Donatella Versace has hired supermodel Gigi Hadid and her pop star boyfriend Zayn Malik to be the stars of the new Versus campaign. So far, so standard. Except Hadid is behind the camera.
The star of the Victoria’s Secret catwalk, model-who-goes-out-with-a-pop-star is subverting a few passive-pretty-girl cliches in this campaign. In her only cameo, all that is visible are her high-heeled boots as she stands astride the bare-chested figure of her boyfriend, who is gazing submissively down a Chateau Marmont bed. She’s the creative, he’s the muse.
The rights and wrongs of hiring a model with no experience for a photography job that talented and experienced artists would kill for is a separate cultural issue, which we will file, for now, under: “Expertise: the death of, certified 2016/2017.” Fashion isn’t taking the rap for this one, oh, no, thank you, sirree. What concerns us here is how what being a model means has completely changed. What started with a new generation of social-media-savvy young women using this platform to talk directly to the fashion audience has evolved. It is not just that they are more than a pretty face; it’s that the pretty face is almost secondary. Hadid has shot the Versus campaign and is set to shoot a story in V magazine. Kendall Jenner has photographed Sienna Miller for the cover of Love. These are photography roles, not modelling ones.
Zayn and Gigi have always been an almost-too-perfect celebrity couple. I mean, those names! It’s as if they were written by social media central casting. But the thing that saves them from banal mediocrity is that their dynamic is more modern. Hadid isn’t just the object; she really fancies Malik. The visual history of supermodels in music videos – Helena Christensen in Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game; Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington in George Michael’s Freedom – is one of women whose sexual focus is on their own fanciability, rather than on their actual desires. After Pillowtalk was released – lots of Zigi snogging – Malik tweeted Hadid complimenting her on how hot she looked in it, to which she replied – on social media, obv – “I wasn’t looking at myself, trust me.”
And that’s not even all. There is a third person in the Versus campaign, which would be a bit gooseberry-awks but for the fact that it is Adwoa Aboah. A model, but one who has used her visibility as a model of the moment to promote GurlsTalk, an online platform for female community and empowerment. In the week that Yves Saint Laurent has come under fire for a campaign that has been accused of glamorising images of vulnerable, anonymous, fish-netted models, this campaign feels like a step in the right direction.
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