1 The first live model is said to have been Marie Vernet, a shop girl for Gagelin and Opigez in Paris. In 1848 Charles Fredrick Worth, the firm’s star couturier and later also Mlle Vernet’s husband, had the idea of letting her show off not just bonnets and shawls for the company, but also a few of the dressmaker’s own creations. The dresses designed by Worth and modeled by his wife sold like hotcakes, and a new profession had been born.
2 Well into the twentieth century however, modeling was regarded as a rather disreputable profession, and models remained both largely anonymous and poorly paid, albeit with a considerable chance of marrying well. The couturier Lady Duff Gordon, owner of the house Lucille, did her best to change this however. She hired women from often poor backgrounds whom she groomed and used to put on spectacular fashion shows. Models were becoming increasingly famous but were, nevertheless, still not received in polite society.
Gilda Gray, 1924
3 With dressmaker Jean Patou the perception of models as menials began to change. In order to break into America, Patou selected tall, slender and white American women to model his designs, and consequently North American women flocked to his stores. Patou proved that consumers were keen to identify with models and, as more emphasis was being placed on individual models, their status began to slowly rise.
4 Modeling agencies began to pop up in Europe and America in the late 1920s and as a result modeling schools, aimed at teaching debutantes and socialites social skills and beauty tricks, were becoming increasingly rife.
fashion models were allowed a wide range of sizes and shapes, each embodying the look of a particular designer’s perceived clients (long and lean at Patou, short and stocky at Balenciaga)
5 As fashion photography became evermore influential, the model continued to rise in status. The first model to become known by name was Swedish former dancer Lisa Fonssagrives, who rose to fame in the 1930s after she had been photographed by some of the most notable fashion photographers of her day, from Horst P. Horst, Richard Avedon and Man Ray to Erwin Blumenfeld and Irving Penn, who she went on to marry in 1950.
6 As long as haute couture dominated fashion models were allowed a wide range of sizes and shapes, each embodying the look of a particular designer’s perceived clients (long and lean at Patou, short and stocky at Balenciaga). However, when the mass production of ready-to-wear came to dictate the market in the 1960s, models instead had to fit into uniform sample collections, which in turn led to an increasingly homogenous look amongst professional models.
Lisa Fonssagrives by Irving Penn, 1950
7 During the same decade, and due to technological advances in print technology, fashion photography became more and more ubiquitous, being reproduced in both newsprint, magazines and on billboards. As a result, photographic models became increasingly in demand, and both their status and salary again rose considerably. Models were featured as protagonists in several films during the 1960s and girls such as Penelope Tree, Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton became progressively more known to the masses, paving the way for the model as media personality. It wasn’t long before every rock star and actor was incomplete without the obligatory model on his arm.
8 In 1973 Lauren Hutton became the highest paid model in history with a salary of $200 000 for only twenty days work and in 1976 Margaux Hemingway followed suit by eclipsing Hutton with a one million dollar perfume contract for Fabergé’s Babe. In the following decade the phenomenon of the supermodel was born.
Jean Shrimpton, 1969
9 The first recorded use of the term ‘supermodel’ occurred in the early 1940s when it began to pop up occasionally in both newspaper articles about fashion and in books teaching young women about how to become models. In the 1980s the term became increasingly common, as women like Paulina Porizkova, Elle Macpherson, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Tatjana Patitz, Claudia Schiffer and Cindy Crawford rose to fame.
10 In 1990 Linda Evangelista famously uttered “We don’t wake up for less than $10 000 a day” to a Vogue journalist, a quote that has since become almost legendary. Today models earn significantly more than that, with Gisele Bündchen at the very top of the ladder since 2004, an even higher earner than the omnipresent Kate Moss. Models have, in other words, come a long way from the faceless, status-less moving mannequins of the early twentieth century; today they prompt us to buy just about everything under the sun, including all from perfumes, dresses, flip flops and face creams with their own names emblazoned across them.