They Walk In Beauty, Into The Apocalypse

A piece from Spring 2019 on Bella, Gigi, and the split representation of the modern psyche.

Haider Ackermann AW19/via Vogue Runway

Why do certain models become famous? It can hardly be said that they are more beautiful than their counterparts. Some models’ features may be no more natural to them than the clothes they wear on the runway. When a model is beloved, it rightly makes no difference. There is an emotional connection to the onlooker that distinguishes an era-defining model from one that is quickly forgotten.

Taffy Brodesser-Akner, celebrity profile writer for The New York Times, says of fame that it is “the ultimate democracy.” The public decides who is worshipped, adored, and remembered. Once someone gains notoriety, it’s as though an avatar emerges from her human self that takes on a larger symbolism. Certain people become larger than life because they represent a collective existence. We want to see the embodiment of truths that we live— even if we only subliminally understand the process.

Most recent eras in fashion have been represented by one model. Kate Moss ruled the 90’s. In the late 2000’s, there was Agyness Deyn. And Cara Delevingne came to prominence in the early 2010’s. In a politically divided 2019, not one but two women have surfaced as emblems of a kind of split consciousness: sisters Bella and Gigi Hadid. 

American psychologist Ernest Hilgard described a mental state of division as having roots in hypnosis. The hypnosis of our era, social media, has certainly induced a profound polarization. We are split between online identities and physical selves, caught in the endless ricochet of opposing partisan messages, and torn between combatting the danger of this moment and reckoning with its darker emotional forces. The stress of our times makes us feel more acutely than ever the divide of Freud’s ego and id, Jung’s self and its shadow. “It’s as though the subject suddenly had two centers, or streams of consciousness […] one associated with each hemisphere,” says Elizabeth Schechter, the author of a new book about the condition known as “split brain.”

Gigi and Bella are symbols of this divide. If Gigi’s style is classic, there has always been something subversive about Bella Hadid. Her essence can be as mournful as it is robotic. An aesthetic symbol for a dystopian age, we find her no less beautiful for her alleged cosmetic alterations. In fact, we may find her more compelling for them; in the age of AI, they represent a kind of freedom from nature, an anti-puritanical desire for modification, a fetishistic emotionlessness in an era in which many of us would love to feel less. Yet behind the implacable wall of neutrality, there is a deep sense of anxiety. 


Haider Ackermann AW19/via Vogue Runway

Apocalyptic energy was everywhere this season. Young French designer Marine Serre showed a collection called Radiation that featured multiple gas masks, biohazard symbols, and illuminated eyewear for seeing in the dark. At Gucci, models walked in heels while carrying sneakers, as if having arrived at an important meeting after a rushed commute. Armor-like metals covered soft fabrics and silicone tears adorned faces. 


Marine Serre AW19/via Vogue Runway

Marine Serre AW19/via Vogue Runway

Gucci AW19/via Vogue Runway

Gucci AW19/via Vogue Runway

Gucci AW19/via Vogue Runway


In these images, there is a sense of urgency and impending emergency. A battle is coming, and there is no time to lose. A persona emerges in the midst of this frequency that is ready to face the circumstances: we must put the tender sides of ourselves away, for we are called to a bigger purpose and now we must fight. The world is a tragedy, and our softness is covered by a necessary hardness. 


Prada AW19 Menswear/via Vogue Runway

Gigi Hadid is the day to Bella’s night, the waking self to her sister’s subconscious dream. So easily interpreted as a sunny California girl, she possesses a complex and athletic ferocity that is not always acknowledged. In the midst of the Prada menswear show this past January, she walked in a soft collared dress accessorized with black harness straps, a black bandeau and a tight black belt looped several times around her waist. A study in how to step willingly into the apocalypse, she is conscious of the darkness and walks into it nonetheless.