When you start watching The Super Models, it is clear to you right away that the show was not made for anyone but for the supermodels themselves, and there is nothing more unbothered and elitist than that. We mean it as a compliment. Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelist, Cindy Crawford, and Naomi Campbell are names you have heard, whether you have followed their work or not. This fame is acknowledged by the cast, as they never bring up their last names, and it is understood that it is the responsibility of the audience to educate themselves about who they are watching. Being in the presence of women who have realized that they have nothing left to prove anymore is an altogether different experience.
Coming to the theme of The Super Models, it is a look at the lives and careers of the original players of the game. Our lesson from the series is that they are the ones who set the rules and the environment that those who came after them played in. But now, the question for us is, as a fashion novice in the current climate who is being made increasingly aware of just how classist the fashion industry is, what is the relevance of a show like The Super Models, that cemented the opinion of the attitude of this supposed world of glamour? And we must remember that no part of this show is a look at the ‘behind the scenes’ of anything. It is all about the stereotypical glitz and glamour of the fashion world, and while the mistakes and problems are acknowledged, they are only in passing. That once again brings us back to its relevance. For an ace designer or a fashion historian, this may be a trip down memory lane. But for us, we got a list of proofs about why the fashion world is so gate-kept.
For most people, fashion is the most accessible form of art and the greatest way we engage with aspiration. Fashion is how we make our first impression and establish our place in society. There are clear hierarchies to it, and it all adds up to how much social currency we command. In a world that demands certain criteria of looks in exchange for acceptance of women, fashion and modeling is the ultimate proof that they can get into any door they want. Maybe this is why it mattered to us that Linda Evangelista was the only one who mentioned her love for the clothes, unlike the rest, who were vociferous but only about their passion for the job and the world it took them into.
These four women do not make excuses for the fashion world’s problematic elements. They recognize how harmfully visual it is, and despite being centered around women, they are the ones who are treated as its second-class citizens. Be it Cindy being asked by Oprah to show off her figure on national television or the agency heads talking about the models as money-making commodities; we instantly realize the ugliness of the profession of beauty. But what we have never really seen is the actual attitude that comes with wanting to make a name for oneself in a hugely problematic space while recognizing and playing to its issues at the same time. They have made it clear where their loyalties lie and are unapologetic about it, which has our grudging respect.
That is why we are choosing to look at this series as the story of four women rather than that of four supermodels. We saw in an interview clip of Eileen Ford in 1971 that the interviewer called ‘powerful’ an unfeminine thing. Three episodes later, we have the supermodels talking about how being in charge of their lives and careers changed the world for them and made them so powerful. We also get a look at what goes on behind the scenes of the said ‘tantrums’ of the models. They end up losing entire contracts and connections because of changes in their appearance, which makes us question whether they are really wrong in being as particular as they are. Linda Evangelista lost 18 shows because she cut her hair. Cindy Crawford got into so much trouble with Calvin Klein because of a similar issue, so why wouldn’t they fight for it? If looks are currency, then it makes sense to be prudent about it. We just get a glimpse of how vanity is not a vice but a necessity.
We particularly enjoyed how the series toed the line with their opinion on the recent rise of social media democratizing fashion. For the longest time, good clothes were a matter of access. The fact is that it hasn’t changed much because fashion still hasn’t learned to cater to people of different sizes or ethnicities. It has just expanded marginally to include the people with the most followers. We believe that the designer versus model debate would have an interesting color in today’s time, but the series did not dedicate much time to it. However, we got a glimpse into when and how beauty started being equated with ‘power and choice,’ though we did not enjoy how the commercial nature of it was once again ignored.
As we come to the end of The Super Models, we find that it could have used a sharper edit or had some of the discussions that we asked for instead of keeping it all so vanilla. It might be a great study for fashion students, but for novices, it was just a crash course in the careers of these women. It presented the glamour of the world by showing their success, and at the same time, it showed us the thorns through the stories of how terribly they were treated, every time they wanted to be something more than just a muse. We are not really left with a better understanding of the world or any more love for it. But we are reminded that Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, and Naomi Campbell are incredible women who will always stay relevant.