New model army: Why fashion has fallen out of love with its A-list clotheshorses

Unknown faces are replacing famous faces. Finally the frocks may be the stars of the show, writes Susannah Frankel

The September issues of the big fashion glossies, which are out next week, are traditionally the fattest and most lucrative of the year. If you do manage to find any actual, genuine editorial coverage lurking amid the all-new, high- budget, high-profile, autumn/winter advertising campaigns then you're a better woman – or even man – than many. And what campaigns they are!

A considerable fortune is spent on the placement of these ads, which are in effect the fashion industry's single most important marketing vehicle. And naturally, a huge amount of time and money is also invested in finding the right photographer, the ideal stylist and, most importantly of all, the perfect "face" to represent the brand – whether that brand is the ultra-chic Yves Saint Laurent, say, or the cheap-and- cheerful Rimmel.

Take Chanel, for instance, the high fashion label that over the past decade has used actresses such as Nicole Kidman and Keira Knightley as models – with the former famously being paid $3.71m (about £2.3m) for her efforts. Other famous faces as diverse as those of Madonna and Mikhail Gorbachev have fronted campaigns for Louis Vuitton. Then there was Lindsay Lohan and Vanessa Paradis for Miu Miu, Charlotte Rampling and Dakota Fanning for Marc Jacobs, anyone and everyone for L'Oreal … The list goes on and on, and provides proof, if ever any were needed, that such well-known names were indeed "worth it", as the slogan has it. The symbiotic relationship between fashion and celebrity, as seen everywhere from the red carpet to an increasingly sophisticated print media, has been the most ubiquitous and, it almost goes without saying, money-spinning phenomenon of the era. That is, until now.

This time last year – and as presciently as ever – the Prada Group sent out a press release to accompany the launch of its new women's wear campaign for Miu Miu stating, in the opening paragraph, that it marked "the return of the model as opposed to the celebrity" to fashion's most hallowed frontline. Shot by the super-fashionable duo Mert Alas and Marcus Pigott, the images established just that, featuring an array of painstakingly sought-out new models remarkable for their fresh personalities and entirely unrecognisable faces.

In February this year – in a move that was equally unprecedented – Marc Jacobs very publicly rid his catwalk show's front row of the formerly requisite A-list contingent, telling the influential American Vogue website that his love affair with celebrity was over.

"It generated so much press [but] at a certain point it was like, 'Did anybody actually watch the show?' " Even the season before that, only Lady Gaga and Madonna had been in attendance, Jacobs added. For her part, La Ciccone "just called and said she was coming: there are certain things I can't control" – the will of Madonna included apparently.

Given that Prada and Jacobs are two of the most influential names in international fashion, it's small wonder that the rest of the industry is now following suit.

And so it is this season, with the big autumn campaigns almost unanimously casting bona-fide models centre stage. These aren't models of the "super" variety either – the likes of Kate Moss, Linda Evangelista, Claudia Schiffer and Naomi Campbell are all household names and have long had celebrity status in their own right. This time around, the women chosen, while they may be well-known and even celebrated within the fashion industry, are united by their anonymity outside of it. Sceptics may argue that this development is at least partly attributable to budgetary constraints – it's no secret that big names require big salaries to match. But there seems to be rather more to it than that, prompting many insiders to wonder: is fashion's long-running love affair with celebrity finally over?

"What I need to focus on is attitude, and this comes from a great, experienced model," the designer Stefano Pilati told Women's Wear Daily in April, of his decision to cast the 26-year-old Daria Werbowy for Yves Saint Laurent's latest campaign. "[Models] can feel the clothes and make them relevant from a fashion point of view." But while it is true that a model's experience of the way clothing performs may be more extensive than that of an actress, there is also a certain suspension of ego required – and this is not often acknowledged – in order to put fashion, as opposed to mere vanity, first.

"I think it's a very contemporary approach," says Frida Giannini, the creative director at Gucci, which has chosen another experienced model, 27-year-old Raquel Zimmermann, as its leading lady. "The other issue with celebrities is that they are characters who are often associated with a certain film, for instance. I prefer a strong, generic face that's not related to any particular world – whether that be music or Hollywood."

So there it is: the model as blank canvas, knocked off her pedestal for many years by more immediately recognisable actors, is making a return. And while this approach is in some ways more elitist – there are those who will inevitably argue that the unfamiliar is somehow also intimidating – there's something to be said for allowing people to project their own dreams onto an image. That is something that using an actor as instantly identifiable as Jennifer Aniston or Gwyneth Paltrow, say, inevitably precludes.

Leave it to Karl Lagerfeld – rarely backwards in coming forwards – to address this issue in just the faintly dismissive tones for which he's known and loved. Fashion's most protean player has also cast models, not actors, for the autumn campaigns of Chanel, Fendi and his own signature label (all of which he designs). "Why? Because I love them. They have the right look and class." Ah, class ... and with this in mind, he adds, "Their overexposure in 'people' magazines also makes it that one may be a little tired of celebrities and the red carpet."

It wasn't until the Eighties – significantly the decade in which designer fashion first identified the potential of its power – that the relationship between fashion and celebrity began to gather momentum, and the seeds were planted for the behemoth it has become today. Giorgio Armani dressed Richard Gere in American Gigolo, and the response was such that the great Italian designer soon ensured that the front rows of his twice-yearly men's and women's wear shows were as star-studded as his jewelled evening gowns. Gianni Versace was quick to enter the fray. Speculation was rife as to just how much either designer was prepared to pay anyone, from Sofia Loren to George Michael to attend their shows, resplendent, it almost goes without saying, in Armani or Versace designs.

Versace, in particular, went on to invest huge amounts of capital in advertising campaigns shot by big names such as Irving Penn, Bruce Weber and Richard Avedon that featured everyone from Elton John to Madonna (yes, her again) and from Jon Bon Jovi to Lisa Marie Presley. If ever designer muscle was fully flexed, it was here. The fact that the label had the weight to employ not only the world's most feted photographers but also so many of its most famous stars was a potent formula that few – before or since – could ever match. By the late Nineties, it was rumoured that Nicole Kidman was being paid no less than $2m simply to wear Christian Dior to significant social occasions.

It was also during this period that fashion magazines began featuring celebrities as opposed to models on their covers on a regular basis – and it was doubtless quite a coup when, for the December 1998 issue of American Vogue, Anna Wintour landed Hillary Clinton for that purpose.

Within five years, however, the effect of such originally ambitious intentions had been watered down beyond all recognition. Testamant to this was the appearance of the alleged TV "stars" Amanda Holden, Hermione Norris, Tamzin Outhwaite and Ulrika Jonsson on the cover of the November 2002 issue of British Vogue, a decision that moved some high-minded commentators – and Sir Roy Strong, the flamboyant former director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, in particular – to bemoan a celebration of the "trash-ocracy" in British culture. This was hardly "aspirational", the thinking went, and that, surely, was the point of such glossy titles.

"Models come and go so quickly these days that they have no recognition factor," Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman replied somewhat testily in The Independent. "We are not a boutique magazine aiming to sell 35,000 issues. When you want to sell as many magazines as we do, that is very important."

And therein perhaps lies the point. Where previously the world of designer fashion had kept itself remote – that was an integral part of its appeal – by the turn of the millennium it had been well and truly "democratised", to use the common parlance. On the surface, this may have seemed like a good thing. But while magazines upped their sales by employing such tactics – and ventures like the online clothing retailer ASOS made a fortune touting budget copies of outfits "as seen on screen" – as far as real fashion and the imagery that promotes it are concerned, the effect mostly proved less positive. The concept of a team of people coming together to create either life-enriching clothing or a fantasy world that takes the consumer to a more beautiful place appeared to be taking a back seat.

This kind of thinking always had its detractors, of course – designers who believed that placing celebrities in advertising campaigns, in the front row at their shows and, even more so, on the catwalk itself, did nothing but detract from the main event. It is the stuff of fashion folklore that, in 1999, Alexander McQueen refused to invite Victoria Beckham to his show, arguing that her presence would be an unwelcome distraction. Almost a decade later, Janet Jackson received the same treatment. "I can't get sucked into that celebrity thing, because I think it's just crass," McQueen said at that time. "I work with people who I admire and respect. It's never because of who they are. It's not about celebrity, that would show a lack of respect for the work, for everyone working on the shows – because when the pictures come out it's all about who's in the front row."

McQueen's contemporary, Hussein Chalayan, has been equally outspoken. At the British Fashion Awards in February 2000, he was named designer of the year for the second time. "I'd like to take this opportunity to say how disappointing it was this week that all the press were still so impressed by celebrities appearing on designers' catwalks," he said when he went up to accept his gong. Again Mrs Beckham, this time opening and closing Maria Grachvogel's less than outstanding catwalk presentation, knocked every other designer, including Chalayan himself, off the news pages. "It was especially disappointing," Chalayan continued, "because that space could have been given to all the designers who bust their gut in the last week or so. It's Fashion Week, not Celebrity Week."

One can only imagine what Chalayan might have said when the troubled actress Lindsay Lohan was appointed creative director at the formerly esteemed French fashion house of Ungaro. When it was announced, in the autumn of 2009, that the now incarcerated starlet was designing a collection alongside Estrella Archs, the media storm that blew up around it may have been considered to be worth its weight in gold. To say that the resulting collection was thin, however, would be something of an understatement, and the fruits of the duo's labours were almost universally panned. Lohan and the ill-fated Archs have both since parted company with Ungaro – and the company has now wisely installed the British designer Giles Deacon at the creative helm.

With all of this in mind, it perhaps makes perfect sense that fashion is finally reasserting its less approachable side and the value of the model – who, it should be remembered, may still be an actor par excellence – over and above more familiar names. It's no secret, after all, that once an idea has become mainstream, it is unlikely to be tolerated for long by industry movers and shakers for whom innovation remains the Holy Grail. So is celebrity finally going out of fashion? The last word goes to Lagerfeld, of course. "Celebrities want to do their own lines, their fragrances," the designer told Women's Wear Daily with only thinly veiled contempt. "A change was needed."

The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
Life and Style

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)

Concerns raised phenomenon is threatening resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
The number of children in relative income poverty is currently 2.3 million in the UK

A Brazilian wandering spider
natureIt's worth knowing for next time one appears in your bananas
Life and Style
Time and Oak have developed a product that allows drinkers to customise the flavour and improve the quality of cheaper whiskey
food + drink

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Year 5 Teacher

    £80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

    Software Developer

    £35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

    Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

    £35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

    Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

    £30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

    Day In a Page

    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
    Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

    How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

    'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

    Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

    Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
    Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

    Terry Venables column

    Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
    The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

    Michael Calvin's Inside Word

    Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past