Born in Rochester, Minnesota, Emily Sandberg was an international fixture in the fashion industry featuring in advertising campaigns for Fendi, Versace, Sportmax, Armani, DKNY and more. In addition to modeling, she has appeared in The Devil Wears Prada and Employee of the Month. Now a mother, Emily chronicles her life on her blog.
What do you think about the current beauty model used by the fashion industry? Do you think it portrays an unattainable and/or unrealistic ideal?
I don’t think the images are unrealistic at all. All you need is a team of professionals 24/7, the perfectly clear skin of a 20-year-old and a Photoshop filter the world can view you through. What’s unrealistic about that?
Beauty suggests so many emotions, it’s difficult to capture all definitions of the word in one image. Currently, most of the beauty models look the same or they are celebrity actresses. When I see an ad for L’Oreal or Revlon or Maybelline, I can no longer differentiate the branding. To me, the images all look the same. As a whole they are indeed beautiful, if one considers beauty to be uniform.
Fashion is an industry that is very youth centric. The largest growing demographic with the most disposable income is people in their 50’s. Do you think older women are represented equitably by the industry?
I think designers are beginning to design with the older women in mind and thank goodness. These women deserve the love; They are fierce and they have earned it. As well, the financial bottom line demands it. How the clothing is marketed and advertised is a different story altogether. If I based my profiling on the advertisements for most designers, I would think that their core customer is a sexually mature girl in her early twenties, with an extremely high paying job and/or trust fund. I don’t know many 50-year-old women that either look or aspire to behave like the women I see in advertising. But I may be hanging with the wrong crowd of 50-year-olds.
Child stars such as Hailee Steinfeld, Chloe Moretz and Elle Fanning appear on the covers of LOVE’s autumn/winter issue in addition to appearing in campaigns for Miu Miu and Marc Jacobs. Thaylane Loubry, the ten-year-old French model who was styled in French Vogue’s January 2011 issue, is causing controversy over what is considered too young to model. How do you feel about the sexualisation of young girls in fashion and what is too young?
Certainly I think we can all agree that 10 is too young to be covering a child in makeup and placing her in suggestive positions. However, although most models are a few years older, they are still required to reflect and embody the sexuality of a mature, experienced woman. Most of these girls fake what they think sexuality is. We end up with a definition of sexuality as being something outside of ourselves that can be manufactured with fake breasts, liposuction, a red lip and higher heel. To me this is much less interesting than the inner life and energy the truly sexually awakened woman exudes. Having said that, when I see a Victoria’s Secret fashion show I do wonder if life would be a bit easier with a couple of grands worth of breast implants. I experience the impulsive desire to have it and that impulse is what sells clothes.
Celebrities have increasingly replaced models on the covers of magazine over the past ten years. Why do you think this is and what do you think about our society’s obsession with celebrity culture?
Trust me on this, people aren’t so obsessed with celebrities as much as they need to be in touch with themselves. People need stories to connect to themselves, to their communities and tribes. It was really a genius business move to capitalize on this years back. Now it has become a monstrous machine that is feeding upon itself and literally destroying the lives of those who get sucked into it. I would consider it abusive at this point to allow any new talent to get sucked into the Hollywood machine. Unless you have a very good understanding of what exactly this machine is and what your role in it is, step away. Be warned, there are not enough gifting suites and red carpets to give back the sanity of a soul at peace with itself.
A celebrity used to be a special personality or talent. Now it’s rare that you find a quality persona that is sustainable for any length of time. Mind you, fashion is experiencing that same predicament. It used to take years to develop a model to the point where she was ready for the world stage. Around the time I started modelling you knew within months whether or not you were going to make it in the business. Now models step off a plane and are signed to exclusive deals with Prada, Miu Miu and Jil Sander for a season and by the next season no one is interested.
Designers such as Prada and Burberry are streaming their ready to wear collections live. How do you see fashion and social media converging?
There are a few people in fashion that have completely embraced social media. Anna Dello Russo and Ted Gibson are two that have an innate understanding of what social media is and how to use it. A lot of what I see at the moment is fashion using social media as a way to self-promote. There are huge gaps in the conversation but I think we’ll see them filled. The convergence, for me, is very exciting seeing fashion reach the innards of our country. Growing up, I had never heard of Louis Vuitton or Versace or even Donna Karan.
Threadless is an online company built on one of the most powerful social media tools; crowdsourcing. A small T-shirt company started by a couple of college dropouts with $1000 is now a multimillion dollar company. The people and brands that will end up being paid attention to are the ones that have substance and a way to connect in real time with their communities and tribes. I don’t think we’ll be seeing vanity brands and projects that have been supported primarily by dollars lasting much longer.
How has the industry changed since you started your career in the late 90’s?
When I was modelling, people knew who the girls were and were excited to see them on the runway, in the magazines and on the street. They had worked with them for years showing them how to model, how to hold themselves. They were comfortable with the business and familiar with the players before the public ever caught onto them. Once the celebrity craze began and the turnover of new faces ramped up, model’s personalities became more ubiquitous. The models were everywhere but no one knew who they were anymore. The emotional connection to the specialness of a face and a personality in fashion was diluted. Then, the Eastern Europeans came and took over the entire scene for a few years. At that point, even the agents had a difficult time picking their own girls out of runway lineups. They all had the same hair length, skin tone and facial features. The model as muse ended and celebrity and designer pairings took hold.
I predict that we’ll be seeing stylists as the new emerging personalities of the fashion business. What they wear and their approach to fashion will become more and more visible and followed. Brilliant stylists like Brana Wolf, Katie Grand, Anna Dello Russo, Carine Roitfeld, Edward Enninful, Monica Dolfini and the like are going to be paid attention to like never before.
How do you feel about the creative process in the industry and do you think it is being diluted to make fashion more commercial?
Fashion had to become commercialized to keep up with the shifting celebrity dynamic and weakening world economy. Celebrity stories became the foothold to keep advertising money flowing. I do believe we’ve reached its final chapter and will see the celebrity obsession die down as the economy and people’s confidence in art and their own talents strengthen. I speak a lot about this phenomenon in my blog because the extent to which we allowed the celebrity crazy to take the fashion business hostage fascinates me. It will change though, that’s one thing that will always remain a constant in fashion; change.
Models such as Liu Wen and Jourdan Dunn represent such a small number of successful working models of ethnic diversity. Do you think it is a fair assessment to say the use of these girls is tokenism?
Oh no, not at all. These girls mentioned are great models and deserve every bit of success that they’ve achieved. I’d love to see more diversity on the runway but first and foremost, the model needs to a great model. You can’t throw away talent in the name of diversity. Perhaps a college university can or a large corporation, but not in fashion. Creative talent trumps equal employment opportunity. It’s still the wild west.
Vogue Italia recently put three ‘plus’ sized models on its cover. Do you think this was a publicity stunt or an authentic move to represent other body sizes in fashion?
I don’t think it was either. Steven Meisel and Italian Vogue have been the undeniable blue chip standard for forward thinking creativity in the fashion business for the past two decades. Neither have allowed themselves to be defined or swayed by advertisers or politics. The commitment to creative authenticity has kept Italian Vogue as the reigning magazine in the business and Steven the reigning photographer.
The Advertising Standards Authority in the UK recently banned ads for L’Oreal featuring Julia Roberts and Christy Turlington citing that both ads breached the advertising standards code for exaggeration and being misleading. How do you feel about the use of Photoshop in advertising?
Photoshop has gotten a bad rap the past few years. The problem with using Photoshop in beauty advertisements is that the overuse of it dilutes the reality of what the product is capable of. For instance, it would appear from most ads that the products are going to make me look like a Madame Tussauds’ statue. It would be great to give credit to the Photoshop artists. I think it would be a gentle reminder that these images are in fact images.
British Vogue’s June issue featured the headline ‘ The Arrival of the Asian Supermodel’ yet none of the editorials featured Asian models. If Vogue felt it was important enough to dedicate a cover line to this issue why do you think the contents of the magazine were seriously lacking in Asian models?
I didn’t see the issue so I can’t comment specifically on that issue, but to say that is hilarious and tells me somewhere in Vogue UK’s system of decision making there’s a big communication problem.
How has motherhood informed your life?
I now live a life of necessity. It is the rare occasion when I choose to do what I want to do. I only have the energy to do what is absolutely necessary. My child is my priority now. The laundry and the rest will just have to wait.
Follow her at @emmalish