ust past mezzo giorno in Milan on Tuesday 5 March 1996, fashion history was made. The Laura Biagiotti show was due to start, there was a packed house of journalists waiting and they waited for just one woman: Naomi Campbell. Eventually Signora Biagiotti gave the signal that the show must start without her, Naomi's 30 million lire fee was donated to an Aids charity and the nine outfits that had been reserved for Miss Campbell had to be withdrawn from the show. It wasn't the first time that a model had been late for a show and it won't be the last, but it is significant because few people have stood up to a supermodel. The fashion industry applauded Signora Biagiotti. "We're sick of supermodels," said one (anonymous) editor on a top woman's magazine, "there are so many other amazing models around". It was bad timing on the part of Naomi in more ways than one, because the fashion industry is moving on to newer, fresher, cheaper and more compliant young things anyway and it doesn't need an excuse to move on any faster.
"I don't think people are sick of supermodels in general. They're lumping everyone in together," says Richard Habberley, one of Helena Christensen's bookers at Select (which also represents new blood Georgina Grenville, the new Gucci girl; Carolyn Park, the new face of MaxMara for next season; and Stella Tennant, who has just been signed as the new fashion face of Chanel). "But it's nice at the moment," Habberley adds, "because for five or six years, everyone was booking the same girls and no one else got a look in." He says that Helena's bookings have not declined since she got the front cover of Vogue seven years ago.
Not surprisingly, no one will admit to fewer bookings, and although the supers (Linda, Christy, Helena, Naomi and Claudia) are becoming more picky about what they do, a lengthy look through Elle and Vogue from 1993 to the present day showed an interesting pattern. In 1993 they commanded seven covers, yet only three in 1995. In 1994 they were on 84 fashion pages; so far in 1996, on only eight and in this month's issues they don't appear at all on the fashion pages - instead, Stella Tennant dominates them. And it's true that everyone is clammering for fresh young things, so Biagiotti's stand is not untimely.
Giorgio Guidotti, creative director and PR for MaxMara, agrees that it's time for new names: "Everyone is feeling it's time for a change. We are going to shoot the next campaign with Carolyn. After working with supermodels, we decided to go into a fresh approach. The supermodels, although beautiful, are overexposed. It's not to do with money."
A company such as MaxMara pays between $1,000 for a new girl to $10,000 for a supermodel to do their show. "We were once asked for $100,000 for a supermodel to do our ad campaign, but we would never pay that kind of money; we do expect to pay more the more famous they are, however."
Tomo Delaney, now an agent with Smile Management agency, saw the supermodel's popularity decline in his two years as booking editor at Elle. "When I started at Elle there was no point even booking some of the supermodels. But before I left we were actually offered Linda and we turned her down, because her look wasn't right." He thinks money also plays a part: "People are loathe to spend $20,000 or$25,000 for one day, although there are still people out there stupid enough to pay huge fees for the supermodels. And they're starting to look tired, their ad campaigns are starting to blend into each other."
Ironically, the more they get paid, the better models seem to get. "People might slag off supermodels," says Lowri Turner, columnist for the Sunday Mirror and one-time fashion editor of the Evening Standard, "but imagine if you could command that kind of money, you'd have immense confidence and that's why they go down the catwalk looking as if they own the world. You put those new girls on the catwalk with the supers and the new girls look smaller, even if they're not."
Photographer Sean Ellis agrees: "Working with a supermodel can be difficult, you have to allow for the fact that they're temperamental but they will have ideas and won't be afraid to voice them on a shoot. A younger girl will just stand there. Younger girls also have less attention span, but when they start getting paid lots of money, they suddenly get a longer attention span."
When the supers finally get pushed into the box marked history by the likes of Jade, Carolyn, Erin and Georgina, so, too, will go a certain celebrity status. "I don't think this new generation of models is going to have the same sort of presence. The new girls are going back to being just models," says Guidotti. And with the supers will also go all those delicious tales of foot-stamping (although no one in the industry will miss that).
The supermodel has also had extreme power, which the new girls won't have. "On one shoot we all held our breath while one supermodel checked the polaroid. She liked it, we all sighed with relief," says one young man of his days assisting some of the world's top snappers. "Because of who they are, we knew that if they did get an attitude, they could just walk off the shoot. I had heard of one less important model who didn't like her polaroid, but said she did. She went to the toilet and climbed out of the window.
"But I didn't realise just how much power these girls have until one day when one of them didn't like the way the photographer (a mega one) was shooting her. She thought you could see a blemish. `Please make sure that doesn't show,' she said, left a pause and then added, `or I'll have your contract.' Another time a super had her favourite single on repeat on the CD player for three hours. No one said anything, not even when she started crying because the music moved her so - the photographer just said, `that's beautiful'."
Certainly not everyone will cry when the super relinquishes her crown. And neither will she: all the supers are millionaires with fortunes of between pounds 1.5m (Naomi) and pounds 3.5m (Claudia) which are set to rise further as they move away from fashion into fitness videos, acting, catering, publishing their memoirs and goodness knows what else. "There are various career paths open to a super when she retires," says Lowri Turner, "MTV show hostess, actress, motherhood. There isn't anything else."
8 Additional research by Dorothy Koomson
the `super' group
Christy, Claudia, Helena and Linda: the big names have ruled the fashion roost in a way that future generations of models probably never will
the new girls
Fresh faces: Carolyn Park of MaxMara; Erin, schoolgirl and `Vogue' model; Georgina Grenville, Gucci girl; Prada and Gaultier model Jade Parfitt
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