Veronica Webb is one of the most notable names of a very small group of women who were supermodels, a now extinct type of fashion model who once dominated the business. As it goes with models, the core of her notoriety hung on her then and still stunning looks. She is pictured here in a photo by lensman, Marc Baptiste.
But, Veronica was also noted as a smart and outspoken advocate for models of color, championing equal access to magazine covers and the spreads that are the essential springboards to the more lucrative modeling contracts offered by cosmetic giants like Revlon.
Here is what Veronica had to say about the business of beauty:
JP: Are you over modeling or do you miss it? It’s still something young women aspire to, but is the experience the same?
V WEBB: I will never lose my fascination and passion for the creativity and the talented people involved in making beautiful clothes and astounding photographic images which bring the fashion world to life in the lives and imaginations of the people everywhere in the world. Every generation defines itself against its predecessor. My generation was of high stepping amazons; curvy, healthy, vivacious, and outspoken. Then came Kate Moss’ generation which in many ways was the opposite of what we represented. And if you look at the magazines the tide is changing again…
JP: What has “America’s Next Top Model” done for modeling?
V WEBB: I saw Tyra at the Oscars last week and we had a little love fest at the Vanity Fair party. She thanked me for, “paving the way along with Iman and Beverly Johnson for black models.” It shocked me that she was surprised when I told her, “what you and your mother have been able to accomplish is phenomenal!” I think the show is not so much about the fashion business as it is about what it’s like to leave home and try something crazy and maybe it’ll turn into something that gives you a lot of independence.
I think Tyra’s accomplishments have raised the bar higher than anyone could imagine for what can be made of a modeling career. I’m a fan and I ‘m rooting for her to take it where Oprah took it.
JP: For the business of modeling – is it still fundamentally the same; are models getting richer as ad budgets increase?
V WEBB: No, I think models are sliding to the bottom rung of the financial ladder in the business. Actresses dominate most of the business and if you are not totally specialized in an area like lingerie, swim suits or on TV you have zero chance of breaking out of the pack.
But, you know most people do not get rich or famous from modeling. Typically they have the experience of traveling, exposure to amazing food, people and an introduction to any business you might want to try your hand in. And as we all know, the right introduction is worth its weight in gold.
JP: There are several people who determine what fashion pages look like; fashion editors, agencies and others. And as the world and certainly the country grows more diverse, are we seeing that show up in the pages of the big fashion magazines?
V WEBB: Look at the cover of Vogue this month. Andre Leon Talley the Creative Director of Vogue and a kingmaker, who happens to be black, called it months ago when he put Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson on the cover. What about that Super Bowl? What about Sen. Barack Obama on the cover of everything! Jennifer Lopez gets her covers and Elle Magazine has been wowing us with images of sisters (yours truly was one) and Latinas since they came to our shores from Paris.
The show Ugly Betty is such mind-candy with the gorgeous array of people wandering through the offices of Mode. I think the human genome project is going to explode the whole notion of “race” as a biological concept. It’s not. It’s political. I just got my DNA results and was knocked out by the fact I’ve got Chinese blood.
JP: Hip hop had a love affair with designer labels for a moment with Foxy, Lil Kim and many, many others bringing us up to speed on their wardrobe selections; but how did that affect designers and is that love affair over?
V WEBB: I was right at the vortex of that moment. Versace led the way with rock stars and designers commingling their brands of untouchable cool. It will never end. Music and fashion are fabulous tools of self-expression ready made for you to use to identify and brand yourself so you can go out and seduce the world.
JP: Back to the business of modeling. We’ve seen over the years models leave one big agency for another. Is that generally to make more money? What is the business arrangement a model has with her agency and how can she leave?
V WEBB: Your business arrangement depends on how smart your advisors are and if you have a lawyer. Everyone changes management to make more money. It’s the name of the game. I just left Ford after a decade to go to Elite.
It has taken me years to learn how to carve out contracts that work for me. You know the basics, you write down what you expect of your agency and how much time you’d like it to take in order to get things accomplished. Exit windows are really important.
A “key man clause” is indispensable. What do you do if your agent who knows how to work for you leaves? Without that clause you can be tied up for a long time somewhere you don’t want to be. With any agent if you don’t have a plan you will never be as successful as you want to be.
JP: African American or “urban” publishing has embraced the “lad” magazines trend forever personified by Maxim, but have taken it one step further with even less clothes if that’s possible with magazines like “Smooth”, “King”, “Black Men”. Are Vida Guerra and Esther Baxter the new “black” supermodels?
V WEBB: When they create an audience that pushes advertisers to give them a franchise or an endorsement that will answer the question.
JP: Tyra has been in King magazine, and you know, done her show in a bikini; are we too parochial in the States, is Tyra a ratings genius, or are we headed for some moral cliff?
V WEBB: Clearly, Tyra is a ratings genius since she’s the touch stone for the current state of modeling. Are we headed for a moral cliff? It’s war time. Distraction is at a premium while we wrestle with the questions of the coming elections and what’s happening to our friends and relatives who are serving in the armed forces from day to day.
JP: Today with Myspace we can find out a lot about what a person is like or get some seemingly personalized impression of them on the web. I did not see you on Myspace, did I miss something? Can we reveal some of your favorites: top artists on your iPod, favorite Internet site, least favorite celebrity, best designer we’ve probably never heard of, and if you had to rant on-line what would it be about?
V WEBB: I have not launched in MySpace. Top Artist on my iPod? Y’sou N’dour, Target.com, live and let live, designer Neal Barret, and where is all the tax money that’s supposed to pay teachers in this country? Someone has their hands on it?
JP: I saw your show on BET, Real Life Divas, and anyone who watched it learned something. Are we going to see more of Veronica Webb? It seems as if you were missing, so to speak, for a little while. What’s next?
V WEBB: I took a break to live the life I worked so hard for and have kids. The girls are 3 and 4 now. What’s next? A multi-media life style guide on very stylish living.