Style: Nicole vs Naomi

Supermodels? Forget it. Now magazines want women with looks and personality on their covers, says Nilgin Yusuf
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Indy Lifestyle Online
When magazine editors announce to their staff - as one did only the other day - that "Nobody cares about models anymore" you know times are changing. Take American Vogue. The fashion bible has not featured a model on its cover for over a year now. This prized place, once categorically reserved for Cindy in Chanel or Claudia in Calvin, has been hijacked by celebrities and so-called "real women". Previous issues have featured Elizabeth Hurley and the Spice Girls before building up to a clattering crescendo of mega- celebrity with Oprah Winfrey, snapped by Steven Meisel, and Hillary Clinton, shot by Annie Leibovitz.

Meanwhile, American Vogue's rival, Harper's Bazaar, is not to be beaten. This month it features Madonna, seriously outshining Vogue's rather lame follow-up of Jewel, the Alaskan folk singer. (Who could top Hillary?) And don't think this is happening only in America. A glance across any newsagents' shelves shows the same trend happening here. The latest edition of She features Meg Ryan on the cover, New Woman has gone for Jennifer Aniston and Claire Forlani, Brad Pitt's co-star in Meet Joe Black, is on the cover of Harpers & Queen. Taking their cue from the success of Vanity Fair, which has long featured glamorous celebrity covers, it seems that fashion magazines are in danger of becoming just another marketing arm of the entertainment industry. Indeed, one modelling agency, Wilhelmina International, has recently formed an alliance with Atlantic Records, part of Time Warner Inc.

Only five years ago, RuPaul's pop paean to runway uberglamour, Supermodel, was at the top of the American charts and singer George Michael's videos featured top models lip-synching the lyrics to his music as they writhed across concrete floors. There was a time when no fashion designer would consider staging a catwalk show without the star presence of the big names, and when an advertising campaign could be guaranteed success on a supermodel's face. Touted as "the new Hollywood", the reigning models basked in the flashbulb glare of publicity, devoted to detailing every aspect of their lives: their exercise regime, diet and latest deal.

Now, a decade later, we are no longer hanging on to Linda's every haircut or Naomi's latest trick. The supers, as they were once known, are reduced to giving essentially unsexy products - cars, cameras and shampoo - the illusory boost of fashion cred. Tellingly, Linda Evangelista currently stars in an American commercial for Visa, with the slogan, "I have no identity". The supers are still making money, but they've lost their cachet, power and fascination. They have grown up and so have we.

Michael Gross, author of Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women, believes supermodels made the fatal mistake of believing their own hype and each so precipitated their spectacular downfall. "The industry, the business, the editors became sick and tired of their greed, their arrogance, their demands", he says. "And the public became bored with looking at them and with their fame." There may be some truth in this, but fashion's wind change cannot be entirely attributed to these models' over-exposure.

Throughout the Nineties, standards of beauty have moved on. "We are much more hungry for new faces," believes Guido, superhairstylist to models and celebs alike. "Nothing sits still for long. No girl can embody the perfect look." The current aesthetic presents a diversity of models from ebony-black Alex Wek to wiry Trish Goff. Whether it's a button nose or bushy eyebrows, these days to get noticed, albeit briefly, you need one really interesting feature. Devon, the tiny, unusual-looking, kittenish model, has been booked for the next Chanel show.

We have Kate Moss to thank for this new openness to different looks. When she first appeared, some editors remarked that she was short and her eyes too far apart. But she has had the last laugh: the relative latecomer to the supermodel stable has managed to adapt to the times and remain relevant.

If models are no longer promoted as stars, it's because of the speed with which their images are consumed and discarded. There isn't time for viewers to lock into them as personalities. We don't know who they are, so we don't care. And while the beauty industry nurtures individuality, the Hollywood laboratory creates new svelte, glamour-loving stars, only too happy to be dressed up in Versace or Prada. While everyone suspected that models were one-dimensional, film stars give the illusion of substance.

Editors, meanwhile, have discovered a sexy way to create publicity and sell their product. In 1997, Harper's Bazaar's best-selling cover featured Courtney Love, American Cosmo's top seller Jennifer Aniston. In 1998, Mademoiselle, with Neve Campbell as covergirl, and Seventeen, fronted by Leonardo DiCaprio, sold like hotcakes.

The irony is that although we are now more likely to buy covers featuring people we feel have personalities, our response to them hasn't changed. When we see Hillary we don't think, "Great role model", but "Wow, hasn't she lost weight?" Perhaps the true difference is that these celebrities present a more accessible fantasy. They say, "This could be you" while supermodels say, "This will never be you".