Monday, Feb. 20, 2012 | 7:55 p.m.
“People told me I couldn’t be fashion, that I’m just an old-fashioned body girl, only good for swimwear. But I knew that I could bring back the supermodel.”
That’s what Kate Upton told the New York Times about her Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition cover. It dropped last week (along with a lot of jaws), and the fashion world she spoke of exploded. The dirtiest jab from the industry, at least that I’ve seen, came from Sophia Neophitou, who has done some casting for Victoria’s Secret. In the Times piece, Neophitou called Upton’s look “too obvious,” adding: “She’s like a footballer’s wife, with the too-blond hair and that kind of face that anyone with enough money can go out and buy.”
Damn, that’s bitchy, and I don't think anyone associated with picking bodies for push-up bras should talk about obviousness. But Neophitou wasn’t alone in her criticism. Insults and impassioned defenses came fast and furious from the industry and the media and the public, even as Upton was partying here in Vegas to celebrate the cover and sign her name for fans. The suit, which has also taken a beating for being “barely there,” is by local designer Kathleen Bruening.
“This bathing suit, I made out of two days of sleep deprivation,” Bruening told the Las Vegas Sun. “It wanted to be the teenie-weenie, itsy-bitsy red bikini.”
Take that, Us Weekly readers. It wanted to be teenie-weenie (given a choice between “So Sexy!” and “So Skanky!” in an online poll, only 22 percent of nearly 20,000 voters picked the former). And Upton wanted to look hot in it, which she undeniably does. Much has been said about her “curvy” figure and whether it’s too curvy for SI’s cover or for modeling in general, but the woman has a 25-inch waist! Granted, her assets are ample enough to create the rarely seen side-boob/under-boob combo, which is not so high fashion. But chubby? If that’s what it looks like, my personal ban on doughnut holes sandwiched between barbecue potato chips is over for good.
Then there’s the suit. Cheryl Tiegs, who graced the SI Swimsuit Edition cover more than once in her heyday, politely agreed with Access Hollywood host Billy Bush that Upton’s picture is “two strands away from Playboy” (his words). But Tiegs insisted that Upton is prettier and delightful in person.
Delightful could be a synonym for something Upton has called herself: “relatable.” Watching behind-the-scenes footage of her shooting a burger commercial for Carl’s Jr., I believed she might actually eat those enormous bites between takes, whereas Paris Hilton and Audrina Patridge never convinced me. And Upton’s story reinforces that realness, as she initially modeled in catalogs and gained fame through social media. Is she my particular style when it comes to beauty? Not really. Is she beautiful? I think so, whether it’s high fashion or pageant or girl-next-door or exotic or plus-size or otherwise. I would bet on her ability to sell magazines without any of this hype about whether she’s hot enough to even be on one.
Agent Ivan Bart, who signed Upton to IMG Models (which also had a hand in the careers of Gisele, Kate Moss and Heidi Klum) told the Times: “When Kate first came in, everyone at the agency thought I was crazy. She wasn’t ‘fashion’ enough. … Kate is bigger than fashion.”
If you’re bigger than fashion, I’m guessing you’re technically a supermodel. Bravo, Kate. But as long as we're all stereotyping, we'll have to wait and see if she winds up with a rock star.