A supermodel is a highly-paid élite fashion model who usually has a worldwide reputation and often a background in haute couture and commercial modeling. The term took hold in the popular culture of the 1980s and 1990s. Supermodels usually work for top fashion designers and labels. They have multi-million dollar contracts, endorsements and campaigns. They have branded themselves as household names and worldwide recognition is associated with their modeling careers. They have been on the covers of various magazines. Claudia Schiffer stated, "In order to become a supermodel one must be on all the covers all over the world at the same time so that people can recognise[sic] the girls." First-name recognition is a solid indication of supermodel status in the fashion industry.
The term "supermodel" had been used several times in the media in the late 1960s and mid-1970s. In May 1967 The Salisbury Daily Times referred to Twiggy as a supermodel; the February 1968 article of Glamour magazine listed all 19 "supermodels"; the Chicago Daily Defender wrote "New York Designer Turns Super Model" in January 1970; The Washington Post and Mansfield News Journal used the term in 1971; and in 1974 both the Chicago Tribune and The Advocate also used the term "supermodel" in their articles. American Vogue used the term "supermodel" on the cover page to describe Margaux Hemingway in the September 1 1975 edition.
In 1979, model Janice Dickinson claimed to have coined the term "supermodel" as a compound of superman and model. During an interview with Entertainment Tonight, Dickinson stated that her agent Monique Pilar of Elite Model Management asked her, "Janice, who do you think you are, Superman?" She replied saying, "No... I'm a supermodel, honey, and you will refer to me as a supermodel and you will start a supermodel division." Dickinson also claims to be the first supermodel.
In 1968 an article in Glamour described Twiggy, Cheryl Tiegs, Wilhelmina, Veruschka, Jean Shrimpton, and fifteen other top models as "supermodels. The term supermodel gained currency in the 1960s by analogy with Andy Warhol's "Superstars." Donyale Luna became the first African American model to appear in Vogue. The first African American model to be on the cover of American Vogue was Beverly Johnson.
In the 1970s some models became more prominent as their names became more recognizable to the general public. In 1975 Margaux Hemingway landed a then-unprecedented million-dollar contract as the face of Fabergé's Babe perfume and the same year appeared on the cover of Time magazine, labelled one of the "New Beauties," giving further name recognition to fashion models.
In the early 1980s fashion designers began advertising on television and billboards. Models became individually familiar to the masses, no longer nameless faces. Catwalk regulars like Carol Alt, Kim Alexis and Paulina Porizkova began to endorse products with their names as well as their faces, getting in front of everything from Diet Pepsi to Ford Trucks. Elle Macpherson, who became known as "The Body," sold more pin-up posters than any actress in Hollywood. As the models began to embrace old-style glamour, they were starting to replace movie stars as symbols of luxury and wealth. In this regard, many viewed supermodels not so much as individuals but as images.
By the 1990s the supermodel became increasingly prominent in the media. The title became tantamount to superstar, as her fame arose simply from "personality." She did talk shows, was cited in gossip columns, partied at the trendiest nightspots, landed movie roles, inspired franchises, dated or married a movie star, and earned herself millions. Fame empowered her to take charge of her career, to market herself, to command higher fees.
When Linda Evangelista mentioned to Vogue that "we don’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day," she may have been playfully pretending the role of an up-scale union representative, yet that 1990 comment became the most notorious quote in modeling history. In 1991 Christy Turlington signed a contract with Maybelline that paid her $800,000 for twelve days' work each year. Four years later, Claudia Schiffer reportedly earned $12 million for her various modeling assignments. Authorities ranging from Karl Lagerfeld to Time had declared the supermodels more glamorous than movie stars.
Although many models were referred to as supermodels during this time, only the so-called "Big Six" were officially recognized and accepted by the fashion world as supermodels: Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford, Kate Moss, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington. They were the most heavily in demand, collectively dominating magazine covers, fashion runways, editorial pages, and both print and broadcast advertising. Excluding Moss, they are known as the "original supermodels."
In the late 1990s actresses, pop singers, and other entertainment celebrities began gradually replacing models on fashion magazine covers and ad campaigns. The pendulum of limelight left many models in anonymity. A popular "conspiracy theory" explaining the supermodel's disappearance is that designers and fashion editors weary of the "I won't get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day" attitude made sure no small group of models would ever again have the power of the Big Six.
Yet Charles Gandee, associate editor at Vogue, has said that high prices and poor attitudes contributed less to the decline of the supermodel. As clothes became less flashy, designers turned to models who were less glamorous, so they wouldn't overpower the clothing. The majority of models come from non-English speaking countries and cultures, making the crossover to mainstream spokesperson and cover star difficult. The opportunities for super stardom were waning in the modeling world. Supermodels Tyra Banks and Lisa Snowdon left the business in May 2005, but Snowdon still does a spot of modeling here and there.
The popular media apply the term loosely to some without worldwide recognition and extensive experience in haute couture. Geraldine Maillet, the celebrated French writer and former model, relates with humour and cynicism the rise and decline of the supermodels in her book Presque Top Model. In September 2007 Claudia Schiffer, when talking about modeling career, said: "supermodels, like we once were, don't exist any more," and that Gisele Bündchen was the only one close to earning a supermodel title. Bündchen is arguably the only true supermodel of her generation.
Men's fashion represents just a fraction of the industry. Men, nevertheless, have played a part in the fashion world, while commanding less compensation than their female counterparts. Well known male supermodels include Mathias Lauridsen, Marcus Schenkenberg, Tyson Beckford, Mark Vanderloo, Alex Lundqvist, Will Chalker, Evandro Soldati, Tyson Ballou, and Michael Bergin.