‘Why posh girls make frightfully marvellous models.’

By Edie Campbell.
Illustration by Jean-Philippe Delhomme.

A letter from… London: A class act. - © System Magazine

There is a lingering belief that the fashion world is overwhelmingly populated by posh people. Especially in the UK, where the fashion industry is seen as just an extension of an all-girls boarding school, full of lots of girls who know each other already. I can’t say that this really fits with my experience, but then this is a business devoted to transformation and dressing up, so a lot of the posh people are probably successfully camouflaged as not-posh, and a lot of the not-posh people are pretending to be posh. But let’s entertain the thought for a bit longer.

Whether fashion is – or is not – run by poshos, there has always been a strange fascination with aristo models. From Honor Fraser, Stella Tennant and Jacquetta Wheeler, to Cara and Poppy Delevingne, Suki Waterhouse, Georgia Jagger, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Jean Campbell.

If it is true that fashion is inundated by posh models, then why? What makes posh models good models?

Firstly, we’re stupidly polite. Hopelessly, helplessly, occasionally dangerously, polite. This has three great benefits when it comes to modelling. Firstly, we always come across as posh and pretty, very eager to please, and with no brain. Models are always underestimated, but the posh models, they won’t even be crafty, right? But being underestimated is one of my favourite things: people who expect nothing of you can never be disappointed. But better still, they will usually be pleasantly surprised even if you turn out to be only marginally more capable or intelligent than they had anticipated. So a posh model is already intriguing when she turns out to be anything more than a slightly helpless young schoolgirl.

The second great benefit of this entrenched politeness is that we really hate saying no. This is partly due to a fear of confrontation, and partly due to a fear of disappointing someone. This combination of fears is actually extremely useful when it comes to being a model. Given that models are required to be in total agreement with everyone they work with, as well as relentlessly positive and bouncy, this fear of being in disagreement comes in handy. We are used to repressing our opinions: we have never been totally honest, and are entirely used to skirting round conflict for the sake of an easy and disingenuous life! We really, really, really don’t want people to hate us. It means we can happily agree with anyone and say yes to anything without any internal conflict. So, yes, of course that dress is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, and yes, I will shave my head and make out with an armadillo – but only because I just cannot work out how to say no.

The second reason why poshos make good models is that nearly all of us have daddy issues. In fact, also mummy issues, having been abandoned by both parents at birth to a cavalcade of dour nannies with nary a backward glance. This generally means that we want everyone to fall in love with us. In most professions, this is not a useful instinct to have, but as a model, it’s ideal: a model’s job is to be scintillating. And given that most fashion photographers are men old enough to be our fathers, this makes the daddy issues kick into play twice as fast. But don’t jump to conclusions: I’ve never actually shagged a photographer! I’m far too sexually repressed and English! And I just want to be loved.

The third reason why posh girls make good models is because we tend to be quite hardy. There is no better prepara­tion for a models’ apartment than growing up in a very damp and cold castle, sharing a bed with four generations of incontinent spaniels, or being shipped off to boarding school aged four where you will be mercilessly caned for wetting the bed. In comparison to that, a night spent in the middle seat of an overcrowded passenger jet, next to the fetid stench of the loos for 10 hours sounds like a good night’s kip.

I really don’t know why there is this fascination with the poshness of models. Maybe it’s because modelling isn’t seen as a real job, so to watch a posh girl doing it – someone, after all, who isn’t really a real person, but rather a caricature of the upper class – is a bit like watching a very camp performance. Maybe there’s something innately camp about poshness that fits very well with fashion. Who knows? But despite having spent most of my teenage years desperately trying to hide my poshness, convinced that a person could not be simultaneously ‘cool’ and ‘posh’, I am now more or less happy to wear my poshness with impunity.

Taken from System No. 6.