A photographer, television personality (The Face, America's Next Top Model), and former model himself, Nigel Barker is a man who understands the fashion industry. It's his insider's point-of-view and keen eye that make his new book, Models of Influence: 50 Women Who Reset the Course of Fashion so absorbing. You'll meet models you've never heard of, and learn about some of the most famous faces in fashion--all between the same two covers. Barker will be presenting Models of Influence on Wednesday, March 4, at 7 p.m. at Brazos Bookstore--an incredible opportunity for model-watchers and fashion fans alike.
The Changing Face of Fashion
Modeling is certainly a mirror that reflects our culture back to us, but models also exert their own influence on culture, explained Barker. "When you look at the 1940s, for example, you see that the beauty and fashion businesses have been hit hard by the war--by rationing of materials--and suddenly after the war the fashion industry was there to give people a fantasy--something to aspire to. Models were otherworldly; almost perfect, with hourglass figures."
"But in the next decade, we became more confident and at-ease," continued Nigel. "A wave of feminism was sweeping the West, and [a few years later] there is Twiggy. She cut her hair, and she got a lot of flak about that and about being skinny, but at that moment she stood for women's liberation. She didn't have to be curvaceous, or have long hair. She made a statement; she was a huge success through realness, authenticity, and honesty."
Roles, and Models
In his more than 20 years in the business, Nigel Barker has worked with some of the most famous, most beautiful women in fashion. So how did he narrow down the field to a mere 50 when writing his book? He winnowed down his original list of more than 100 models by focusing on those who transcended the business of fashion---women who were pioneers and trailblazers, not merely "supermodels."
"Models get a bad rap, but the reality is that many of them have worked hard to change perceptions, and have changed pop culture," he said. "Models have taken a leading role in creating the look of a time--like Twiggy, or Kate Moss--and helped people feel freer, more authentic. I felt it was important to present that idea." In Moss' case, explained Barker, her popularity was a reaction to the excesses of the '80s. "Anti-commercialism, anti-fashion--teenagers wanted to see themselves in magazines, and Kate stood for that androgyny--she was a teenager, and that resonated." Kate's ongoing success lies on her ability to transcend and stay relevant with her core audience.
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Today fashion is reflecting more diversity than ever--a step in the right direction as far as Barker is concerned. "We're still [favoring] young, skinny, Caucasian women, but at the top level you're seeing a broader cross-section than ever before," said Nigel. "Today we have tall models, short models, full-figured models; Chinese, Eastern European, models of color--more diversity is represented than ever before."
Social Media Ready
Social media has given models and aspiring models more power than they have had in previous years, giving them leverage within the business right from the beginning. "Before, designers, photographers, and magazine editors would find a model and spotlight them. Today, at some of the big agencies, a girl can't get through the door unless she has a certain number of 'likes' and followers," explained Nigel. In that way, consumers of fashion are also getting more of a 'voice' about who we want to see in adverting campaigns and on the runway.
"For the first time, we have the opportunity to say who we want to see, and magazine editors are listening to us through social media," said Nigel. "It's a powerful negotiating tool [for the models], and the biggest springboard we have for talent at the moment."