New York Fashion Cool-Aid™: Book Review

  Models of Influence: Fifty Women Who Reset the Course of Fashion

Click here to buy: Models of Influence

Leafing through Nigel Barker’s bestseller “Models of Influence” I am transported back to my high school days, reliving my obsession with fashion (which I obviously still retain) and with fashion models of that era. When I got the email from Intermix in the Meatpacking District inviting me to come meet fashion photographer Nigel of America’s Next Top Model and The Face fame, purchase his book and peruse the Gap-owned store for fashion how could I possibly refuse.

Nigel Barker

Arriving “fashionably late” I expected to see Nigel at a table signing books with a long line of giddy females before him. Instead, glimpsing his strong profile through the glass storefront, I see that he is standing tall as ever (he may have two kids but definitely no Dad Bod here!) and talking to another gentlemen while a photographer intermittently snapped away. I was greeted with the ever present prosecco which seems to be de rigueur at these events, not to mention the ubiquitous macarons butlered on a silver tray. Partaking of the former and eschewing the latter, I awkwardly mentioned to Nigel that I loved the photo of him and his wife taken last night at the American Ballet Theatre Spring Gala which I had seen on both Patrick McMullan’s site as well as Nigel’s Facebook. He and #TheWife aka Crissy were photographed in their formal best (she in a blush colored lacy Pamella Roland gown) as he playfully and elegantly dipped her complete with a smooch in an elegant little pas de deux in the Plaza of Lincoln Center.  He called the event “a very New York evening.”

Nigel Barker and a fan

I asked Barker what prompted him to write and compile the tome, a fascinating read profiling fifty of the most noteworthy models from the 1940’s to the present. “I wanted to honor and celebrate the impact that these models had brought to the world through their photos including those I had not photographed as well as those I had” he said. To that end the book features 110 full-color and black & white photographs capturing each model in a few of her most iconic poses. He also stressed the idea that all successful models have a personality; that these women would not have attained legendary status without a message that came directly at the viewer through their photographs.

Even in the days before social media, fashion magazine readers were interested in knowing about their favorite models and many models had quite interesting backgrounds. For instance, did you know that Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn was a sculptor or that Dorian Leigh had two children, earned an engineering degree in night school, helped design airplane wings for Eastern Airlines and served as a copywriter for Republic Pictures, all before she even started modeling? You can read more about each model’s background, what happened to her later in life (if applicable) and learn some intriguing facts in the pages of this book. Barker shows how the popularity of what was looked for in a model mirrored what was happening socially and politically in the world during each decade starting with the post-World War II era “when fashion and fashion photography were reborn out of the ashes of the war.” He highlights all of the iconic photographers as well as their muses from Irving Penn and Richard Avedon to Francesco Scavullo, Terry Richardson, Mario Testino, Patrick Demarchelier, Gilles Bensimon, Bruce Weber to name a few.

As for his own past, Barker practically didn’t have a choice when it came to modeling as it was in his blood. He was raised by a former model who almost became Miss Sri Lanka in 1960 at seventeen however being biracial (half English, half Sri Lankan) halted her claiming the prize. She became a successful model in spite of this as did Nigel who was discovered in a televised modeling search called “The Clothes Show.” Thinking he was bound for premed studies at Guy’s Hospital in Central London, he decided to take a year’s sabbatical before starting school to try his luck at modeling and seeing the world. As we now know, his modeling career introduced him to a “small but international community of fashion” where he felt that he fit in and he did not want to leave to go back to school. He later made the transition from modeling (when skinny boys came into vogue) to photography in the early ’90s, followed by that of television host first on ANTM with Tyra Banks (both she and co-host Twiggy are featured as well as Naomi Campbell however Heidi Klum only rates a photo with other Angels during a Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show) and later with “The Face.”

Coco Rocha photo by Nigel Barker

In the course of speaking to Nigel I mentioned having heard Coco Rocha expound on her social media presence recently at the Fashion Law Institute seminar and he agreed that she was definitely one to watch in that arena. I later noticed that she is one of the models that he profiled, even using a photo that he took of her himself.

Intermix Store on Washington Street

As for the shopping aspect of the evening, besides the book I bought a polka dot top on sale. As 10% of the proceeds were to benefit UN Women’s HeForShe, I’m afraid I didn’t do much for gender equality.  Sorry Emma Watson who promotes the cause as well, but everything else I tried on was either ridiculously cut-out, impossible to put on/figure out (Note to clothing designers: I shouldn’t need a diagram just to get dressed), or the wrong size. If you do end up at Intermix in the MPD make sure you ask for Emily who even remembered me from a shopping expedition there one year ago! As I walked down the street by the Highline I took a photo of the newly minted Whitney Museum, vowing to hit it up soon before the wonderful first light of summer has gone.

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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