When it come to stars-as-models, it’s hard to say what came first, the chicken or the egg. Do performers who appear as models benefit from this type of exposure or does it trivialize their acting and singing careers?
What did Antonio Sabato Jr. do before exposing himself in Calvin Klein underwear? His agent’s office wouldn’t talk about it. In fact, they wouldn’t discuss any of their artists who moonlight as models because talent “wants to get away from that … be taken more seriously” for their craft.
Yet when Drew Barrymore appears in a Guess ad, or Uma Thurman endorses Prada, no one sees them as lacking in acting ability. Then again, when Nancy Boy’s androgynous singer, Donovan Leitch, appears on larger-than-life Gucci billboards, Elizabeth Hurley is in every American woman’s fashion magazine as the Estee Lauder cover girl, and Tom Skerrit beams from Guy Marciano spreads, it leads us the believe that modeling is the unavoidable frosting on the cake for many artists.
Leitch confessed to Paper magazine last year that he felt it was easy for people to take shots at his band because of his “connection to the fashion world.”
“It certainly helped Elizabeth Hurley,” says Vogue’s editor in chief, Anna Wintour. “No one knew who she was, really, until she took the Lauder contract … That’s done her nothing but good. I know she’s been a big success to them in terms of selling product. But if you see people modeling a downmarket watch, you think ‘My God, they’re just doing this for the cash.’
“It just depends on what the marriage is. I think it can be very good for both parties. When Demi and her husband (Bruce Willis) did Donna Karan last year, I thought that was very chic … they were beautiful pictures. It worked for everybody.”
Wintour sees 1997 as a time when celebrities are rampantly embracing fashion, which finds them featured in fashion preview issues of magazines, in ads and moonlighting as models. “That hasn’t always been the case,” she says. “In the early ’90s they were all running around in their grungy shift dresses and sneakers with no hair and no makeup. That’s when the super models became big because we didn’t have any celebrities to adore.
“There’s really been a shift when you look at girls like Uma or Nicole (Kidman), Winona (Ryder), Demi or any of the girls that turn up at fashion events or in ads. They understand that it helps them to look good and it certainly helps the designers. On the whole the public wants movie stars to look like movie stars and that means wearing and endorsing glamorous clothes.”
Many of today’s top female actors started as models with the Elite Agency — Cameron Diaz, Demi Moore, Natasha Henstridge, Elizabeth Berkley. So it’s natural for them to go back to modeling as their careers develop.
“Even if celebrities didn’t start out modeling, they want to be shot like a model,” explains Kenya Knight, who works for Elite Los Angeles. Many times this desire leads to modeling stints for clothing companies, ad campaigns or magazine fashion spreads.
The point at which an actor does the modeling seems to be key. What do you know Brooke Shields from, “Pretty Baby,” Calvin Klein jeans, “Suddenly Susan” or Andre Agassi? “I don’t find anything wrong with stars being models,” says Lauren Zalaznick, executive producer for “VH1 Fashion Awards.” “To me, the worst thing that can happen is to be pigeonholed as one kind of person — as having one type of intellectual, creative or professional path. I think creative people need more than one creative outlet and if clothes can do it, then great. It’s sort of the reverse of everyone who laughs at a model who says with a straight face she’s an actor.”
By appearing in a nine-page fashion and editorial spread for Details’ November issue, Ewan McGregor in no way takes away from his performance in “A Life Less Ordinary.” The photos showing McGregor in designer digs is meant to inspire Details’ readers to see the movie. His co-star, Cameron Diaz, is found in a similar fashion feature in the previous month’s Vogue. This kind of exposure can help promote the image of a budding star if their talent is taken seriously. If not, it can certainly make them subject to ridicule.
“You can’t dispute that Milla Jovovich in ‘Fifth Element’ gives a brilliant performance and she’s a gorgeous model,” contends Zalaznick. “Look at Elton John; would you ever think he’d look so fantastic and full of life in a Versace ad? Again, it’s up to the designer and the photographer to bring it to light in the right way and not make a mockery out of the clothes or the person.”