There’s a story in The New York Times suggesting that online modeling (and, kinda by extension, online anything else) is a horse of a completely different color than modeling for catalogs or the runway. We actually think the horses are pretty similar, but we’ll bite.
So what is it that makes web modeling so new and different? Apparently, it’s that models have to make people want to buy clothes they can’t put their hands on. Which is, of course, the most novel concept ever.
Web models need to be attractive, of course, but not intimidatingly so — the better, the thinking goes, to woo shoppers who may be browsing at 3 a.m. in their slippers. Many niche apparel sites direct their models to evoke just-off-the-street charm with a touch of je ne sais quoi — in other words, be “relatable,” but not a bore (as opposed to the unrelentingly cheery models on the Web site of a department store like Macy’s). While Gilt uses models full of don’t-you-want-it attitude to sell their high-end products, Rue La La, Ideeli and Swirl by DailyCandy ask their models to exude friendly warmth, rather than hauteur. Shopbop, meanwhile, uses the same distinctive models in such heavy rotation that shoppers nickname them.
That last bit about Shopbop is true — who hasn’t heard of the site’s ubiquitous redhead? (Turns out she’s been with the site for six years and is actually named Elena Greenwell.) But does it really matter that a model is a size four as opposed to a size zero, or that she does her own makeup, or maybe isn’t airbrushed as heavily because she works for a site that doesn’t have the time to make her legs look any longer because they have sales every day? Photos of an attractive girl hawking expensive clothes on the Interwebs? Where do they get this stuff?
We’re not saying online models aren’t necessary or somehow not special or not representative of a categorical shift in the way we consume. They are, in fact, all of those things. But our biggest gripe is the suggestion that because their photos show up online they have to be somehow different from models who do billboard campaigns or television commercials or print ads for glossy magazines. Maybe the work they do for different mediums is different, but the models themselves just aren’t. And Jenna Sauers at Jezebel (who used to model, folks), has our back on this one:
I don’t know where this zest for compartmentalizing the modeling industry into a neat little commercial/editorial dichotomy, replete with distinct populations of practitioners, came from — Tyra? — but I do know that most catalog models are also runway models, and vice-versa. Runway girls do magazine editorials and they do “looks” (essentially fit modeling) with designers, sure, but they also do showroom modeling and shoot catalogs, both online and print. (How the hell else would they ever make any money?)
Models are models are models. Catalogs are catalogs are catalogs. And no matter where they show up, good models and good catalogs are supposed to make us want things that we don’t need.