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The beauty business

The beauty business

Brainy models and a global talent pool are changing the catwalk

ON FEBRUARY 17th London’s spring fashion week begins. Across the capital, young women in vertiginous shoes and skimpy dresses will be teetering along catwalks. And thousands of young doughnut-dodgers will be inspired to queue outside agents’ offices for the slim chance of becoming the next Kate Moss.

Careers in modelling are typically short-lived, badly paid and less glamorous than pretty young dreamers imagine. Yet the business is changing. For one thing, educated models are in. This may sound improbable. In the film “Zoolander”, male models are portrayed as so dumb that they play-fight with petrol and then start smoking. But such stereotypes are so last year.

Lily Cole, a redheaded model favoured by Chanel and Hermès, recently left Cambridge University with a first-class degree in history of art. Edie Campbell, a new British star, is studying for the same degree at the Courtauld Institute in London. And Jacquetta Wheeler, one of Britain’s established catwalkers, has taken time out from promoting Burberry and Vivienne Westwood to work for Reprieve, a charity which campaigns for prisoners’ rights.

Natalie Hand of London’s Viva model agency, who represents Ms Campbell, says there has been a shift away from the “very young, impressionable models”, who were popular in the past ten years, to “more aspirational young women”. “There is an appetite now for models to be intelligent, well-mannered and educated,” says Catherine Ostler, a former editor of Tatler, a fashion and society magazine.

This is new. The best-known models of yesteryear often led rags-to-riches lives, courtesy of the rag trade. Twiggy, a star of the 1960s, was a factory worker’s daughter. Ms Moss’s mother was a barmaid.

But the big fashion houses and leading photographers are tiring of the drama that comes with plucking girls as young as 15 from obscurity and propelling them to sudden stardom. Too often, models were showing up to photo-shoots hours late or drug-addled. This wasted a huge amount of time and money. Fashion houses are now keen to avoid trouble. Many find that educated models show up to work on time and don’t go doolally as often.

Trends in the modelling business also follow those in the global economy. From the 1960s to the 1990s, America reigned supreme. The hottest “supermodels” were Americans such as Cindy Crawford and Christy Turlington. They were figures whose glossy confidence mirrored America’s. They never woke up for less than $10,000. They were cultural icons, too, celebrated in songs such as Billy Joel’s “Uptown girl”, the video of which starred Christie Brinkley, who became his wife.

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