In the past two days, a popular fashion monthly’s September issue has successfully ensnared editors, Instagrammers, and casual fashion consumers alike, garnering praise that seemingly signifies an iconic photographic industry moment, as ripe online fangirling proves. The content at hand: Our generation’s answer to Vogue‘s grunge editorial circa Marc Jacobs at Perry Ellis? A modern iteration of any Linda, Christy, Naomi moment of the late ’80s? A 21st century rival to Corinne Day, Kate Moss, and Melanie Ward’s first beach scene collaboration?
Nice try, social media, but not so fast.
A well-cast crew of models of the moment, of the “effortless” troupe that feature in Celine and Alexander Wang and Calvin Klein ads, features in an equation written in plaid kilts, angora sweaters, and Docs like it’s still 2010 on Tumblr and Generation Y just discovered Kurt Cobain, billed as “Super Normal Super Models,” and we have the most beloved editorial moment of the year?
Don’t call it a revolution. ”Normal” is not head to toe Versace. It’s also not thirty year old waifs in matching slicked back coifs behind those cramped K-12 wooden desks with built in shelves for gargantuan textbooks and freshly sharpened pencils. Fashion editor Edward Enninful seems intent on translating low-brow #normcore for the upper class- without a hint of irony, which is laughable in and of itself- but can someone please explain to the stylist that this is impossible within any editorial context? That the fashion element itself cancels out normalcy, making it null and void? Particularly ones as obviously “non”-stylized as “Super Normal Super Models”?
That said, I’ll refrain from blaming any single individual for this incongruous attempt at normalcy, and for the fanfare that’s ensued. If anyone can sell a look in 2014, and more particularly, an “attitude of the moment,” it’s Daria Werbowy. Every major fashion website virtually worships at her era-defining ideal. Throw in Lara Stone, Kate Moss, and some supplementary figures of the mannequin persuasion, plus a minimal re-appropriation of grunge meets the private school witches of The Craft- and a very awkward addition of supremely out of date denim hot pants that recall nearly every Kate Moss editorial of the last ten years (why Enninful, why?)- and you would think the blogosphere could implode. It’s a modern fashion girl’s wet dream: simple, cool, effortless. Do you see the little stars and clouds surrounding the heads of said fan girls, hearts in their eyes, like literal emojis at the sight of “oh my lawd supermodel high school # # #”?
Returning to the claims of being average: was “Super Normal Supermodels” intended to be laughably oxymoronic? I’d like to think yes, but I honestly believe W considered the no-makeup makeup and intentionally unintentional styling to appear as supremely “regular.” Consumers in the incredibly capitalist world of fashion are unlikely to recognize that this is a very smartly marketed ploy to make us believe that we, as newsflash: ***non supermodels***, can look just as chic as these women if we create looks based precisely on their wares by buying up the credits, which are notably of the easily accessible variety. The lie inherent to this ploy, however, is that you, and I, and the collective we won’t look remotely like these genetically blessed beauties if we appropriate cropped sweaters and turtlenecks with motorcycle jackets and schoolgirl skirts with lace-up army boots, just like no girl who ever has worn such a look- and the number who have done so is very, very high- ever has resembled these stupidly gorgeous Amazons. Wearing fishnets pulled nonchalantly above my Sacai skirt, with a belly-baring tank top and leather boots, is not going to magically morph me into Mariacarla Boscono. This is a tragic blow to the ego, and to the mythical ~fashion illusion~, I admit. But as a friend, and sister, to this elusive female ilk, the kind paid to pose in an occupation better referred to as “The Envy of Us All,” I know firsthand that the models themselves will also never look as “chic” even in these exact looks outside of a Mert and Marcus-lensed image. It is a phony dream, just like every other editorial- the fact that the wares are of a more common nature than traditional straight off the runway looks does not, can not change this.
Further, the editorial is groan-worthy because, can I say it? There is nothing new here. Nothing challenging. Nothing fresh. Nothing intelligent. Nothing to empower me, unless you’re of the sort that is empowered by statements like, “Yes, I am a naughty school girl. Suspend me.” It recalls at least twenty editorials of the past ten years, like a “best of” but watered down, milk before meat, boring and unmemorable. [Side note: who are half of these "super" models? The American public does not recognize these women. Please stop coining randoms this term. I am surely not the only one annoyed by these sweeping statements.]
In “Ways of Seeing,” art historian John Berger’s criticism of the insipid Western gaze upon art and advertising, he proclaims, “The spectator-buyer is meant to envy herself as she will become if she buys the product. She is meant to imagine herself transformed by the product into an object of envy for others, an envy which will then justify her loving herself.” He continues, “The happiness of being envied is glamour.” The glamour is an illusion, manufactured by advertisers- in this case, editors paid by advertisers- so that consumers seek to buy into a fantasy, that a product will make them this or that, and ultimately, well-liked. Example A: “Super Normal Super Models.”
Enchantment can be a beautiful thing, when material is worthy, and fantastic in the most fantasy-inducing of ways. Supermodels in F/W 2007 Prada in a rehab clinic, faceless bodies in slip dresses floating in a half-lit pool at midnight, puritanic angels in aprons and lace, worshipping robots: these are fantasies, often macabre, always inspiring, figments of an imagination dreamt up by aesthetes that create images that remain etched in memories, defying trends and moments to become near iconography. They are stories, cinema for the page, the realization of nightmares, of journal entries hidden behind locks and under beds and scribbled in only when the lights are out and the flashlight’s on and Radiohead is playing for the most melancholy of feelings.
A gaggle of popular babes in sweatshirts on a parking lot curb, or lined up in Calvin Klein briefs against a chain-link fence? That’s regurgitation, a fashion algorithm formulated for the masses, easily digested, requiring little critical thought, because doesn’t Raquel look just so in a fuzzy cardigan? *Fills online shopping cart with thick wool socks and miniskirts.*
Open your eyes to the transparency. Fashion is a machine. Don’t be a pawn.
Photo from W’s September issue, photographed by Mert and Marcus, styled by Edward Enninful.