If you have read our article about technical innovations , you should already know that fashion and its various techniques have always existed — ever since the Neanderthal man. Models for painters and sculptors too have long been around. Fashion models, however, only surfaced once garments started to be sold. They are now one of the most watched phenomena and continue to fascinate everyone all around the globe, some of them even having millions of followers on social media.

So let’s go back in time to discover the origins and evolutions of a captivating social concept…


In French, the word for “model” is “mannequin” and its etymology gives even more knowledge about the origins of fashion models. “Mannequin” comes from the Dutch “mannekijn”, a word used to designate “little men”. Since women were not allowed to go out in public during the Middle Ages in the region of Flanders, squires and pages — young noblemen — were the one wearing and displaying new fashion creations to the rest of the court.


In the 16th century, French craftsmen started creating dolls for the children of aristocracy. A few decades later, these “poupées” — French for “dolls” — were named “poupées mannequins” and started being used to promote French couture around the globe. Potential clients could receive these dolls, see garments from up close, touch the high quality fabrics and place an order.

The poupées continued to evolve. With always more details and more worldwide notoriety, they even were called the “Parisiennes” as Paris was already the capital city for fashion at that time.

The poupées mannequins were the preferred method to showcase clothes, up until around 1750 when the first wooden dress forms — human size- appeared. But at this point, still no lively models…

A “poupée mannequin” (source :


Charles Frederick Worth & Marie Vernet (source :

The first fashion models did not have to meet strict beauty standards : they showed diversity in terms of physical appearance in order for designers to show variety in their creations. In France, they were even called “sosies”, which means “doppelgangers”, because they had to make the customers identify with them.

However, the modeling activity was accepted for Marie Vernet, as Worth’s spouse, but for other women, modeling was dishonoring : indeed, they made a living from their bodies, which was rapidly compared to prostitution. The contempt was not even justified since models wore black sheath dresses underneath the garments in order to be perfectly modest and to show no skin.


Paul Poiret, a renowned French fashion designer defined models as “women who should be more than women”. This illustrates the beginning of models being the reference for beauty standards. In the early 20th century, the criteria were slim and slender bodies with small breasts and hips. Of course, as all trends, this evolved a few decades later. Models displayed hourglass silhouettes with thin waist and larger breasts and hips. The 1940’s marked the birth of the first “big names” : Barbara Goalen, Bettina Graziani and Lisa Fonssagrives booked highly-paid deals and were the three names on everyone’s lips. For example, Lisa Fonssagrives appeared on more than 200 Vogue covers and was the first model on the cover of the Times. This was the tipping point : models became enviable.

Lisa Fonssagrives — (source : Vogue)


In the 1960’s and 1970’s, models inspired all types of artists. Some photographers required big names for their photoshoot and artists for their masterpieces — Twiggy was a highly-requested model and Andy Warhol worked with Edie Sedgwick for example.

Andy Warhol & Edie Sedgwick (source :

Before the 1970’s, models were separated in two categories : fashion show models, who walked the runway and cover-girls who were photographed for magazines and advertisements. In 1972, Ralph Lauren shook these rules up by hiring advertising-looking models for his fashion shows. This is when models’ careers started to have even more range and visibility. At the same time, there also was room for a little bit more diversity : the first black models gained popularity. You have surely heard about Donyale Luna or Grace Jones : huge names in the fashion and art industries. Some of them — Naomi Campbell and Iman included — even obtained the “Supermodel” status.

Donyale Luna (source :


Naomie Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford & Tatjana Patitz by Peter Lindbergh (source : Harper’s Bazaar)


As sad as this era was, it enabled true, and hopefully sustainable, change in the modeling industry.

Kate Moss (source : Vogue)


Lea T. (source :

Ashley Graham is at the forefront of the plus-size models engagement, she shatters boundaries and has even made the cover of Sports Illustrated in 2016. In France, a law was passed restricting models with medically proven anorexia from working, and forcing brands to specify it when an ad has been Photoshopped. It is a slow process but the cult of extreme thinness in fashion is coming to an end.

Ashley Graham on the cover of Sports Illustrated — (source :

More and more associations also see the light of day. Models have long been under the strong influence — even control — of their mother agencies, since they are compelled to sign with them in order to be able to work as a model. One of the most noteworthy associations is Model Law, created in 2017 in France by Ekaterina Ozhiganova and Gwenola Guichard, former models. They have created a manifesto with the goal of ending abuse and poor working conditions in the modeling industry. It has already been signed by 271 fashion stakeholders.

Ekaterina Ozhiganova and Gwenola Guichard, founders of Model Law — (source :


Designers and artists are also getting more and more creative : Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI) models have recently been all the rage. Lil Miquela, a 100% digital model even has an Instagram account scoring millions of followers. She lands huge contracts with brands such as Ugg, Samsung or Calvin Klein.

Bella Hadid & Lil Miquela for Calvin Klein — (source :

At Eva Engines, we deeply believe that crafting fashion with more diversity is essential. This is why we have created a fashion model search engine powered by our AI algorithms. We help model agencies scout new talents from Instagram in just a few clicks and we help fashion brands cast professional models for their campaigns. By uploading a referral image of a face and playing around with the filters, you can find tomorrow’s models in 3 clicks !

If you want to be a part of models’ evolutions — similarly to what you have just read — go ahead and try our free demo : !

Our platform, Eva Search

SOURCES :,ses%20cr%C3%A9ations%20%C3%A0%20sa%20client%C3%A8le.,(rien%20que%20%C3%A7a%E2%80%A6).&text=Les%20premiers%20mannequins%20reconnus%20%C3%A9mergent,l'histoire%20de%20la%20mode.



French startup at the heart of fashion & AI

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