- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 12, 2000


Age has not withered her, but custom appears at last to have staled her: After 11 years as the face of Revlon, Cindy Crawford has been told to clear her dressing table because she has become too dull. The cosmetics company announced recently it was terminating the 34-year-old supermodel's contract because it wanted to be seen as "exciting;" an image, it feels, that Mrs. Crawford's well-documented assets can no longer project.

"It is not that Cindy is getting old, but it is time to move on," a spokesman said. "Her replacement will not necessarily be younger, but will be different. We want a new and exciting image. Everyone has to move forward. It is a new era. We're moving with the times, and we need a new face to reflect that."

Fair enough, but before moving anywhere, let us consider two salient questions: What sort of face does our "new era" demand? And why will that of the beautiful Mrs. Crawford no longer do?

Although Revlon would sooner fall on its lipliner than admit it, these are issues in which age plays a big factor. After Isabella Rossellini's dismissal from her role as the face of Lancome when she reached 40, "Cinders" is now one of the cosmetic industry's more senior representatives. She has staved off the wrinkles, but she is none the less beginning to look dated. She attained supermodel status more than a decade ago, and her appearance featuring a pair of scarlet lips and an archaically large hairdo remains as resolutely '80s as a Valentino shoulder pad.

"Cindy hasn't got that twist of interest that people are increasingly looking for," says Sarah Doukas, founder of the Storm model agency, which catapulted Kate Moss out of obscurity 10 years ago, ushering in the reign of the superwaif. "Fashion changes more quickly now, and it's not enough to be boringly beautiful."

Mrs. Crawford's supposedly old-fashioned image is perceived as chasing away younger customers, whom Revlon whose average buyer is 35 needs to attract in order to reverse its spiraling fortunes. Its value has steadily declined in recent years, and sales have dropped by 19 percent in the past nine months.

Her successor has yet to be announced, though Revlon is searching for "a very exciting person with universal appeal." Quite what that constitutes, the company does not specify. But however "universal" it may seem, it is unlikely to endure as long as that of Mrs. Crawford given modern fashion's transience.

While once an individual face could embody the spirit of a decade just as Mrs. Crawford epitomizes the 1980s, Twiggy's emaciated frame remains as enduring a symbol of the 1960s today's model is lucky if she can define a whole season.

In its quest to gather ever more followers, fashion has become almost frenzied in its attempts to surprise us. New faces rise and fall faster than hemlines, and the bland fall fastest of all. The modern "look," it would seem, is imperfection.

"Revlon could choose absolutely anyone," says Miss Doukas, "but it'll be looking for an interesting face rather than a flawless one."

It is likely that Revlon is also looking for a young one. Among those reported to be in line for the job is Gisele Bundchen, the 19-year-old Brazilian supermodel who is blessed with an imperfect nose and, although of similarly statuesque proportions to Mrs. Crawford, is 15 years younger.

But the dethroning of Cindy Crawford has less to do with her age than it does with ours. Her essential problem is an acutely modern one: Cindy has, quite simply, become too well-known. Her contract has made her more famous than Revlon, and appears to have benefited her more than it has the company.

Since signing up with the group as a relatively unknown 23-year-old, she has become one of the most recognizable faces in the world, marrying (and divorcing) actor Richard Gere and amassing a fortune by adding an "Inc." to her name and producing fitness videos. Revlon created her, and Revlon has been outclassed by her. Cindy stands for Cindy, not for the products that she is paid $4.8 million a year to promote.

A similar danger is facing Estee Lauder, a rival cosmetics group, whose figurehead for the past five years has been the admirable Elizabeth Hurley. Earlier this month, it was reported that her future with the company was uncertain after concerns about her slightly risque image. She recently posed for a magazine wearing a bikini and caressing a snake, an image in stark contrast to the one she projects for the cosmetics company, in whose advertisements she can be seen dressed in a pink cardigan and crouching in a bed of flowers.

If the 35-year-old Miss Hurley is cast aside and there is no proof that she will be it will owe more to her accumulating fame than to her accumulating years: Estee Lauder readily embraces older models, and recently signed a 54-year-old to promote a line of face cream. Although cosmetics companies can be threatened if their models' personalities become too well known, they depend on their faces being recognizable.

It is reported that, if Estee Lauder replaces Miss Hurley, it will forgo an unknown face in favor of Gwyneth Paltrow, an Oscar-winning actress. Though Miss Paltrow's face is as familiar as that of Miss Hurley, she has a less controversial "reputation", so we can paint onto it whatever image we like. Most magazines now favor actresses over mere models for their covers, and Miss Paltrow will gain the company more column inches than an unknown teen-ager.

"When we decided to put only the famous on the cover of Tatler, we tripled its circulation," says Jane Procter, the British society magazine's former editor. "There's an unquenchable interest in the famous now and it's the models who have been losing out."

The profiles of Elizabeth Hurley and Gwyneth Paltrow have not, however, reached the stratospheric proportions of Cindy Crawford's. So saturated are we by the latter's image that, according to Revlon, she is almost invisible to the makeup-buying public. Our familiarity with her has bred a degree of inurement that may go some way toward accounting for Revlon's plummeting sales.

The problem is likely to recur no matter whom Revlon chooses to replace Mrs. Crawford. For a model to sell a beauty product, she must be glamorous an image difficult to maintain when we've seen her on too many billboards, not to mention in too many keep-fit videos.

Revlon will promote a new face and, before long, we will get bored of it. Cosmo Hallstrom, a psychiatrist, attributes the pattern to the public's base desire for new thrills: "We build people up and then, when they've reached their peak, we knock them down and look for a new stimulation," he says. "It comes down to an attention deficit disorder."

Sidney Crown, a consultant psychotherapist, agrees, arguing that for a model to maintain an aura of glamour, she must be both identifiable and remote. "The public has an insatiable greed to know about these people. But, when we know too much, we simply get bored. In an affluent society, when you get bored with something, you throw it out."

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