Why do certain models become famous? It can hardly be said that they are more beautiful than their counterparts. Some models’ beauty is bought and paid for; their features may be no more natural to them than the clothes they wear on the runway. A certain kind of beauty is a prerequisite for the job, of course. But more importantly, 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. We the people decide” who becomes worshipped, adored, and remembered. Once someone gains notoriety, it’s as though an avatar emerges from their human self that takes on a larger symbolism. We choose for certain people to become larger than life, because what they represent encompasses more than one person’s existence. We yearn to see the embodiment of truths that we collectively live— even if we only subliminally understand the process.
Most recent eras in fashion have been represented by one model. As everyone knows, 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 our divided time, 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 state of divided consciousness as having roots in hypnosis. The hypnosis of our era, social media, has certainly influenced the profound polarization of our human community. We are split between online identities and physical selves, caught in the endless ricochet of opposing political 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 is as mournful as it is robotic. An aesthetic symbol for a dystopian age, we find her no less beautiful for her alleged surgical 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. Behind the implacable wall of neutrality, there is a deep sense of anxiety.
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.
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 must be covered by a necessary hardness.
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.