Vogue has published an end of the year article, in which it attributes "supermodel" status to Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid, likening them to "quintessential ’90s stars like Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Kate Moss, and Cindy Crawford," who Vogue says were "propelled beyond their respective niche by the exposure garnered by their outside endeavors, personal and professional." And as the article, penned by Janelle Okwudo, continues: "What truly makes Kendall and Gigi super material is the interest they generate off-duty. Bombshells next door, they are even better known for their selfie skills than for their work with the pros." With this bold proposal in mind, we look back to an article we published on the heels of the Spring/Summer 2016 shows ….
Countless articles have been devoted to the proposition that pretty girls who boast big social media numbers firmly command the upper hand on the runway and in ad campaigns. While this appears to be the case for many brands, the exception to this rule may come by way of Paris, where it seems that fewer houses cast models based on their social media rankings. Céline, for instance, would likely never cast a social media "it" girl, opting instead of lesser known, fresher faces. With the exception of a few brands, such as Chanel, Givenchy, Balmain and Sonia Rykiel, Paris-based brands tend to steer clear of the industry’s famous social media faces. So, we put this to the test to see how the industry’s most notable Insta-girls (Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid, and Bella Hadid – Cara Delevigne is out because she retired from walking) fared over the course of this past fashion month.
Here’s the breakdown. Of the shows that took place in Paris, Gigi walked in three (Giambattista Valli, Elie Saab and Balmain). Her sister, Bella, walked in one: Balmain. Kendall walked in three (Chanel, Elie Saab and Balmain).
Let’s compare this to the number of shows they walked in New York: Gigi walked in four shows (DVF, Tommy Hilfiger, Jeremy Scott, and Anna Sui). Bella walked in five (DVF, Tommy Hilfiger, Jeremy Scott, Yeezy, and Marc Jacobs). Kendall walked in four shows (Givenchy, DVF, Michael Kors, and Marc Jacobs).
And London: Gigi did not walk in London. Bella walked for Topshop, Burberry and Giles. Kendall did not walk in London.
And Milan: Gigi walked for Versace as an exclusive. Bella walked for Moschino, Missoni, Bottega Veneta, and Philipp Plein. Kendall didn’t walk in Milan.
That’s a total of seven shows for Kendall, down from the thirteen shows she walked in during the Spring/Summer 2015 season. Eight for Gigi, and fourteen for Bella. Also note, Bella walked in Chanel's Metiers d'Art show in Rome two weeks ago.
We can gather a few things from this information. First, taken together, the fashion press and social media make it appear as though Kendall, Gigi and Bella walk in A LOT more shows than they actually do - which may actually be a testament to their so-called "supermodel" status. The number of headlines dedicated to these girls’ fashion month activities (think: Every Outfit Kendall Jenner Has Ever Worn on the Runway, Gigi Hadid: Runway Warrior Woman, Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid rule the runway, and the like) surely over-state their actual presence on the runway.
Second, these social media "it" girls are not exactly runway stars in the traditional sense. Compared to models like Alexandra Elizabeth Ljadov, Harleth Kuusik, Greta Varlese, and Lineisy Montero – who each walked in upwards of 70 shows this season – Kendall and the Hadids's stats simply do not match up.
So, why are they landing on Models.com's Top 50 Models list and being labeled as supermodels in the making? Well, ad campaigns for one thing. Balmain campaigns for all three; Givenchy, Karl Lagerfeld, and Estee Lauder for Kendall; Tom Ford, Maybelline, Guess, etc. for Gigi; and Botkier for newbie, Bella. Ad campaigns are where the industry's reigning social media girls are making the vast majority of their money and gaining steam for their budding modeling careers. That’s where the big money is anyway, and where many models tend to make a lasting impression. So, they are not exactly losing out by not walking, but considering the number of campaigns they are landing, it makes sense why many of the industry's more traditional models (the ones that have made their names on the runway and not on reality television) haven't exactly taken a liking to the "it" girls-turned-models.
But the question remains: If the industry is so taken with these girls (as countless articles indicate) and others who come with big social media followings, why aren’t they walking in more shows? There is the argument that they are simply “too famous.” This came up when casting directors were forced to stop booking Karlie Kloss a couple years ago. She told Vanity Fair in 2013 that she was consistently being turned down for runway jobs, with the reason being: “You are too famous. No one will pay attention to the clothes.” The same has been said of model Joan Smalls. Interestingly, Smalls walked in a number of the same shows this season as the aforementioned social girls: Givenchy, Marc Jacobs, Versace, Bottega Veneta, and Balmain. Kloss walked in one show for Spring/Summer 2016: DVF. But wait a minute: Should we really be comparing Kendall and Gigi to Karlie Kloss?
Given the undeniable amount of fame Kendall, Gigi and Bella have achieved and the rather sporadic casting pattern with which they are associated (being cast in only a small handful of shows, as opposed to a more full schedule (or an exclusive booking) like most other successful models) suggests that they are being cast for publicity's sake more than anything else. That is not news. And it makes sense because the houses that are casting them are ones that subscribe to/can afford this type of publicity or need it (read: Balmain).
If we are to measure Kendall's or Gigi's or Bella's power by way of their internet presence (one of the tangible mediums we have), these girls are nothing if not an asset to brands. It is clear from the pure number of tweets and Instagrams that are born with they hit the runway that these girls come with a slew of devoted followers. But as indicated by the number of houses that are not casting them, the desire to not have clothes being overlooked in favor of "it" girl models must be stronger than houses's desire to cash in on their big-name models's social media followings.
So, how do we reconcile this with Vogue’s bold proposition? It seems we might not have to. The game has changed. What we used to value in a model – in a supermodel – is different than what we look for now. These days, the industry wants clicks and lots of them. Publications and brands want to “break the internet.” Vogue gets this, maybe more than anyone. The article states: “In a fashion landscape that still struggles to acclimate itself to the Internet’s focus on clicks and likes, [Kendall and Gigi’s] brand of success is often derided as antithetical to that of the original supermodel lineup—would Naomi or Linda value user engagement stats as much as a Meisel-lensed editorial? Well, now maybe, but definitely not then.”
One thing that I think is fair to address – albeit briefly – as a point of differentiation between the old supers and the new supers is fame - and how they women got it and when they did. Cindy, Naomi, Linda, Christy made their names in fashion and in direct relation to it (and as Vogue posits, in their endeavors outside of fashion, AFTER making names for themselves on the runways and magazine covers). They were famous models. In this day and age, the timeline seems to be reversed. The so-called new supers, Kendall, Gigi and co., achieved huge amounts of fame BEFORE they became models, and would have been famous regardless of whether or not they graced Vogue editorials or ad campaigns. In fact, the fame they experience as models is arguably pale in comparison to the fame they have achieved as a result of Keeping up with the Kardashians or the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
That distinction may seem semantic, but I’m not so sure. Vogue posits that celebrity is the key to becoming a supermodel “The exposure garnered by their outside endeavors, personal and professional” is what Vogue says allowed the 1990’s women to be super models. If we take that approach, then in accordance with Vogue's reasoning, Kendall and Gigi were supermodels from the first time they stepped on the runway because they were famous from the start.
As you can tell the game and the rules have changed, and so, comparing these social media girls-turned-models with the supermodels of the 1990’s is a bit like comparing apples to oranges. They’re both fruit – but they're different kinds.