Modelling for Metropolitan magazineThere has been much talk about the November issue of Vogue, now out since October 3rd, as it is a 'model-free zone', in other words, the clothes rather than being featured by professional models are featured by other professional women, in the public eye. In the words of Alexandra Shulman, chief editor of Vogue UK “In this country, there is still a stigma attached to clearly enjoying how you look and experimenting with it if you are a woman in the public eye and not in the fashion or entertainment business".
Like several others have commented, I too take the 'model-free zone' claim with a grain of salt as all the various ads still feature professional models -and there is page upon page of them. The 'real women' issue is actually nothing new, except in its naming, as Vogue has always been about featuring famous women, in contemporary times increasingly women at the top of their career as opposed to women married to powerful men, always professionally styled for a photoshoot. Apart from the countless actresses (there being, today, a very fine line between model and actress in that many brands rely on actresses to represent them) that have appeared in the pages of Vogue and on covers, there are also people like, say, Victoria Beckham, who was in fact on the cover of the October 2016 issue of Vogue. She is now a successful designer, earlier she was famous for being a Spice Girl and then the wife of David Beckham, the quintessential WAG. She was never a professional model, in the sense of being exclusively a model, not as far as I know, but this did not stop her from being sought after as a model.
There is much confusion over modelling. Many catwalk models for example are far too young to be officially professional, as they are still in school (at least one would hope so). Many professional models have other jobs too, as there is not that much money to be made out of modelling, which remains fiercely competitive, unless you are one of the very few top models. Many 'real people' are in fact models, model agencies have divisions of them, some agencies specialise in 'real people' and now there are online networks with casting calls for 'real people' eg Total Talent, Casting Networks, Starnow and so on.
Modelling for Pylot magazine, september 2016
Most newspapers, either tabloid or broadsheet, carry a fashion and beauty section where they feature celebrities or , very frequently, 'real women'. The latter are often referred to as 'non-models' - a term that probably only started as a shorthand for non-runway model and was then given an entirely new meaning . They are sourced the usual way, through casting calls or through a quick look at the 'real people' section of agencies to get the right looking ones to a casting.
Who is a model and who is not one? Let's say that models are professionals who can work in front of the camera and hopefully make a living out of it. They are definitely real women and/or real men - funny that the question is always about real women and never about real men. Models tend to be defined as aspirational, however the idea of a very thin, very young, unusually tall model as being aspirational has now been dramatically challenged.
It follows that non-models are those people, women and men, who may occasionally model but for whom by and large modelling is not their exclusive career. The boundary is very porous here, however, as many models have to make ends meet and may take up other jobs, just like actors do when 'resting'. But let's leave it at that, for now.
The point I am making is that the sooner we stop thinking in terms of 'real women' and 'non-real women' aka 'models' the better. It all sounds a bit surreal, if you ask me. We need to reframe this narrative.
Photographer: Christopher Luk
Modelling for Alisa ErnstThe tabloid papers always arrange a photoshoot with a professional photographer in connection with such features. It is easier for the paper, in that professional images are needed and the paper does not get into copyright wrangles. Of the women I met on such occasions (I have had opportunities to witness a couple of such shoots) I could always tell those who were pretending not to be models and having a 'real' job, from those who had genuinely never done a shoot before. The models pretending to be non- models knew what to do and were the ones most concerned about getting on with it and finishing bang on time. Everyone, from photographer to make up artist and stylist, knew the truth about them to the point of exchanging gossip, but the fiction of being 'real women', in other words women who do not model, was maintained.
When there are commercials that feature 'average looking people', who do you think those people are? They are models (another word for it is 'talent'). What defines them is their specific look, as close as possible to the character they are meant to portray and their ability to be in front of the camera. And no, they are not necessarily actors, for those are non-speaking roles and actors by definition speak lines (to be a member of Spotlight, for example, you must have had at least four professional credits in featured speaking roles otherwise you are not regarded as an actor).
So please let's stop believing these stereotypes about models and 'real women'. Modelling is not about beauty standards - not exclusively, anyway. Modelling is first and foremost a job, done by real women and real men.
And somewhat off topic, my favourite model of the moment is Eric Underwood, Royal Ballet Principal and also 'talent' with Premier Management, featured on the cover of Vogue Italia with Kate Moss (which definitely makes him a model). He will be dancing Rasputin in the Anastasia ballet at ROH. Must get my ticket at once!