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Loss of Personality on Runway: Yasss Girl Give us Nothing

Personality seen on the runways from the 80s to early 2000s is missing at some of the best fashion shows today. Which Gen Z models will save the day?

Kendall Jenner struts down the Schiaparelli Spring Summer 2024 as she closes the fashion show.
Credit: YouTube / Runway Collections

Imagine getting paid 40 million dollars a year to walk in a straight line with a blank expression and no personality. Fashion show models such as Kendall Jenner do not have to imagine that scenario; they live it.

Fashion shows today have been criticized by social media users for lacking energy and the over-the-top exuberance of late 80s, 90s, and 2000s fashion shows. Moments like “Freedom” from Gianni Versace’s show in 1991 to Shalom Harlow and Amber Valletta’s iconic walk together are found few and far between today.

Models like Kendall Jenner are slammed on social media by fans for mediocre closings. Fashion houses hold uncomfortably quiet shows. Theatricality, personality, and attitude are nowhere to be seen. So, if it feels like the peak has passed, where does that leave the future for fashion shows?

The Peak of Fashion Shows

Stripping back a supermodel’s role to solely beauty is a two-dimensional way of looking at them. They are and have evolved into so much more than that.

Before fashion shows became over-the-top events, they were strictly for fashion professionals. Fashion brands eventually realized that people such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Julia Roberts could boost the popularity of their brand image and latest styles. Turning fashion shows into exclusive events attended by only the cream of the crop made people’s FOMO worsen and attention laser-in.

“Fashion Shows were like very quiet little affairs and the only people attending were, you know, fashion executives, people buying clothes and the fashion press and that was it.”

Isaac Mizrahi – Designer

As runways changed, so did the role of a model. Models were either print or runway models – they were never both. Big-name supermodels back in the 80s, such as Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, and Linda Evangelista, were all print models but slowly turned to the runway as fashion shows evolved. The runway became their opportunity to show their prowess in front of a camera and to demonstrate why they got paid the big bucks.

Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, and Christy Turlington reminisce on their careers and iconic fashion show moments.
Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, and Christy Turlington reminisce on their careers and iconic fashion show moments. Credit: YouTube / British Vogue

Fashion shows from the 90s are still talked about on social media today, and for good reason. “Each one of them has a strong personality, and they’re not afraid to show it,” said Donatella Versace in “The Super Models,” a documentary on Apple TV+, “The combination of fashion and their personality was magic.”

What was distinguishable about models and fashion shows from the late 80s to early 2000s is that personality, theatricality, and the show’s theme would mesh together to make iconic moments on the runway. Some of social media’s favorite moments are shown below:

Three Iconic Moments from Peak Runway Days

1) Shalom Harlow and Amber Valletta for Todd Oldham’s Show Spring 1995

This clip of Harlow and Valletta has been viral for years. Harlow’s sassy yet confident overtake of Valletta’s moment at the end of the runway was simply iconic.

Tabloids rumored that Harlow tried to take a cheap shot at Valletta, but Harlow denied this in an interview on Vogue’s YouTube channel. “It was a New York Scene,” Harlow said, “The encouragement you would get on that stage to really let your inner freak flag fly was hot.” Harlow followed the energy of the room and let her flag fly. She told Valletta to “keep up” with her fast strut and “now turn.” Little did Harlow know that she was making runway history at that moment.

2) “Freedom ‘91” Fall Show for Versace

While some iconic fashion moments happen spontaneously, other times, they’re intricately planned. Gianni Versace capitalized on George Michael’s Billboard Hot 100 Hit “Freedom,” in which the music video starred Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, and Christy Turlington.

Suzy Menkes, a fashion journalist, described the moment all four women strutted down the runway together after the premier of the music video. “You just can’t imagine the excitement, the energy, the sort of madness of when Gianni Versace had all the supermodels together,” she said. “I mean, he really caught that moment.”

This fashion show is the blueprint for blurring the line between commerce and culture. When a fashion show successfully showcases its new line while capitalizing on popular culture, it can stand the test of time.

3) Naomi Campbell Opening for D Squared Fall Show 2003

Other amazing fashion moments come from well-thought-out themes, sets, and opening acts. One of the best of all time was Naomi Campbell’s opening for D Squared. Campbell ran to the front of the runway wearing high heels and an oversized coat with shopping bags in hand.  Madonna’s “Vogue” played over the speaker with a narrator saying over and over, “I have a plane to catch!”

Campbell played the shopaholic with too much money and not enough time perfectly. Since she has a background in theater and dance, she used her different set of skills to make each show unique.

Naomi Campbell has been hailed by Anna Wintour as one of the greatest models of all time. This is because Naomi brings her beauty, theatrics, personality, and attitude to the runway. All of these seem missing in some of the most popular shows today.

And The Crowd Goes… Mild

Kendall Jenner

One of the most hotly debated topics around the fashion runway scene is Kendall Jenner’s career. Jenner is undoubtedly a beautiful model, but when it comes to the runway, people have mixed opinions.

Jenner has been criticized by tabloids and fans for her walk, the personality she exudes on the runway, and the amount of power and money she has gained in the industry.

Kendall Jenner gets interviewed by Andy Cohen about her modeling career and how it began.
Kendall Jenner interviewed by Andy Cohen about her modeling career and how it began. Credit: YouTube / Hayu

It was revealed that Jenner made $40 million in 2022 alone, making her the highest-paid supermodel in the world. People on the internet feel as though she’s achieved this because of her famous family name. Jenner claimed in an interview with Andy Cohen in 2021 that she took her last name off modeling cards and worked her way to where she is now.

However, this contradicts a scene from Keeping Up With The Kardashians from 2010 when Kris Jenner said she worked tirelessly to get her daughter an interview with Wilhelmina – a successful modeling agency. Whether or not fashion execs took her seriously at the beginning of her career is unknown; however, they certainly do now.

Kendall Jenner has moments of nailing a walk, but compared to Shalom Harlow, Naomi Campbell, and Cindy Crawford, her runways often fall flat. While each show has its own theme, mood, and energy, shows today can feel underwhelming.

Kendall recently closed out for Schiaparelli and social media users had a field day.

Models Back Then vs. Today

Models today do not hold a candle to fashion veterans from the 90s and early 2000s. Shalom Harlow opened the show for Schiaparelli ‘23 at Paris Fashion Week, and her walk exuded confidence, grace, and elegance. Fast or slow, Harlow can still give a high-quality walk. So why are two models – Jenner and Harlow – who are considered to be at the top of their field at such different levels of expertise?

Experience. Models like Shalom Harlow, Naomi Campbell, and Cindy Crawford worked for what they got and beat out people in this fiercely competitive industry. Nepotism is a leg up whether or not the nepo babies want to admit it. Having any sort of connection or knowledge of what path to take is lightyears ahead of someone from a humble beginning who dreams of being a model.

Kendall Jenner took runway training on Keeping Up With The Kardashians way back in the day when she had the dream of becoming a model. But, she gives less than the models around her and still closes the best shows. Models and social media users harshly criticized Jenner when she commented on other models’ season schedules during an interview for W Magazine back in 2018.

“I was never one of those girls who would do like 30 shows a season or whatever the f–k those girls do,” she said. “More power to ’em.” When Andy Cohen brought up the quote to Naomi Campbell on his talk show, she said, “Next question.” The reality is that not every model has the luxury of saying “no” since work can be so hard to come by in the industry.

Naomi Campbell ignores question from Andy Cohen about Kendall Jenner "cherry picking" her shows.
Naomi Campbell ignores a question from Andy Cohen about Kendall Jenner “cherry-picking” her fashion shows. Credit: YouTube / Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen

Memo for the Nepo Babies

When models are emerging onto the scene and need to make a name for themselves, “no” is not in their vocabulary. Not everyone has a reality TV show and mansion in Calabasas to fall back on. Unfortunately, some models have to sacrifice more than others to make their dreams come true. “We had to earn our stripes and take our stepping stones,” Naomi Campbell said. This is something that doesn’t resonate with Jenner and other nepotism models.

The difference between models from back in the day to today is that they used to have to work tirelessly to be the best. Annie Veltri, a former modeling agent, spoke about Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, and Christy Turlington.

“Those girls worked hard, and they worked constantly,“ she said. “There was a feeling about them that they wanted more than just what was there, but they were driven to be better all the time.” Their hunger and drive are what sets them apart from top models today. Even when they became more financially secure, they still worked hard.

When top models from the 80s and beyond step on the runway, they rule the runway because of the amount of work they’ve done. If models want to be the best, they have to be able to get work and do the work. While it’s no easy feat, it’s worth it to some. “Some” being the best models of all time.

5 Gen Z Models That You Must Watch:

Even though some models miss the mark and leave you with a lackluster feeling, not all of them will. Check out these 5 Gen Z models who will give you faith that personality isn’t fully dead on the runway:

1) Alex Consani

Not only does Alex bring her beauty to the runway, but her confident strut reflects who she is as a person. When Alex isn’t killing it on the runway, she’s making hilarious and viral TikToks. She’s an up-and-coming star who’s already successful but has the world at her feet.

2) Leon Dame

Leon Dame understands what it means to bring theatricality to the runway. People on social media are obsessed with his walk for Maison Margiela among other shows. His walk exists on a spectrum from controlled to overdramatic. However, each time he coordinates his walk to the theme of the show perfectly and leaves people wanting more.

3) Anok Yai

As the closer to Mugler’s Spring Summer 2024 show, Anok Yai stunned people with her walk, clothes, and beauty. Yai ruled the runway, which was a wind tunnel and made the walk look effortless.

Yai’s grace, kind personality, and work ethic brought her to the top. She became the first Black woman in over 20 years to open the Prada Fall 2018 show – the first woman to do this was Naomi Campbell. As Yai moves the industry forward and brushes shoulders with the best of all time, she beams with confidence and authenticity every time she steps onto the runway.

4) Alton Mason

Alton Mason has an array of skills that he brings to the runway. He can dance, do backflips, and bring theatricality on a grand scale for a joyful watch. Mason brings attitude, determination, and class to every walk while also adjusting to the themes of the show. He has been hailed as “one of the most famous and influential professionally beautiful men in the world” by GQ and the only man with the title of “supermodel.” He is simply a force to be reckoned with.

5) Mona Tougaard

Mona Tougaard walked 39 shows this year, which is a stressful, tiring, and impressive accomplishment. Tougaard became a breakout model this year, with many people claiming on social media that she should win “Model of the Year.” At only 21 years old, Tougaard catches everyone’s eyes and leaves a stunning mark on the catwalk, even when she’s walking with three other models.

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Written By

Curtis Teegardin is a recent graduate of the Columbia Publishing Course ('23) and is breaking into the magazine world. As someone passionate about fashion, trends, and the ever-changing fashion landscape, he can't wait to share fun and informative pieces with Trill Magazine readers.

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