Thursday, April 1, 2010

Model & Star Power

by Ariane Ankarcrona

Caroline Trentini by Patrick Demarchelier, Vogue, September 2007

“Fashion Models as Ideal Embodiments of Normative Identity,” Patrícia Soley-Beltrand
Patrícia Soley-Beltran began modeling and acting at age 17 in her native Spain. In 1989, after ten years in the industry, she stopped modeling to focus on her education. She currently lectures throughout Europe on a graduate, post-graduate and doctoral level in feminist theory, sociology of the body, and the sociology of style and fashion. Her article entitled “Fashion Models as Ideal Embodiments of Normative Identity” was published in 2006 in Trípodos, the journal of The Blanquerna School of Communication Studies in Barcelona, Spain, while she was a lecturer there.

Models behind the scenes by Steven Mesiel, Vogue Italia, January 2009

With Soley-Beltran’s experience in the modeling world, she is able to present both a personal and scholarly examination of the iconic status of models today. Inevitably tied to this iconic status is the model as a role model; not only for the female identity but also for cultural values in general.

Verushka, 1960's

The model as a public persona is multi-faceted. Layers of meaning can be added to this persona through nationality, class, race etc. Soley-Beltran gives a historic view of the gradual introduction of these elements and the powerful indicators they have now become. Today, the body is a sign of both personal and social identity and for a model, both must be carefully controlled. Soley-Beltran gives a good comparison of a model’s card (with measurements and differently styled images) to the several layers of cultural meanings eg. race or class that can also form the composite of the model’s ‘look’ or persona.

Daria Werbowy

Models are no longer merely clothes-horses parading down a catwalk with a blank expression. Instead, they have now become the physical embodiment of an ideal life where perfect beauty lives side by side with social excellence. The best models are those that can embody all these different types of ideal lives and identities. Clothes can be key in revealing these different characters and the possession of numerous garments can be seen as the multiplying of personalities. Models who become the clothes they wear, perhaps adapting her own personality to complement the garment, are those that will last the distance in the modeling world. “Chamaleonism” is the word Soley-Beltran uses to describe the models who possess this modeling characteristic.

Natalia Vodianova, fruit stand to fantasy life
2009 "Faces of the moment"

Soley-Beltran believes the underlying notion in our society today is that, “self-confidence can be achieved through conformity to beauty standards, and that such conformity is rewarded with self-deserved assertiveness and a better social position”. The ideal of modeling is not only related to the income of models but to the imagined possibilities that come with being part of the modeling world, a mythical dream promoted by designers. In all, a fanciful idea of womanhood paired with the desire to have an existence beyond limitation. Or as French sociologist, Jean Baudrillard calls these models, “simulacra”: sophisticated artifacts performed and marketed by a team of professionals that become the reference for gender perfection and desirability as if they were ‘real’.

Above Michael Kors inspires models to think of themselves as Oscar winning celebs, demonstrating the unrealistic expectations and identity conflict common to models

Model’s hegemonic beauty has become a method of defining the normative standards for satisfactory identity. Their seemingly effortless glamour presents a whole spectrum of symbolic meanings, whether it be class, race, power- whichever element the observer chooses will symbolize an ideal self. In Soley-Beltran’s eyes, beauty continues to be a very powerful myth fuelled by the modeling industry and one that needs to be dispelled soon.

“Celebrities, Culture and a Name Economy,” Brian Moeran
Brian Moeran was born in 1944 and is currently a professor of Business Anthropology at the Copenhagen Business School where he was previously a professor of Culture and Communication. He specializes in Japanese Anthropology but has been more recently addressing Western popular culture with an emphasis on celebrities and ethnography. This paper was written in 2002.

Chloe for Chloe, associating and expanding both the celebrity and product brand

Moeran’s main focus in his article is the relationship between culture and economy and the role played by today’s celebrities in that relationship. Celebrities can act as both cultural and economic intermediaries who help producers enter into the world of consumers. Cultural economy is a broad term and for the purpose of his article, Moeran narrows his field of research down to the ‘name economy’ ie. the part of the economy occupied by the entertainment or promotional industries.

Celebrities are names that need no further explanation. They are household names whose reputations join together producers and consumers by means of the products they are associated with. The name economy is further reinforced by liaisons between male and female celebrities, whether they be permanent or not. Romantic liaisons, musical liaisons, design liaisons- it doesn’t matter as long as they are noted and talked about. These crossovers often enter different celebrities into different industries and allow for them to extend their renown.

A celebrity endorser is defined as “any individual who enjoys public recognition and who uses this recognition on behalf of a consumer good by appearing with it in an advertisement.” In 2002, when this paper was written, 20% of all U.S. TV commercials featured a celebrity. Today, this number has no doubt risen.

There are a few criterion that Moeran presents that are vital for a successful endorsement. Firstly, there must be a match between the celebrity and the product he or she endorses. A professional athlete for example would be a great match with a sportswear company like Nike. There must however be credibility and expertise behind that athlete, or the effectiveness of the campaign is limited. Producers also look for personality, likeability, and attractiveness when choosing their celebrity but this is shown to be less influential on the consumer.

Moeran also points out some negative aspects to having a celebrity endorser attached to your company. Firstly, there is the potential that audiences will remember the celebrity but not what product is being endorsed. Secondly, a celebrity closely identified with a product could get in trouble or do something controversial that garners the company bad press. On the flip-side, celebrities can help improve a company’s image if it has been tarnished in some way.

Moeran then goes on to further explain and develop the role of celebrities as cultural intermediaries. Celebrities very easily perform across different media and therefore help link different cultural spheres. Models who seamlessly transition from runway to recording studio to Broadway stage could be an example of this. Without celebrities, many products would struggle to search for something that differentiate themselves. With a celebrity endorsement, the commodity is given a ‘cultural personality’ and a link between producer and consumer. Also celebrities help to explain and support the meaning of a product that the manufacturer wants to convey to the consumer. Finally, the celebrity aesthetically gives the commodity a whole new look through recognizable advertising campaigns and other media forms in which they appear.

Celebrities today are getting paid enormous amounts of money to endorse a particular brand or product. Companies make a significant investment and these investments have to make sense. Luckily, share prices usually go up when a company announces an exciting new celebrity endorser as that celebrity will simultaneously help culture and the economy produce name products and the need for such products.

“The Philosophy of Andy Warhol”
The emphasis of Andy Warhol’s chapter entitled ‘Fame’ is the reason for being famous, or not famous and how one ends up either way. What makes that person so special? Warhol believes it is one’s ‘aura’. An aura is something that cannot be explained or described by someone who has it, or is believed to have it by someone else. If you know someone too well then it is impossible to think they have an aura because there is no longer an air of mystery surrounding them.

Warhol's portrait of Halston, 1974

Warhol also discusses all the other elements that come along with fame, for example, live interviews and crazy fans. He believes fame is changing today, that different kinds of people are now made famous and not just movie stars. At the end he emphasizes the importance of always knowing what you are worth and not only in terms of yourself and your fame.

Warhol is known for the phrase everyone will be famous for 15 minutes!


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