- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 25, 2007

Naomi Campbell pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault last week for striking her maid in the head with a cell phone. The supermodel will pay her assistant’s medical expenses, attend a two-day anger management seminar and complete five days of community service for the fracas over a missing pair of jeans.

Miss Campbell likely won’t lose much magazine work over the incident, however. Fashion magazines rarely put models on their covers anymore.

There was a time when making the cover of Vogue meant a model had finally arrived. No longer.

Of Vogue’s 2006 covers, a model appeared on only one of the 12. Forty-one-year-old supermodel Linda Evangelista graced the August 2006 cover. She was the first model on the fashion bible’s cover in more than a year.

Vogue gave its prized space to actresses the rest of the time. Drew Barrymore had February, Natalie Portman was March, Jennifer Aniston followed in April, and Sandra Bullock was the October cover girl — make that woman.

These covers often come at convenient times for the stars. Kirsten Dunst was in full regalia for the September cover, which coincided with the release of her film “Marie Antoinette.”

The faces of Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington and Claudia Schiffer are no longer on the magazine racks. And neither are those of any younger counterparts.

Is the era of the supermodel finally over?

If it is, we have no one to blame but ourselves. Our thirst for celebrity culture, it seems, has left no room for mere models.

“America is increasingly fascinated by celebrities, and their faces, personalities and personal lives seem to be what are selling magazines,” says Heather Cocks, one half of top celebrity fashion blog Go Fug Yourself (gofugyourself.typepad.com). “It’s all about the promise of reading something new and juicy that you didn’t know before, and if you have an anonymous model on the magazine cover, you’re not as likely to draw in as wide a group of readers.”

Simply put, celebrity covers sell more magazines because gossip is more universal than Gucci.

“When InStyle broke onto the scene they just blew everyone else away — and they’ve always had celebrity covers,” says the other half of the fashion blog, Jessica Morgan. “And so more classic fashion mags picked this up, to boost circulation.”

That’s why so many magazines put the celebrity of the moment on the cover, whether or not they make Mr. Blackwell’s worst-dressed list. Harper’s Bazaar put a pregnant Britney Spears on its cover last year (naked, no less), while the current issue of Vogue has one half of Hollywood’s It couple on its cover — Angelina Jolie.

“The Us Weekly generation is probably less likely to want to leaf through Vogue without the promise of never-before-heard tidbits about Brad Pitt from the mouth of Angelina Jolie,” Miss Cocks remarks.

Of course, we once wanted to know that kind of thing from models, too. Victoria’s Secret supermodel Gisele Bundchen was engaged to actor Leonardo DiCaprio, and the angry Miss Campbell has been linked to Mr. DiCaprio, too — and Eric Clapton, Robert De Niro and Prince Albert, to name just a few.

“Back in the heyday of the supermodel, someone like Cindy Crawford or Linda Evangelista was kind of a celebrity, in addition to being a model,” Miss Morgan notes. “Models have been eclipsed by actresses in some ways, but is that because people are more into actresses, or because models are boring now?”

Not all models are boring these days, though. There’s Miss Campbell, constantly in the news for abusing some member of her staff. And there’s Kate Moss, who ushered in the heroin-chic look and then caused a scandal when she was photographed apparently using cocaine. But don’t blame them for the decline of their breed.

In fact, maybe models aren’t engaging in enough bad behavior. The only bad publicity is no publicity, as the saying goes.

Models are even younger than they used to be — some are discovered when they’re barely teenagers — “and they’re not out partying the way Linda and Naomi were,” Miss Morgan points out. “They’re going home and getting some sleep — which is good for their health, but it’s not going to get them much press.” (Remember the headlines Miss Evangelista made when she blithely announced in Vogue in 1990 that she doesn’t “wake up for less than $10,000 a day”?)

Perhaps the supermodel is a victim of her own success. She made the fashion world as big as Hollywood, and Hollywood couldn’t resist getting in on the action.

Miss Cocks points out that designers themselves are celebrities these days — Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors and Donna Karan are household names. And their shows attract names even bigger than their own.

“It’s hard for a model to break out as a star when she’s competing with J. Lo in the front row,” Miss Morgan remarks.

Newer models, Miss Cocks says, have to compete not only with still-working supermodels like Miss Campbell, who’s now 36, but celebrities “starting to storm the catwalk as well.”

Hollywood celebrities offer a variety of looks, while most readers probably have the same opinion of the new crop of models as Miss Cocks: “They all look skinny and pouty to me.”

Without those magazine covers, no girl is likely to become a supermodel: “Not enough people see the shows,” says Miss Cocks.

These days most models with that “super” prefix are doing something else besides looking pretty. Miss Bundchen had a supporting role in last year’s hit “The Devil Wears Prada,” Tyra Banks hosts “America’s Next Top Model” and her own eponymous talk show, and Heidi Klum hosts and judges “Project Runway.”

That doesn’t mean all readers are happy to see their models go. A recent discussion on a Style.com bulletin board had dozens of women complaining about Vogue’s celebrity covers. “I personally would like to see the supermodel back on the cover,” said one reader. “I like reading fashion mags not gossip ones.”

“True fashionistas and industry types are probably a lot more aggravated that they’re not seeing fresher faces on the covers,” says Miss Cocks. “But magazines are businesses, and those fashionistas certainly aren’t going to boycott Vogue just because Nicole Kidman is on the cover. Inside, they’ll still get the content they want. I mean, it’s Vogue. It’s not going anywhere.”

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