The Great Supermodel Debate
When I heard that some media outlets were calling Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner "supermodels", I rolled my eyes a little bit. Although I am a big fan of both models (my love for Kendall can be found here, Gigi here), the term has always felt reserved for those models of the 1990s: Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington and Tyra Banks among them. However, when I heard that a certain other Super *cough* Stephanie Seymour *cough*, was dissing the two millennial muses, even calling them "bitches of the moment", I was more than a little shocked.
For many, the hesitation to call Jenner and Hadid "supermodels" lies in their reality star upbringings. They were both brought up under the camera lights, with a built-in brand accompanying them into the limelight. They didn't have to convince countless industry greats that their customers would care who Kendall Jenner or Gigi Hadid was - they already had thousands of fans watching their every move. There was no "started from the bottom now we here" - these women started almost at the top at best.
This point isn't the one that stops me from getting on board with the "supermodel" term. I think that it is impossible to hold both Jenner's and Hadid's background against them. Let's face it, in any industry it's all about who you know.
I recently read Tyra Banks' response to this "feud". I am a huge Tyra Banks fan, and I greatly respect her as both a businesswoman and model advocate. I think that Tyra's take on the matter is closest to how I feel about Jenner and Hadid's place in the modeling industry. Tyra goes into depth and detail about the new challenges that millennial models face that replace the trials and tribulations that the original Supers had to deal with. Tyra calls for a truce between generations, an acceptance of every caliber of "supermodel".
I can definitely get behind Tyra's call to action. Any idea that is full of acceptance is a good one, and she makes a good point that the models of today have to deal with the all-consuming world of social media and fandom. However, I'm still not going to be utilizing the term "supermodel" to describe Kendall Jenner or Gigi Hadid anytime soon.
To me, being a supermodel means a lot more than a year or two of popularity. It means more than millions of followers on Instagram. It means more than walking in the Victoria's Secret fashion show and starring in high fashion campaigns. It means more than having paparazzi follow your every move.
When I think of supermodeldom, I think of the legends. These women have been in the public eye for years (if not decades) and have maintained a certain level of notoriety. They are the muses that will be recalled years later with nostalgia. They are women who take their moment of fame and blow it up into something so much bigger - into true icon status. They cover every major magazine, walk the runway for storied fashion houses and book high fashion and commercial gigs alike. A true supermodel does it all and has a legacy that will live forever. To me, you can't define someone as a supermodel until years later. You can look back and say "Wow she was one of the greats", but it is impossible to identify that concept in the moment.
This isn't to say that Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner will not reach that status one day - I truly believe that they have the capabilities to do so. Their large followings haven't begun to decay and I don't think that they're going away anytime soon. They continue to book big-name work and garner praise from incredibly influential photographers and designers. These models have all the makings of a stardom, but I think that we should reserve the term "supermodel" for those who have achieved so much in the industry already. For now, Gigi and Kendall can hold onto words like "It Girl", "style icon" and "social media star". Their day will come.