What makes a supermodel? A preternatural beauty, of course, but there is more – a certain charisma, an unerring fashion instinct, a steely resilience, sex appeal. And a mere model becomes a ‘super’ when she becomes not only stratospherically famous, but also when she somehow encapsulates her era. The supermodel provides a snapshot of a moment in time because she is always at the epicentre of the fashionable cultural life of her time – and at its vanguard. Every decade has their supers, from impish, mini-skirted, swinging-‘60s icons Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy to quirky Cara Delevingne today.
But the phenomenon goes back further than Twiggy, to the very start of the 20th Century, when the world’s first ever supermodel rose to fame. Evelyn Nesbit, a willowy, copper-haired beauty from Philadelphia, was the most sought-after artists’ and fashion model in America’s Gilded Age. Her life was turbulent and eventful, and her fame peaked when she became embroiled in a murder, and what was then dubbed ‘the trial of the century’.