Blip. That's the sound she makes across the fashionscape , an extremely brief episode of noise emitted in that one great first season of hers. Blip . Her little squeak lasts about as long as a strobe or a flash in the studios of Meisel or Mert n Marcus or Inez and Vinoodh, or any of that select group of 8 photographers who eat the majority of the advertising and editorial work every season. They'll shoot her once. Or twice. For a multi-girl Balenciaga ad, for US Vogue or Vogue Paris. But she will bore and then she will never be rebooked. She might have a lifetime of lesser bookings but they will be solidly sub-blue chip. We shouldn't sob. A blip could still make 250K a year in that back catalog work, picking up a Numero here or a Pop there to still seem slightly relevant. But maximum relevancy? Long gone.
And so that is what we'll call that kind of model now. The Blips. There's no need to be cruel enough to name names but we all know exactly the kind of girl we're groaning about. The 80's/90's gave us supermodels. In the 00's girls could still ride the horse of longevity into iconic status. Think Natalia and Daria and Raquel. And now this era of ours, the 10's, is simply for Blips. Staring at the shortlist of this season's Top 10 Newcomers, gut instinct is signaling that there's going to be a lot of blipping in these ranks. This is not to cynically damn this mob of freshly scrubbed newcomers to oblivion. It is simply to acknowledge that somewhere along the model-tracking line, the game has changed.
Runway. It used to mean something. It once was a prestige platform, a kind of auditioning space for new girls to show what they were made of before an audience of the very top editors, stylists and photographers as well as the directional designers canavassing for fresh inspiration. The track had a logic and meaning, from which you could deduce and calculate a likely index of success. The opening slots and exclusives of Prada...so coveted and precious, a first exit in that space meant a star was born. That is until Prada itself (for we must imagine Prada an entity, and a very mercurial one at that) seemed to grow annoyed with all this pedestrian star-is-born drama and swung as randomly and mercurially as it wished. To the point that its Fall 2011 campaign featured 4 girls who not only did not set foot on a Prada catwalk, these girls had hardly set foot outside the little farm towns and villages they seemed to have been gleaned from. Beyond Prada it is the tone, everywhere on every runway. Every designer is doing as he or she will with these roaming bands of awkward new girls and every show increasingly a hermetic and self-enclosed statement of a single designer's current whim. There's very little connection or continuity. One moment the system emits an Arizona Muse and then the next it does not. The fact that Arizona blasted into stardom and did not blip is very much due to Arizona's will and Next's management smarts, not to some pre-set formula of success. Opening slots and after that closing slots now mean nothing whatsoever in the scheme of things. Exclusives are hardly a commitment to a career. They are frankly, a well played game of oneupmanship with the model's career being the last thing on the list of concerns. The look or the importance of the outfit probably being the first. As such I'm hoping this post is a pre-emptive strikes to bookers sending emails touting that Girl X just closed YSL. Yeah ...and...?
In many ways the designers have succeeded in a steady policy of returning fashion modeling to its pre-supermodel mores. Back then there were runway girls and they were a distinct and separate breed from the editorial and campaign super-stars. When the naughty conspiracy of Versace/Meisel/Lagerfeld and a clique of super-smart managers like Gerald Marie and John Casablancas converged on Linda, Christy, Naomi and Claudia to make an event of editorial stars stomping the runway, it seemed that momentum would last into eternity. But that strategy has been steadfastly erased season after season by very smart designers who are certain in their stance that all they need that very long and sleek girl to do is walk to the end of the catwalk, turn and exit in The Look. Nothing more. No Name. No Fame. Blip.
I've frequently said it in interviews that the supermodel died because of the beat down she used to give to clients. She took it there and now it has been taken back. That clique of very bad and very brilliant girls gave Fashion some of its most stunning and emphatic imagery but they were also spoilt young girls who behaved as all spoilt girls were wont to do. Well Kate and Kristen and Carolyn are emeritus now ...almost like ancestral aristocrats of model privilege. But for new girls looking to test the limits? In this our modern day of an over-flowing model market with its ceaseless scouting (for casting directors are scouts too now) the supply so exceeds demand that for a girl to transcend the blur and blip she will have to necessarily be an extraordinary model.
The modeling industry has always been driven by a battle for balance of power and once post-recession clients snatched all the power, they weren't going to give it back. It remains in the interest of the power brokers to retain control using that cynical strategy of one-minute models .And of the marketing device that is Top 10 Newcomers, the truth is only 2 or 3 of those girls can ever find relevancy. Being a runway powerhouse doesn't guarantee a compelling presence in a picture. You never had to be that photogenic to book a runway show anyway and a very great model manager taught me the trick that "the body comes first". That's the fact. The bodies are coming first with personality and presence running distant seconds and thirds.
That is not to say that there is not brewing in the margins, some unlikely girl brimming with presence and personality and the ability to take historic fashion pictures. In scanning for a Top 10 Newcomer maybe the new trick to celebrate girls with some awareness of their career opportunities. At this point Joan Smalls gets a spotlight and a drum roll. But how do you tell from a picture or a runway walk if the girl can stand up to further scrutiny? At the end of the day its all gut instinct and passion. Would you have bet on the iconic possibilities of Lara Stone 3 years ago? Lara was a Top 10 Newcomer way back then and star quality married to genius management has taken that girl very far. Trick is , if there is a "The Next Lara" in this year's pack, she's going to look at first glance, like a Blip. Which is why maybe we should never underestimate anything with a flash of brilliance.