When I first moved to New York, I watched Naomi Campbell put on a dress in Zac Posen's studio. Specifically, I pinned her into it, fingers shaking. And I can testify: Nobody on God's green earth wears a dress like a supermodel. The second it hit her skin and she started walking around the studio, we all fell silent. Crazy as she was, she transformed the gown, and we never looked at it on its hanger the same way again.
So I was thrilled and perplexed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art's new exhibition at the Costume Institute entitled "The Model As Muse." Models are long overdue for their share of fashion designer's laurels, but at the same time, I've always seen models as transformers and experimentalists more than sources of inspiration, when it comes to fashion. And pinning down the muses of the moment is no small feat.
Even the annual lavish gala celebrating this year's opening felt like a throwback to 90s wealth and exuberance. And that probably explains why the story was more about who wasn't going than who was. Ralph Lauren couldn't decide how he was going to support the event, rumors flew that LVMH was going to have to buy tables for several of their brands, and Karl Lagerfeld declared his travel schedule would keep him from attending. The final blow came when supermodels Naomi Campbell and Stephanie Seymour decided last minute that they would not attend to protest the exclusion of designer Azzedine Alaia from the exhibit.
The dwindling spotlight on the event drove home the larger point — that with noteworthy exceptions like Kate Moss, models don't hold the kind of sway in mainstream fashion that they once did. Gisele may be a millionaire, but she's essentially a really hot hanger. (Sorry, Tom.) Even Suzy Menkes said the Costume Institute's exhibition feels more like a requiem. The nesting rooms within the gallery all trace the history and influence of the old guard: Veruschka and Twiggy are put with Cardin and Courreges in the 60s, Jerry Hall lounges in the same space as YSL and Halston in the 70s, the glamazons (Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington) are all over the map in the 80s, and Kate Moss is paired with grunge in the 90s. But what about now? Who's influencing the influencers? I can't believe it's Agyness Deyn.
More and more, magazine covers are dominated by celebrities over models, and the cult of a woman who cuts a really great line seems to be an increasingly European idea.
Models aren't muses anymore — that title increasingly belongs to the Charlotte Gainsbourgs, Beth Dittos, and (the late) Isabella Blows of the world. These are the street fashion mavericks that inspired Yves Saint Laurent to remake the idea of ready-to-wear — perhaps this will be our game-changer moment as well.