and difficult to break into can create instant success. As long as potential models meet the minimum height, have famous parents or just the right the right amount of followers on social media, it’s more than easy to make it big.

Vogue Nippon 1990 by Peter Lindbergh

With over 40 million followers on Instagram, one of the world’s most influential social media platforms, Kendall Jenner has carved her short-spanning, successful but questionable career as a model from debuting in a major runway to easily landing some of the biggest industry campaigns. She’s worked with the likes of La Perla, Balmain, Estée Lauder and the list goes on. Jenner’s success has not come due to eagle-eyed agencies scouting her for her unique beauty or because she proved herself worthy to be an asset to the industry, but simply because she has the advantage of growing up famous. A cushiony kind of hardship. While having a legion of beloved fans online and being related to one of the most famous celebrity families in the world, Jenner began to work with fashion house’s most girls would sell their souls in order to book. She’s one of many celebrities who has moved into modelling for the sake of it being an option. Whether it’s actually a career path that they consider long term, or just another hobby to do until they get bored, it’s something that may be progressive in an aspect but is extremely damaging in many others. In 2016, Jenner was given one of the most prominent spots in modelling than any other model – would have worked twice, or even thrice as hard to pit – the September cover issue. There was much debate in whether her affluent background resulted in this, or whether she was deemed worthy enough to have been given a spot.

The fashion industry in itself is ever-changing and difficult to become successful in. The modelling industry within fashion is collectively even more unique and cutthroat; this is a sub-part of the industry if you will. It recognises models and the moral practice of the single work system to build oneself up as a brand of being an individual, as well as being apart of an art form and being a mannequin. With social media becoming apart of this generation’s lifestyle and immediate need to ‘be in the know’ of everything, it radically changes the games for the industry. The modelling equilibrium loses what it has, from when models would be chosen for their unique characteristics and talent to simply have aggregated a number of followings (that seems to be very important for marketing and advertising these days) or being famous. Talent or no talent is another story on its own.

Up until now, her peers may have given her the benefit of the doubt of being a reality star, but no more. For Love Magazine’s 10th anniversary issue, Jenner stated in an interview that she was selective with her choices of jobs, not being like “those girls who would do like 30 shows a season or whatever the fuck those girls do.”

Several models who have had to work her way up the ladder of the gruelling industry have made their opinions heard, with model Daria Strokous rightfully stating that majority of models “do their very best to make their way up AND try to make some money so that they can provide for themselves and their families – and it’s 70 shows a season by the way.”

Imaan Hammam for Vogue Netherlands September 2015 / Kendall Jenner for Vogue US September 2016 / Adwoa Aboah for Vogus British December 2017

For an industry that requires talent determination, persistence, lots of tears, sacrifices and the understanding of rejection and moving forward for so many individuals who pack up their lives in the pursuit of modelling success, the new idea of social media-scouted celebrity models, or Instagirls, totally destroys the whole notion. It’s incredibly disappointing to consider that so a handful of nepotism babies will be given honourable modelling gigs, runway slots, and ambassadorial opportunities to tier their careers, while actual models, usually those of colour, have to work twice as hard to even make it onto the cover of a coveted publication. Being overshadowed by favouritism is never fun, especially when someone else receives such an overwhelming response and media play of praise before she’s even had a full season of blood, sweat, and tears. It becomes that much more difficult for a newcomer model, out of her own right to pursue her dreams and to speak out against a system that is quite literally, designed to work in the favour of being famous, slim, blonde, or most notably – white. ​​

Nepotism has been seen very regularly in the industry with many celebrities offspring attempting to carve out a path in modelling – not for the sake of being cast and scouted for their ability to model, to be present themselves as walking art forms, or even having a unique or compelling factor to their look, but simply and most likely because of their famous stature or family relations. From the likes of Kendall Jenner to the Hadid sisters who have immense family connections and influence in the industry, to Kaia Gerber and Lily McMenamy who are daughters of respective industry icons in their own separate rights – Cindy Crawford, who was one of 90s icons that personified the word supermodel, and Kristen McMenamy, who helmed the grunge era and trend. Additionally to the world of Instafame and famous parents, names like Georgia May Jagger and Brooklyn Beckham are also on the rise in the scene, being as young as 14 and no older 25 with no modelling experience at all, already have been given campaigns and shows to be apart of with a snap of a finger, whereas regular models struggle to get call-backs for some of the most competitive spots in editorial and runway. Spanish model Blanca Padilla is a rising star who began her career back in 2014, and as successful in her own right as she is – having coveted some of the biggest runways (Elie Saab, Balmain, Chanel, Dior, Versace and receiving wings during her 2017 Victoria Secret show), she remains an undermined talent in favour of nepotism.

blanca padilla
Blanca Padilla for Versace S/S 2015 / Redemption Fall 2017 / Elie Saab Couture Spring 2018

There are several ways to see how a model makes their breakthrough in their career – it could be either a major runway show (debut or other), a big campaign, but especially a major magazine cover. The most coveted covers include Vogue Paris, US or UK as the biggest major selling publication in the industry, and an exceptional way for models to expand their careers. Unfortunately, with nepotism running strong in the industry – there’s a practice amongst names with power and influence that favour name over talent. Take for example British model and activist, Adwoa Aboah, who began her career in 2011 and had to overcome incredible changes as a model of colour and character. Bella Hadid is an American social star that rose to her modelling fame who only started her career in 2014, but had landed over 10 September issue covers internationally – Aboah only saw her first Vogue Italia cover 18 months prior, and had to share a Vogue US with several other models. Other professional models that include Maria Borges and Denise Bidot have been in the industry for several seasons, but have yet to have their big break – and they probably work thrice as hard to score a job that’s easily given to a name like Jenner.

Additionally, Aboah, who’s had about 6 years of experience in runway and editorial, was recently nominated along with the likes of the Hadid sisters and Kaia Gerber, who only debuted in September 2017, for the Fashion Award 2017 in the category of ‘Model of the Year’. Gerber made her runway debut at Calvin Klein as the model-daughter of supermodel Cindy Crawford and was immediately pronounced a ‘supermodel in the making’ as soon as fashion month was over, nabbing a number of major runway slots. One has to question whether she had to sacrifice much for her fresh career like many others, or if she was just given nepotism for being the daughter of well, a supermodel.


Max Mara F/W 2018

There are some models, especially of colour, who have struggled to collectively build their career and portfolios due to the competition with other models, and now with the casting of less-than deserving names. Being cast for big names like Prada or Alexander Wang, who are famously known for being well-versed with online marketing, can instantly launch anyone’s career. Interestingly enough as it is too, the nepotism seems to extend so far to the issue of diversity, token-casting, or the lack off, in modelling. Hollywood is powerful and influential, but of course only if one is white, it’s easy to make one’s offspring just as famous for simply being related to them.) As if it’s already difficult not non-celebrity models of colour to get gigs and carve their names in the industry against other models, having nepotism around isn’t helping either. Admittedly in the spite of their success, many of these new generation ‘models’ are undeserving of the supermodel title that’s been crowned to them, and there’s plenty of debate on the issue too of unfairness in the industry.

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Cindy Crawford Vogue UK 1990 / Kaia Gerber Vogue UK October 2017

Back in 2015, British supermodel of her own right, Naomi Campbell, commented on the debate of nepotism and Instamodels that “my generation of women [….] we had to earn our stripes and take our stepping stones to get to where we have gotten; to accomplish what we have achieved to this take.” She also stated that it was far easier, touch and go nowadays for models to find success in the industry. Of course, she did give blessings to such models, and one has to also consider that considerably with marketing and influence, the more famous you are, the better things sell to the right demographic.

In an industry that’s so synonymous with hard-work and unique standing for success, it’s interesting to see that being born with a silver spoon and the right surname will give anyone a free pass into modelling as a fun hobby. It’s never a right or wrong answer to the debate, but rather a grey one when you have to consider so many pros and cons to keep the industry moving.

Privilege within the industry is prevalent – perhaps it should be changed for the future of rightful models.

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