Shannan Click is a famous model. She’s walked for Miu Miu, Prada, Alexander McQueen. She’s been photographed by Steven Meisel and Patrick Demarchelier. She’s been in a Burberry campaign. She’s been in a lot of campaigns. Her work deserves respect. And yet, when it comes to posing for this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue? She tells TheGloss not so much.
“People in fashion completely take fashion spreads more seriously. I think it’s retarded. Because if your career is going well, then you do want to start doing commercial work,” says Click, ”this is where you start making money. The pay off is definitely the commercial side of things, in fashion you get the notoriety, but in commercial you get paid for all the hard work. ”
But, oddly, that doesn’t do much for your reputation. Swimsuit modeling – or commercial modeling in general - seems to be to fashion modeling what chick-lit is to post-modern Russian literature. It’s simply not something people in the fashion industry take seriously.
That’s true even in the highly fictionalized modeling world. In the short lived CW show The Beautiful Life (TBL) which chronicled the lives of aspiring models, fashion modeling was one thing, catalog modeling quite another. Consider the following exchange:
Man: I don’t, uh, read a lot of fashion magazines. But, uh, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen you in pictures before.
Model: You get FHM and Maxim, right?
Model: Then no, you have not seen my picture before.
Oh, models! Always shutting down men with their sassy lines. Not taking into account the fact that the dialogue might have been why TBL was very short lived, it does seem like the industry considers one type of work “serious” and the other not.
But would it really have required so much less accomplishment to be in the pages of Maxim? Or a Sports Illustrated swimsuit shoot?
I mentioned it to a friend who said “well, yeah. If just seems like fashion models have it harder. I mean, they’re really, really skinny. Catalog models or swimsuit models look like normal girls.”
Which really makes you question the kind of normal girls they’re hanging out with. Personally, I think I’d have an easier time getting down to a size 0 than I would looking like a swimsuit model (for the latter, I’d probably need some cleavage). The models who make it to Sports Illustrated may be traditionally “prettier” than some on the runways, but they aren’t really just another girl next door. Sure, they have curves that you don’t often see in fashion. They also don’t have a single wobble of fat on them. The exercise regime many of the models must commit themselves to is surelyintense. It’s not as though random girls are just rolling into Sports Illustrated shoots, gnawing listlessly on Snickers Bars and Sports Illustrated executives are just like, “sure, they’re kind of busty and pouty, let’s use them”. The girls in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue look like - and probably have the same habits as – athletes.
Click agrees that the pace is completely different, and notes that, “in fashion work they want you to be a coat hanger. Here everyone is like, eat, eat, eat!” But that seems… like a good thing. That makes swimsuit modeling seem like a saner, better section of the industry. A section of the industry that more models would want to be in – because thinking that a model is better at her craft just for having starved herself is a terrifying notion.
Another source notes that a lot of people in fashion pride themselves on being very creative, and a lot of catalog stuff – like Victoria’s Secret – just seems “hackneyed.” And it does! The average Sears catalog doesn’t win a lot of prizes for the unexpected. A gray backdrop with a woman leaping around in bathrobe while smiling doesn’t really require Richard Avedon.
But then, a lot of fashion photography doesn’t seem all that creative. I feel like I see a photospread of models wearing rustic English sweaters and long skirts while walking in the countryside with the sun streaming behind them… once a month. No. Twice a month. Every month. Forever.
And frankly, I’d much rather look at the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. The issue consistantly contains work from some of the best photographers in the world. I’m clearly not alone in that - a third of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue’s readers are female. I admit, it’s the only time in the year I buy Sports Illustrated. Why? Because in the middle of winter it’s nice to look at pretty pictures of beaches and imagine what it would be like to be a sun goddess. I probably get as much pleasurable escapist value from it as I do from looking at a spread of women in Victorian style dresses in Vogue Italia.
But then, it’s not targeted at me. It’s targeted at men. And perhaps that is why the model’s work is taken less seriously.
It’s assumed that if a man is looking a gorgeous woman in a swimsuit, he’s not going to care much about the art direction. It may be there, he’s just not going to think about it all that much. Maybe the model’s work isn’t diminished because of how much flesh she’s showing - there are Italian Vogue spreads all the time where the models are nude (next to Victorian dresses!) Maybe it’s only diminished because of the imagined audience she’s showing her flesh to.
There’s something a little flattering to the female ego to imagine that this is an industry where the only esteemed viewers of artistic output are women. Harkening back to that chick-lit vs. Russian literature comparison, one is often looked down on because it’s geared towards women, the other geared towards men. How exciting that this is an instance where the opposite is true.
But it also seems a sad commentary on men if they haven’t figured out how to operate the internet well enough to find plenty of naked women to titillate them. In 1990, teenage boys might have ogled the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue with lascivious delight. Now, teenage boys have had ample exposure to online porn since they were about 13. Presumably, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue still causes a fuss because the models showcased in it are really good at modeling, and the photography is stunning.
And, of course, the audience has no impact on a model’s performance. Should they be respected? It should really depend on whether or not they do their job well. And most of the models in the issue seem like they’re conveying “sun goddess” pretty effectively.