Although flamboyant former model Janice Dickinson claims she coined the word “supermodel”, the term is as misunderstood as her statement is false. In fact, its usage pre-dates Dickinson’s career by decades. Nowadays, “supermodel” is loosely applied to any model who reaches a high level of public notoriety, which prompts a couple of questions. Are models like Bella Hadid, Ashley Graham, Karlie Kloss, Gigi Hadid, and Kendall Jenner really supermodels or just models with superstar careers? What is a supermodel anyway?
The modeling industry is difficult to break into, and some models may work for a long time and never break through to that level. However, the elite few who are lucky enough to call themselves supermodels share a few things in common. The first and perhaps most important component to supermodel-dom is a multi-million dollar modeling contract.
Models who earn the most are typically allotted huge contracts with Victoria’s Secret – Martha Hunt is one of the highest earning models in the world – or a major brand when they are tapped as its face. This is the case with models like Meghan Wiggins, who was unknown when she was chosen to be the face of Guess in 2012 and went on to earn three million dollars. However, big contracts are not enough to earn supermodel status. In fact, it is longevity and repeated exposure via multiple brand ambassadorships, campaigns, runway bookings, commercials, and social-media activations that really land models in the spotlight.
Admittedly, Dickinson may have been right in highlighting the missing component that really defines a supermodel. She said that she coined the term from a combination of the words “superhuman” and “model” – and it is the superhuman aspect that really underscores the nature of this elite category. When we think of supermodels, we think of flawless women with perfect figures who also happen to dabble in practices beyond looking pretty.
For instance, Naomi Campbell is (still) one of the highest ranking and most recognizable supermodels in the world. And she doesn’t just model – she has also been a reality TV judge, television presenter, philanthropist, and much more. Similarly, Karlie Kloss has been the face of dozens of brands and walked literally hundreds of runways. The modern-day supermodel has also starred in music videos, launched a line of jeans called Forever Karlie, and created a gluten-free cookie range called “Kookies”. She currently runs a scholarship for female coders called Kode With Klossy.
If you chart the course of an emerging model, it becomes clear the moment they earn the “super” title. Hadid is a great example – she went from being a total unknown when she signed with IMG in 2011 to quickly becoming the face of Guess in 2012 and debuting on the runway in 2014. The following year, she was named one of the 16 top models in the annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, was chosen as the face of Maybelline, and starred in the “Bad Blood” music video alongside Taylor Swift.
Now, in 2017, Hadid is one of the most famous models in the world. She boasts a staggering social-media following, campaigns with Versace and Stuart Weitzman, a successful seasonal collaboration with Tommy Hilfiger, a new makeup collection in conjunction with Maybelline, and multiple magazine covers. The model is no longer a rising star. She’s a full-fledged supermodel, with dozens of projects both in fashion and entertainment that have made her a household name.
Instead of looking at earning power and name recognition, the true mark of a supermodel is her ability to branch out beyond the superficial to a level that is superhuman. After all, it’s far more impressive when a supermodel can back her claim up with a résumé that includes a media empire, a clothing line, and her own charity organization than when she refuses to “get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day”.