Models are crucial in the function of the fashion industry today in that they help to not only favorably display different items in fashion shows, but also publicize and advertise them elsewhere such as on the streets. They are generally expected to be physically attractive as all of them have very lean and tall bodily figures. Top fashion models are also presumed to present themselves with a trendy personal style that the public could possibly want to imitate or get inspired from. Thus, contemporary fashion models have formed some sort of a subculture, in that they have their ways of styling, which are unique to themselves but somewhat cohesive with one another.
As Marwick stated in Conspicuous and Authentic, “street style blogs contain photographs of stylish people snapped on the street.” It was evident through observing many fashion blogs that display various models’ street style, that wearing black was the most common. Models dressed in this uniform way to establish their model identities. Somehow, dressing in black skinny jeans and matching them with different neutral colored tones like every other model on the street made them appear more model-like. As Bourdieu famously said in Distinction, “taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier.” This statement illustrates how the models displayed their sense of taste in high fashion by wearing minimal, sophisticated, neutral clothing that weren’t tacky or too trendy. By doing so, they were able to identify themselves from the general people in the society by founding their own sense of casual chic style.
Developing their own sense of identity is extremely crucial for success in modeling careers. Identity in the fashion world can be seen as a uniqueness to oneself that is original and memorable. All models must strive to establish their identity in order to be cast in fashion shows and shoots to offer a look that is special and that only they can pull off. Cara Delevigne is a British model that became famous for her frequent appearance in fashion blogs and her goofy personality that was portrayed in her photographs.While most models tried to appear chic and sophisticated in their street photographs, Cara Delevigne constantly made silly facial expressions in her off duty and backstage pictures, which made her stand out from the model crowd and became more memorable. In accordance with her fun fashion styling, her unique personality led her to her fame.
Soo Joo, a Korean model most recently developed her identity as the “Asian model with long, blonde hair”. In her recent interview with NYMAG, she stated, “I think part of the reason I bleached my hair was that I didn’t want to be typecast as an Asian model, I wanted to be me.” What Soo Joo stated is perfect in illustrating one of Mercer’s main points in Black Hair/ Style Politics, that “hair is never a straightforward biological fact because it is always groomed, prepared, but, concealed, and generally worked upon by human hands.” Similarly, Soo Joo was completely in control of her hair, which was a key factor in shaping her identity as a model. As Mercer also mentioned, hair is as visible as skin color and is the most tangible sign of racial difference, which makes it take on a symbolic dimension. Her unique approach to disregarding race by bleaching her hair blonde stood out amongst the group of typical Asian models with straight, black hair. The malleability of hair not only helped her establish her Korean American identity in the fashion industry, but also made a rebellious statement about race.
Likewise, Fei Fei Sun, a Chinese model that became the first Asian woman to star on the cover of Italian Vogue, brings up another commentary about race and identity in the model industry. Fei Fei Sun has an extremely Asian and exotic face with small eyes, straight black hair and so on. With her unique Asian face, she was able to boast her Eastern identity and introduce a new kind of exotic beauty in the fashion industry. While discussing Asian Chic products, Tu said in Culture Economy of Asian Chic, “they are geographically and culturally distant that consumers have the cultural capital to see the value of these exotic objects and the economic capital to purchase them.” Just like the emergence of Asian Chic in fashion that were pulled from multiple Asian cultures, Fei Fei Sun could be seen as the key catalyst in the successful emergence of Asian models in modeling. She notably used her unique face as an effective factor in determining her Chinese identity as a model in the white dominant industry.
Lastly, Rick Genest is a Canadian artist and fashion model who is more famously known as the Zombie or the Skullboy who featured in Lady Gaga’s video for “Born This Way”. Rick Genest has a living skeleton tattooed all over his body, including his face and head. In Anchoring the Post Modern Self, Sweetman makes a comment that “tattoos are anti-fashion if we define fashion as a cycle of new trends, but tattoos are permanent.” This accurately applies to the case of Rick Genest because the permanence of his “body-project” was his very way of attempting to construct and maintain his identity through attention to the body surface. There are no other models in the fashion industry now that has a facial tattoo that is as unique and memorable as Rick Genest’s, which makes him a special figure with a strong sense of identity.
Likewise, it is evident that a majority of the successful models that gained fame in the fashion industry has something about themselves that no other model can offer. This most significantly has to do with their sense of unique identity and their individualism that sets them apart from everyone else. Especially since the public expects all models to have similar bodily figures that are tall and lean, it is important for them to offer something else that is special about them, which may include an uncommon face, hairstyle, and tattoos.
Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1984. Print.
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Mercer, Kobena. Black Hair / Style Politics. N.p.: n.p., 1987. Print.
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Sweetman, Paul. “Anchoring the (Postmodern) Self?” Fashion Theory: A Reader. By Malcolm Barnard. London: Routledge, 2007. N. pag. Print.
Tu, Thuy Linh N. “The Cultural Economy of Asian Chic.” The Beautiful Generation: Asian Americans and the Cultural Economy of Fashion. Durham [NC: Duke UP, 2011. N. pag. Print.
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