Wednesday, May 06, 2009

In which the NYT shoulders the great journalistic burden of defending the defenseless...models.

I kid you not. I would not have posted except for the bizarre preponderance of reporting on models this week at the expense of The Crazy Women, ostensibly because there is some kind of museum exhibit. Quick! Someone tell all of the college kids to stop lighting candles and instead campaign for Met exhibits on Darfur, and someone tell all of the anti-war protesters to target curators! Oh wait, that might only work for shallow subjects of

Besides, if not them, who? The Model Anti-Defamation League:

1. "It's Official. Models Look Good." This is faint, left-handed under the knee praise for the voiceless silent stick figures known as models:

“The Model as Muse” seeks to examine the relationship, as Mr. Yohannan writes in the big glossy book that accompanies the exhibition, “between high fashion and the evolving ideals of beauty through the careers and personifications of iconic models who posed in the salons, walked the runways and exploded onto the pages of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and even Life and Time.”

Action verbs are one of the enduring tropisms of fashion-speak and so naturally models never “land” in either Vogue or our lives with a passive thump. Models are locomotives, to use an archaic Vreeland-era formulation. Models rocket. Models explode. Whether or not models are icons, they incontestably excite our attention and draw us in.

Are models perhaps the last silent film stars? A preview of “The Model as Muse” suggests they are. A model’s face on a magazine cover may sell fewer issues than that of the latest hot actress, but they are ultimately a lot more compelling to look at and this is because we hardly ever have to hear about their private lives or be burdened with their thoughts.

It cannot be accidental that Kate Moss, the most persuasive contemporary example of a model as an artistic catalyst, has assiduously guarded what she says throughout her career. Ms. Moss is no dummy. She knows that the basic requirement of her particular job is silence. A model is a muse to the precise extent that a model is mute.

2. One bite at the apple is not enough! Yet another article on "The Model as Muse" exhibit, this time a more critical review rather than a bizarrely fawning college freshman treatment of the metaphors of High Fashion:

What does not quite come across is how much these early models, although famous enough when they married an aristocrat and moved into high society, were still subsumed by the clothes. The magazines were showing what they wore, not emphasizing who they were.

The exhibition remains a glossy fairyland, with no hint of the sad end of models who lived fast and died young. Instead, we see only in their prime Penelope Tree, two-dimensional as an Andy Warhol “Factory” product, or the smoldering Janet Dickinson. Helmut Newton’s glamorous decadence captures a more edgy vision from the 1970s.

What would have transformed this show from being not just entertaining and interesting, but profound? By turning attention almost entirely on the models, it denies the reality of a model’s image as a collaborative construction, with editor, photographer and designer working together to mold a new “face.” But showing how the cocktail of beauty is concocted might have shed too much light on the ephemeral magic of the model and muse.

3. Sad to say, models are being replaced by actresses in our increasingly celebrity-driven culture:

NEW YORK — Have models lost their clout to celebrities? While the Metropolitan Museum is showing half a century of models on magazine covers, today’s issues are more likely to feature Hollywood stars.

“It’s a difficult time for models,” says Marc Jacobs, the chief sponsor of the Costume Institute exhibition. “The whole idea of supermodels came in a pop culture when actresses weren’t that interesting. Now Hollywood is filled with young actresses, and there is digital technology to make them look good.”

Anna Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue for two decades, admits that she is more likely to find star power in Hollywood than on the runway. “The public interest in models these last few years has not been as it was during the early ’90s when Naomi [Campbell] and Linda [Evangelista] caused so much excitement,” Ms. Wintour says. “And until models become celebrities again in their own right, I can’t see them selling as well on magazine covers as actresses.”

Ms. Wintour says that the scarcity of models fronting Vogue is because “the generation that followed the supermodels shied away from that sort of fabulosity and scrutiny.”

Since when did Anna Wintour, brittle queen of haute couture, start talking like Flava Fav and Kimora Lee Simmons? "Fabulosity"? Anyway, I think this is less a remark on how private models have become and more interesting starlet actresses have become than a remark on how our standards of "interesting" have fallen, and the low bar that is set for "celebrity" in our tabloid culture. Cough Paris Hilton cough. Being famous for being famous has replaced being famous for beauty, talent, intelligence....

4. "At Met Institute Gala, High Cheekbones and Higher Hemlines Rule". Ironically, the featured picture is of Jessica Biel, an actress of dubious talent and more famous for dating Justin Timberlake.

“Models are not just faces and bodies,” Ms. Versace said. “They have brains.”

This has been a rough decade for models, with accusations that their industry has been encouraging unhealthy behavior by promoting a stick-thin figure and underrepresenting models of color. Beverly Johnson, the first black model to appear on the cover of Vogue, in 1974, said the exhibition, which traces fashion history from Richard Avedon’s portraits of Dovima and Sunny Harnett in the 1950s through the supermodels of the 1980s, was a great acknowledgement of the contributions of models to fashion.

Asked how she felt about being a museum-worthy muse, Ms. Moss shrugged and pulled a big piece of gum out of her mouth.

“I’m amused,” she said. “I think it’s quite interesting for somebody to go outside of the box and think that a model actually has had some input into fashion. A lot of the time, the models don’t really get a say.”

But in recent years, since the end of the era of supermodels more than a decade ago, designers have increasingly sought to cast their fashion shows with models with blank faces and indistinguishable features, partly because the supermodels were getting more attention than their clothes. Besides Ms. Bundchen, there has not been a new supermodel in years, let alone one whose name is easily recognizable. And that was intentional.

“It was hard to sort of overcome the bigness of some of those personalities, or to bring those personalities sort of down, you know?” Mr. Jacobs said. “Now fashion is about looking at the clothes and not the girls.”

Poor models. I am not being wholly sarcastic here. They are genetic freaks of beauty, but they also face great pressures to stay unhealthily thin and some of the less successful ones I am sure get pressured into quid pro quo sexual harassment. I'd actually be interested in the latter, and the former makes me sad for the sake of the models and the teenage girls they'll influence. Still, reading all this is quite boring (and I only read them to write this post). Maybe models really are lacking in sufficient fabulosity. I tried to read Mary Gaitskill's Veronica. The prose was lovely, but I was unable to care at all about this run-down failed model and her friend. it was like a Bret Easton Ellis novel (albeit with better writing), and I can't bring myself care about the New York glitterati. I very often bring myself to mock them, however.