The allure of a normal, beautiful model is now lost somewhere between the changing seasons, trends and society’s ideologies. The emphasis on ‘a normal model’ is vital here because, initially, it revolved around their perfection and no one poked a finger at them. Everyone admired the healthy hair, enviable curves and irresistible features. That normalcy is not appreciated in the industry anymore, it’s often labelled as boring and goes unnoticed. Foreseeing a booming career for someone who is a regular long-legged stunner is high risk.
Contrarily, a good portion of the fashion industry today seeks out the atypical model. A model who stands out as a result of being plus size, anorexic, androgynous, a grandmother with heavy-duty botox or a 10-year old girl. Only then will someone notice, write about it and fill the comment box with passive-aggressive remarks. Advertisements, editorials, look books and fashion shows have to bubble up a controversy. A spring/summer campaign has to come with a side serve of a worldwide debate if it’s going to stick in minds.
And so it did in the past week, when images of French model Thylane Lena-Rose Blondeau resurfaced and got severe media critique. The uproar of a 10-year old draped in a leopard print throw, lying suggestively on a bed has hit the roof. The images of her sultry stare and voluptuous pout are a viral sensation. Psychologists are analysing how young is too young for seduction and parents are worrying whether their little girls are growing up too fast.
The argument reached an extent to which Thylane Lena-Rose Blondeau‘s mother was forced to shut down her daughter’s Facebook fan page and Tumblr blog. She left a message saying that her daughter isn’t aware of the buzz and she wants to protect her from it. A girl so young, who doesn’t even have access to media, how can her modelling affect her upbringing? With international media going into a frenzy over how an entire bottle of hairspray is holding her quiff, does this blindly make her a valueless girl?
There is no hiding from the fact that the girl has a striking face for a 10-year old. She has the talent of grabbing the reader’s attention; it can be either through jutting her hip out or sitting inside a dollhouse. But just because she’s young, is she only expected to wear pink frilly frocks and flutter around in ads for fairy floss? With an exception of the Vogue Italia editorial, her other images are very much age-appropriate and in some way, speak for the innocence of childhood. Her sharp gaze and expressive stance is daring and illustrate her sense of discovery.
But the difference with appearing in a high fashion magazine editorial as opposed a children’s clothing catalogue is that the former is styled to make these girls look like adults; the reason of course being that the readership of the magazine and its target audience is adults. Most teenagers wouldn’t flock into a high-end boutique store to grab Fendi’s latest offerings. Similarly Tom Ford wouldn’t market his lipsticks to 10-year old girls. Then what’s the reason behind the hike of teen models in the fashion industry? Are designers obsessed with sexualising young girls or are we bored of seeing a regular 21-year-old sell a product? Do we ourselves demand something that stands out from a landscape of sameness?
While Blondeau was still learning how to walk, several other teenagers left their mark in the fashion industry with a predictable aftermath. Even though some runway impose a ‘minimum model age’ of 16, editorials and ad campaigns have never dictated their camera lens can only be focussed on a girl above a particular age. In 2007, 13-year-old Dakota Fanning posed for Marc Jacobs and now sister Elle Fanning, also 13-year-old, has become the new face of Jacobs’ Fall 2011 campaign. Fourteen year old actress Hailee Steinfeld was also confirmed to be the fall face of Miu Miu this year.
For a global audience who walk into these stores and spend an adequate amount in its vicinity, what does a campaign image mean? With what might look like a 14-year old playing dress ups for a party, these campaign images are shot with a purpose. A purpose to sell the perfume, the handbag or the cashmere knit. A teenager being the face of the brand can do two things for the consumers – it could either put them off or make them shop up a storm. For brand marketing it works like this, more powerful the image, the more attention it gets and more people talk about it. The attention can be negative or positive, but if it takes a pair of Miu Miu sandals to a waitlisting level, then the job’s done.
Fashion is about fantasy and aspirations. If seeing a life-size billboard of Emma Watson makes you want to walk into a Burberry store and look her age, then why not? If a woman feels younger after investing in a wardrobe that imitates Steinfeld’s red carpet looks, then the purpose of the debate is loud and clear.
Looking from a designer’s perspective, the influential power of these stars is too lucrative to resist. By bringing a face who’s appeal is fresh be it in a campaign or an untouched paparazzi photo, the brand’s audience gets an unexpected expansion and it opens to a fresher crowd. Miu Miu being the younger line of Miuccia Prada, gains advantage from having a 14-year-old envoy. It might help the designer to keep the designs fresh, contemporary and upbeat, but also increase the sales of ‘younger’ products within the collection.
Even though the argument lies in how childhood of these young models is being snatched away from them, there’s no arguing that it does create a fire amongst the industry. It gets people talking and definitely augments the profile of the fashion house. Call it clever marketing strategy or deceiving advertising, the power of a mature face with a juvenile heart has never been clearer before now.