Anatomy of a Nineties covergirl

No British please, we're sexy. Cosmopolitan's editor has said she won't use UK models on Cosmo covers. Image is all when it comes to selling magazines, says Ruth Picardie

The fashion world is all fluffed up and crossabout Cosmo editor Mandi Norwood, who has ditched British models from her covers because they don't have the right "attitude". "A lot of British girls are just 'plants'," Ms Norwood declared last week. "They do not thrust themselves forward. Sad to say, most of the girls we use are American - they are confident and inspiring."

The modelling sorority is up in cellulite-free arms. "How dare this woman say what is in?" says an outraged booker at Select, who look after the very English, very haughty, very hot Stella Tennant. "She has to appeal to the suburbs." "It's silly," said an official at Models One, home of Yasmin Le Bon. "She is trying to push modelling back into the 1980s - all big hair and bums."

All good publicity for Norwood - her declaration was one of "Nine steps to a 500,000 circulation!", which included, "Are we getting talked about?" Not bad, too, for Stella Tennant and other weirdly in-demand British girls. Sadly for photographers and designers, though, covergirls in the Nineties have got nothing to do with big vs small hair, everything to do with product placement and computer-enhanced teeth. Forget Horst's beautiful work in the Thirties; Vogue's all-white cover in the Sixties; here is the anatomy of the identikit Nineties covergirl.

THE GIRL. Ideally, should be aged 17-22. Former Harper's & Queen editor Willy Landels once said the best covergirl is 16 (better skin) going on 29 (more accessible), like the schoolgirl Ralph Lauren model who caused a micro-scandal a couple of years ago when she kept falling asleep at shoots. The most successful covergirls have their own names: Yasmin (this month's Harper's), Yasmeen (Marie Claire) and Tatjana (Elle) crop up with monotonous regularity. (Shana, Cosmo's "come and get me" American, is not really a name, which is why they have to explain on the cover that she is "So hot! SHANA.") The name covergirls don't look any different from the non-names, but they have celebrity boyfriends and are best friends with the name photographers (Steven Meisel), hairdressers (Sam McKnight), and make-up artists (Mary Greenwell). Celebrities or not, nobody does covers for the money: Vogue's pays pounds 75 a day, the worst rate but the most prestige, which leads to million-dollar ad campaigns. Photographers can clean up on perks, too: on a recent trip to Ireland, American legend Bruce Weber got Vogue to charter a plane for his dogs. "He farts, it costs them pounds 200 in expenses," says a fashion insider. "Then immediately Chanel phone up."

THE FACE: Big, big, big! "It's really basic," says Nicola Jeal, former editor of Elle. "You've got to make contact on the bookstand. Big faces stand out." Marie Claire, Britain's bestselling women's magazine, pioneered the bigger-than-lifesize look. Otherwise, covergirls must be healthy, glossy and, above all, bland. "Regardless of the bruised, smack addict, British council estate fashion stories inside," says Vicki Woods, former editor of Harper's & Queen, "the cover must not be more outre than your own face. You want every dull, Sloaney, slightly overweight, tedious, lower middle-class woman in the world to be able to identify with it." Buying a magazine is like looking in the mirror - hence the glossy paper - at an idealised version of yourself. Thus the much-hailed waif made the covers only a handful of times. Hence, also, a reluctance to use black models: in May, Naomi Campbell was dumped in favour of Niki Taylor for the cover of American Vogue.

SKIN: Covergirls have a permatan and look as if they are made from plastic. Elle suggests that this perfect, line-free look can be achieved if readers "Prime skin with Teint Hydro-Lifting Firming Foundation in Nougat No 9 (pounds 26) ..." etc (products totalling pounds 100.45). In fact, it is achieved by computer "adjustments", which are now taking over from retouch artists. Some photographers do the adjusting in advance: see Andre Rau - popular at Marie Claire - and his spookily unrealistic photos of Fergie in Hello!. Make-up credits are unrelated to actual products used and are all about favours: Elle's cover is by Guerlain, who happen to have an ad on the back cover.

EYES: Contact, contact, contact! The bigger the eyes, the better. The semi-legendary fashion photographer Polly Mellon got covergirls to open their eyes wide by making them say, "Am I worth $3? Yes, I'm worth $3!" and snapping on the "Yes!". Always lots of work for the adjuster, painting on eyelashes and enhancing the colour - Amber Valetta wanders between grey, blue, green and hazel. Plus, of course, making the whites vein-free and Dulux-bright. "Sometimes their eyes are so white," says a fashion insider, "they look like the office junior has had a go with the Tippex."

MOUTH: Open. Forget Freud: open is simply a much more inviting concept than closed. Vicki Woods suggests the right degree of parting can be achieved by shouting "Attack!" and shooting on the "ack!" Teeth, too, must be whiter than white (hence, perhaps, Mandi Norwood's fondness for orthodontically corrected Americans).

HAIR: Alexandra Shulman, editor of Vogue, recently said that blondes sell better than brunettes. Whatever, hair must be off the face and above all away from the eyes. Hairdressers pay back their sponsors (ie, salons and haircare ranges) in the credits.

PERFUME: Yes, it's true. Elle actually has a "scent note" for this month's covergirl: "Un Air de Samsara (pounds 25) with light floral and citrus notes." No, not scratch-and-sniff covers, but product placement for advertisers, who have to pay up to pounds 10,000 a page.

CLOTHES: No room for anything but big heads, I'm afraid. "Clothes don't matter a damn," says Nicola Jeal, despite the pages of fashion inside. Can be computer enhanced: in June Vogue, Naomi Campbell was in the same pose, different bikini, inside and on the cover. "Red lips and red dresses," says fashion photographer Matthew Donaldson, "sell more than blue dresses and brown lips."

COVERLINES: At least as important as the covergirl, according to Vicki Woods. According to Nicola Jeal, sex only works for teenage readers these days. "But numbers are good," she adds, "very grabby from a distance." This month's Marie Claire promises - in huge type - "pounds 50,000 of gifts"; Woman's Journal a mere "pounds 30,000 of beauty giveaways".

GIFTS: Increasingly important. Once upon a time, supplements were a fab extra: now the readers want free gifts. This month's Elle has sold out because of a free bag, which is clever branding, too. Even better are gifts with value, such as Harper's & Queen's summer read, which retails at pounds 5.99.

So there you have it: the Nineties covergirl. Attitude doesn't come into it.

Lines

Remove all creases round eyes

Make-up

Who are we promoting this month?

Lips

Ask beauty editor to supply colour

Clothes

Change to red, please

Mouth

Must see a flash of teeth

Eyes

Whiter than white, please

Hair

Get rid of wispy bits

Coverlines

Numbers! eg: 50 ways to fabulous sex

Perfume

See ad on back cover - credit the brand inside

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