The casual observer could be forgiven for thinking that personality is making a fashion comeback just now, after years of Eastern Brazilopean clones on the runway and in the magazines.
You've noticed: Lindy, Christy, Claudia, Naomi, Cindy, et. al., are back and booking up all the glossy paper stock available. And there's been a renewed focus in the online and print media on identifying the current crop of models as individuals. Even if sometimes that noble sentiment backfires.
Maybe it's a reaction to the anonymized sameishness of much of the fashion imagery of the early oughts; maybe it's an inevitable response to the tedium of featureless plasticine airbrushing. Whatever the reason, it's hard not to notice the interest: the Met Costume Institute gala this year is themed "The Model As Muse," privileging an unusually model-centric understanding of fashion's workings. There was Sara Ziff's documentary, Picture Me. A little more light-hearted is Modelinia, a recent web start-up dedicated to the idea that people want to read (and Maybelline advertising can be sold around) content about models — everyday models who aren't bold-faced names, models who book the Dior makeup test, not the Dior show — and that those readers care enough to wonder what we do in our off hours and if we have any tips on where to buy good vintage clothes. (Eating, drinking, and reading, and the Hell's Kitchen Salvation Army, as though that's any great secret, thanks for asking.) And then there's ModelFeed, a group-blogging platform out of Australia that boasts a bevvy of (predominantly) Aussie model contributors; who knows how that site plans to monetize itself, but for now, its only too happy to lend its bandwidth to former band geek Sarah Stephens' old school photos, and Kieta van Ewyk's many practical uses for rain boots on the family farm.
If those last two of the above betray, at least in theory, allegiance to the idea that models merit acknowledgment as agents, and not just as subjects — that the young women who are seen and not heard deserve a shot at a voice, and the Internet is the perfect venue to provide it — then they also, unfortunately, have a whiff of artificiality about them. We don't actually know anything more about Stephens for having seen her band picture or for knowing that she gets lonely sometimes in Paris; despite the tagline "Not Made Up", this is some mediated content. (The girls' agencies are in on the ModelFeed action.) Modelinia occasionally veers into night-time Tyra territory. (If cinema truth at 24 frames a second, what is web video? Inanity at broadband speed?) There's something a little corporate, a little astroturf-y, about it all.
Not so models' independent, personal blogs, of which there are too many to list. Quality does vary; some of my tribe are simply out-and-out crazypants, and plenty are very keen on making the gig-to-gig life lived in tiny apartments split five ways sound extraordinarily glamorous indeed. (It is not.) More frequently, especially with bigger-name models, personal blogs wither to little more than vehicles for self-promotion. (It's hard to take too much of Sessilee Lopez's oddly flat blog, which might as well be titled, The Various High Heights Of My Fabulous Career Being Fabulous, So Far.) But for every Shannon Stewart ("The Lord Jesus just allowed me to get an agency in Miami, Paris, Munich (Germany), and I am in the process of getting one in Hambourg [sic] !!! Praise the LORD!! haha") there's an Elyse Sewell, making her mark behind the scenes with wit and verve. Below, my picks of five of the "model blogs" that are actually worth taking a look at.
Photo of Elyse Sewell from her blog
Actually, there's no better place to start when considering model blogs and model bloggers than Sewell. Probably the most successful contestant to ever survive the Tyra Banks modeling school, this New Mexico native and one-time would-be medical student has been regaling a dedicated crowd of LiveJournalers with her travels throughout (mainly) Asia since 2004. Her creative neologisms ("streetmeatsketeer", "'conversatation': a conversation destined for eventual incomprehension by virtue of one or both parties' incomplete grasp of the language in use") sparkle, and her vivid descriptions — a bulimic roommate's mess is "a giant speech bubble of drying emesis" — make her blog a must-read. Sewell does a terrific job of writing in such a way that she acknowledges her audience without seeming to pander or overly adjust her content. It's as close to an unvarnished look at the Asian modeling market as one could hope for.
Photo of Cameron Russell from her blog
American Cameron Russell — who recently revealed her agency told her to sleep with a photographer when she was 16 — keeps things lively at her blog, Funny and Interesting. Although she generally only obliquely references her work (for clients including French Vogue, Yves Saint Laurent, and Calvin Klein), Russell, a Columbia undergraduate studying economics who does things like run the Boston marathon in her spare time, writes compellingly about everything from pareildolia to grifter nuns on the Acela. There's also sprinklings of fiction and interviews with people working on unusual projects.
Photo of Sophie Ward from her blog
If Russell's blog, while unmistakably animated by her personality, is outwardly focused, Sophie Ward's is at the other end of the scale: obviously personal, and esoteric to the point of self-involvement. Yet, due in no small part to her writing skill, it often holds interest. Ward, the older sister of fellow model Gemma (yes, that Gemma), has a sideline career as a writer and editor for the small imprint Paper Castle Press, and maintains her blog, Big Long Open Gash on its site. Ward, who is, like her better-known sister, represented internationally by the powerhouse IMG agency, has shot with Italian Vogue and walked for Armani Privé couture. Ward posts excerpts of what she's reading — about Buddhism, Dadaism, Pablo Neruda — and, although I can't bear to read when she puts up things like edited love letters, feeling too much the voyeuristic creep, I keep coming back in hope of spying acerbic observations like "I have many friends in the fashion industry (oh god, did I just write that?) and they are all lovely acquaintances when you get them for 3 seconds or less, or on a day when they have been eating." (Ward tweaks her posts like a maniac, and perhaps thought better of that particular gem. But I think she's at her best when she's mean, so thank goodness for Google's cache and my Apple Shift 4.)
Photo of Coco Rocha playing soccer from her blog
For something completely different: Coco Rocha. The Canadian supermodel — who last year dyed her hair red at the request of none other than Steven Meisel — maintains a blog at the corner of professional and cheery. It shouldn't be interesting, but Rocha is humble and the for-the-fans-ness of the enterprise somehow doesn't taint it. And occasionally she uploads a really funny video, maybe with her equally awesome friend Behati Prinsloo. I think what people object to, or at least what I object to, in a personal blog that feels impersonal, is the betrayal of the author's promise: it seems ungenerous to offer a glimpse behind the curtains, and then to deliver instead triple-exclamation-pointed Seinfeldian platitudes about shoes or tiny airplane seats. Rocha, although extremely measured in what she shares of herself, manages to remain highly likable.
Photo of Daul Kim from her blog
Probably the weirdest model blog of all — and, just maybe, my favorite — is Daul Kim's. The Koren supermodel's I Like To Fork Myself is an ongoing notation of her working, social, and intellectual life, all delivered in conversational run-ons that clamber down the page, piling one weird and striking observation on top of the next. It's a style that, intentionally or not, perhaps most perfectly mimics the actual whorl of life as a busy working model. This week, at home in Korea, Kim shot for Numéro for two days straight, with wrap times of 4 a.m. and midnight, had her wisdom teeth pulled on the third day, and then worked again until the afternoon. Then she went to London, worked, and DJ'd a party. Now she is, apparently, en route to Paris and Berlin for more work. That she finds the time to make Absolutely Fabulous jokes and share her impressions of Milan Kundera ("im reading his books now days/and i like him alot./and ppl were like 'REALLY? U LIKE MILAN KUNDERA?'/like as if its EW... is it????/i dont get it/i love his style of writing, very analytical and psychological/very reasonable, erotic, interesting, kind of grotesque, kind of stereotyping.../but very very... true/i really like studying human behavior and how certain people's mind work/it is kind of like.. little things when you see how someone behaves/very slight things/where u can tell/'oh he/she has unresolved issues with his mother'/'oh that person , sexual deviant!'/'oh that person probably goes home and revises their conversation/e.g. im going to say this when i introduce myself at dinner today'") at all is impressive; all the more so that the unfolding record of her frazzled mind is so consistently interesting. Girl is whip-smart and funny.