Fashion,  Modelling

Origin and history of modeling

Origin of Modeling

The term modelling originates from the Middle French word ‘modelle’.

Modelling as a concept began with people posing for paintings and portraits, which broadened to photographing models for newspapers when the camera was invented in the early 1800s.

Modelling was established as a profession in 1853 by Charles Frederick Worth, the “father of haute couture”, when he asked his wife, Marie Vernet Worth, to model the clothes he designed.Marie Augustine Vernet, is considered to be the first ever fashion model.

The term “house model” was coined to describe this type of work. Eventually, this became common practice for Parisian fashion houses. There were no standard physical measurement requirements for a model, and most designers would use women of varying sizes to demonstrate variety in their designs.

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Although poorly paid and barely respectable, they were also considered exceptionally glamorous. From behind the scenes, they would be summoned several times a day to model gowns for private customers and professional buyers alike, under the direction of the vendeuse.

Modeling in the 1940’s

With the development of fashion photography, the modelling profession expanded to photo modelling. Models remained fairly anonymous, and relatively poorly paid, until the late 1940s, when the world’s first three supermodels, Barbara Goalen, Bettina Graziani and Lisa Fonssagrives began commanding very large sums.


During the 1940s and 1950s, Graziani was the most photographed woman in France and the undisputed queen of couture, while Fonssagrives appeared on over 200 Vogue covers; her name recognition led to the importance of Vogue in shaping the careers of fashion models. One of the most popular models during the 1940s was Jinx Falkenburg who was paid $25 per hour, a large sum at the time.

Image of Dorothea Church

Dorothea Church was among the first black models in the industry to gain recognition in Paris. However, these models were unknown outside the fashion community.

The industry boomed in the mid-1900s, sparking the creation of one of the first modelling agencies in 1946, Ford Models, founded by Eileen and Gerard Ford. Thanks to their success, modelling agencies started appearing all over the world in the 1960s

Modeling in the 1960’s – the birth of Modeling Agency

Modeling training

In the early 1960’s the concept of Modeling had spread throughout Europe. Europe, secretarial services acted as models’ agents charging them weekly rates for their messages and bookings.

In Italy as at that time, had many fashion houses and fashion magazines but was in dire need of models. Italian agencies would often coerce models to return to Italy without work visas by withholding their pay.

By the late 1960s, London was considered the best market in Europe due to its more organised and innovative approach to modelling. It was during this period that models began to become household names.

In 1967, seven of the top model agents in London formed the Association of London Model Agents. The formation of this association helped legitimize modelling and changed the fashion industry.

Modeling in the 1970’s – 1980’s

Many of the world’s most prominent modelling agencies were established in the 1970s and early 1980s. These agencies created the standard by which agencies now run.

Beverly Johnson

In 1974, Nevs Models was established in London with only a men’s board, the first of its kind. Elite Models was founded in Paris in 1975 as well as Friday’s Models in Japan. As a result of model industry associations and standards, model agencies became more business minded, and more thought went into a model’s promotional materials. By this time, agencies were starting to pay for a model’s publicity. It was during this time that Ford Models pioneered scouting.odels with better pay and working conditions, as well as the beginning of more diversity being introduced into the industry. For example, in 1974 Beverly Johnson became the first African-American model to feature on the cover of American Vogue.

Modeling in the 1990’s – the supermodel era

The 1990s marked the ‘supermodel’ era and the rise of figures such as Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford. Models were regarded as the new celebrities, featured all over the media. Teen pop music also heavily influenced the world of fashion and modelling during the 90s, with stars like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera popularising their own fashion looks, turning to a more youthful demographic.

Yet, with higher esteem, came more controversy.

Modeling in 2000’s till date

Oluchi Orlando

During the early 2000s the modelling industry came under fire for issues with eating disorders and drugs, exposing the detrimental effects of fame and the pressures of looking ‘perfect’. Since then, modelling associations have worked hard to tackle such problems, prioritising the health and wellbeing of models.

On March 3, 2012, Vogue banned models under the age of sixteen as well as models who appeared to have an eating disorder.

Agbani Darego

From a small, underrepresented job to a huge global phenomenon, the modelling industry is constantly changing and growing. Due to the emergence of the internet, contemporary models like Cara Delevingne and Kendall Jenner use social media as a platform for both working and interacting with fans. The multimedia presence of models in both print and digital forms has expanded their horizons even further. In today’s world, models are more than walking fashion displays. They are activists, public speakers, media personalities, business-owners and much more.

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