Longevity is not a word often associated with fashion models. These days most of them are the living breathing equivalent of the seasonal “it bag”. Walking the catwalk and grabbing the big ticket advertizing contracts for a season, ok maybe two seasons, and then they fad away like a beautiful dream that you can’t quite remember.
But there are a handful of models that, just like some dreams, return over and over again. They have become familiar friends that you begin to rely on for continuity and comfort. Stunning signposts that subtly mark the passage of time as they elegantly age on the cover of magazines or crop up as the “new” face for a beauty product.
What makes these particular models timeless? What do Kate Moss, Naomi Cambell, Claudia Schiffer, Christy Turlington, and Amber Valletta or Kristen McMenamy and Stella Tennant, for that matter, have that thousands of other super model hopefuls don’t?
Looking at their divergent careers there is not one facial feature or fashion moment that secured their place in the pantheon of style. Their success has more to do with the woman behind the model mask than a picture perfect pose, new hair color or toned physique.
These women are unforgettable because they are able to convey to the world the life they have lived via their entrancing eyes at every photo shoot, catwalk show and product launch.
Of all these women Kate Moss and Naomi Cambell are the one that have truly seared their images into the fashion psyche partly by never leaving its spotlight. For years Moss shrouded herself in a cloak of mystery. Never looking the same way twice, her chameleon face was transformed for each photo spread. She is a silent canvas on which designers and brands can project their trend of the season. And it is perhaps for this reason that so many became fascinated by Moss’s personal style, transforming her from mere model into trend setter and fashion icon. In fact it was only recently, in a video for the lingerie brand Agent Provocateur, that the world heard Moss speak for the first time. Today she has taken her personal taste and turned it into a multi million dollar business designing a clothing line for Top Shop and a collection of bags for the French brand Longchamp.
As for Naomi Campbell, there is no mistaking her for anyone else. She is the only model from the original group that stared in the iconic January 1989 British Vogue cover by photographer Peter Lindbergh who still consistently walks the world’s catwalks. The London born beauty paved the way for other models of color like Liya Kebede and Chanel Iman to become some of the top earners in the industry today. And while she might be know for her diva-like antics off the catwalk she is also famous for using her bursting rolodex of designer and celebrity friends to create her Fashion for Relief charity runway shows. It is via this charity work, be it a pop up shop in London for The Prince’s Trust or a fundraiser for Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, that Campbell keeps a high profile off the catwalk. Using her fame for good gives her life a richness and a purpose outside of fashion or as Naomi has said “If you ask me to walk the runway for charity- I’ll do it.”
For other supermodels they stepped out of the limelight to become super moms raising families and turning their attention towards other passions that not only enriched their lives, but when they return to modeling, honed their focus. Christy Turlington took a break from modeling to go back to school and get a degree in comparative religion and eastern philosophy as well as launch a successful clothing line with puma called Nuala which was based on her love of yoga. Along the way she married the movie director Edward Burns and had two children. Amber Valletta has tried her hand as an actress and became a mother to a baby boy. Family was also the focal point for Claudia Schiffer who is now the mother of three and for Kristen McMenamy and Stella Tennant who both have a brood of four children each. Or as Tennant has said in the past about why she slowed down her modeling career, “you have to work out what your priorities are.”
But as the children grow and become independent these super moms are taking stock and retuning to the catwalk and the glossy magazine covers on their own terms. In just the past year Tennant open the Chanel ready to wear show- twice, Valletta walked in a Balenciaga show, McMenamy did an unforgettable one woman performance for Viktor & Rolf, wearing almost every outfit in the collection on her body- at the same time. Old friends Campbell and Moss trapped around the Louis Vuitton runway in March while down the street from the show their colleague Schiffer was showing buyers her newly launch eponymous cashmere clothing line. As for Turlington, besides shooting covers and being the face for recent ad campaigns for Bottega Veneta, Louis Vuitton and Bally she also found the time to create a well received documentary call “No Woman, No Cry” about global maternal health issues.
Today most of the models that walk the catwalks and dominate fashion magazines are very young and consequently innocent. Their blank faces and similar body types and inexperience have its own charms. It is arguably easier to project yourself into an outfit worn in a magazine spread or carrying a handbag proffered in a poster by a girl you know nothing about. But by the same token many woman in their thirties and forties, who are at the heart of the power earning years, find solace in seeing models that they have grown up with, that they can relate to and whose history they know like the back of their hand showing them that getting older doesn’t mean you have to give up on glamour.
These supermodels, who have the determination and drive to find a way to balance work, family and charitable giving, are just as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside. The grace with which they age and how they chose to live their lives has made them shine out like fashionable beacons of style and beauty.