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This story first appeared in the March 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
She’s suddenly ubiquitous, this type of actress — just not on the big or small screen. She graces red carpets and Fashion Week front rows wearing next season’s Dolce, Zac, Marc and Elie — the perks of being a personal friend of the house — with the most-craved Celine or Alexander McQueen bag, not yet even on preorder, on her arm. Yet she might not have done a project in years, and if she has, well, you haven’t heard of it. Still, she is a legitimate actress, having starred in a few rom-coms, action flicks or horror films, looking gorgeous in all of them. No fake noses or weight gain for this girl.
Today, said actress spends the majority of her time modeling on arrival lines as opposed to runways. Remember when models just wanted to be actresses? These days, a certain lanky, large-eyed genre of B-list-and-lower actresses have, for all intents and purposes, added “model” to their business-savvy hyphenate titles. Meet the 2013 version of the model-actress — or, the mocktress.
But don’t pity her. She makes the majority of her income — a very good income — this way. Last year, according to sources in event planning, marketing and branding, Jessica Alba and Kate Bosworth each earned $100,000 per public appearance.
Maybe they weren’t paid to attend Chanel shows — they just got to keep 15 grand worth of clothes and bags — but they were no doubt monetized for attending the Giffoni Film Festival in Italy, the opening of the Montblanc concept store in Beijing, the Audi Aspen Holiday party and the Topshop/Topman store opening in L.A. Alba alone attended about 43 events in 2012 — the old “opening of an envelope” line comes to mind — and for tres chic Diane Kruger, it was 31 events. Kruger is becoming better known for being well-dressed than her occasional yet interesting acting choices. No doubt she makes more money that way.
Precisely how much is a function of visibility. Rachel Bilson used to be out and about all the time in between 2007’s The O.C. and landing Hart of Dixie in 2011. Now, because of higher demands on her time (i.e., she’s working), she garners $150,000 for an appearance, while Camilla Belle, with less frequent and more obscure projects (Cavemen, I Brake for Gringos), earns $20,000 to $50,000 to sit front-row at a fashion show or show up looking chic at the Samsung Galaxy Note Launch Event in New York.
“A lot of these girls are beautiful and had a little luck in that the type of feature film they first acted in led to easy stardom,” explains Marilyn Heston, owner of MHA, which represents fashion brands and wrangles celebs to wear their looks. “As ingenues, Camilla Belle was in 10,000 BC and Kate Bosworth in Blue Crush. Both films were highly visible domestically and overseas with young and sexy casts, and they had strong studio press campaigns. Fashion houses took note and quickly adopted them as ‘fashion girls.’ I remember when Roberto Cavalli made a plunging V-neck blue chiffon cocktail dress for the premiere of Blue Crush, he asked, ‘Who’s Kate Bosworth?’ — but sure enough, he got tons of press because she looked so great.”
Note Twilight ingenue and new mocktress Ashley Greene, who models for DKNY ads while being splashed all over Who What Wear-style websites for what she wears about town. Her next role after the vampire franchise is a horror movie called Random. January Jones now is better known for flamboyant fashion choices than her parts beyond Mad Men, i.e., X-Men: First Class. Mocktresses-in-training Hailee Steinfeld and Elle Fanning, despite being in school, get paid to play dress-up and go out, sometimes in designer outfits well beyond their years.
The time when such a career move might have indicated the beginning-of-the-end has passed. “I call this the democratization of fashion,” says Lori Sale, a partner in the Artists & Brands agency and a former ICM agent. “This doesn’t hurt their careers — producers want to cast actresses who are relevant and current and getting covered by the media. Brands can be a very good ‘look’ for talent; it can enhance their image more than hurt it, if they pick the right ones.”
Truth be told, there’s a degree of mocktress in nearly every modern actress now that designer fashion is one of the biggest components of a celebrity’s image and brand. “Instead of having their agents scour for the next big role, actresses are making sure they’re polished each time they grace a red carpet, well aware it can catapult them from actor to brand ambassador or muse,” says Kent Belden, who runs the MMA styling agency. “A brand chooses an actress who represents the image and lifestyle it wants to convey to consumers, but both parties are being strategic.”
Yet A-list actresses with deals as the faces of such brands as Dior (Charlize Theron, Jennifer Lawrence, Mila Kunis, Natalie Portman) or YSL (Jessica Chastain) or who have close relationships with designers (Cate Blanchett with Armani, Anne Hathaway with Valentino) always will be better known for acting than dressing. They don’t show up at the drop of a hat — even when being paid to wear said hat. Their publicists and agents won’t let them dilute their brand, while for the full-on mocktress, fashion is her brand, and acting is what gives her fashion relevance.
A mocktress might not get the cover of Vogue, but she does rate the cover of Allure, InStyle or Glamour, especially when she’s in a movie or on a TV show, because Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Megan Fox and Belle move issues of certain style magazines more than supermodels. “These actresses have sizzle and wattage, which is pretty much out of the reach of young models today,” says Barneys global ambassador and fashion writer Simon Doonan. “The professional and personal lives of actresses are embedded in the group consciousness. We know her face, but we also know her backstory, her triumphs and foibles. This makes for a more compelling and effective branding moment.”
Social media drives home that branding moment over and over, says Jill Chayet, owner of fashion PR and branding company Bluprint. “The dawn of the Internet and social media gave birth to this new form of access into the lives and activities of actresses,” she says. “These celebrities are real ambassadors for their brands. It’s a 360 opportunity — from events, appearances, editorial, social media, personal blogs and fan sites. Combine that with new photo-media-sharing growing exponentially, and any designer brand gets exposure that far supersedes the reach traditional models could offer.”
In the past few years, the big brands have been drowned out by mass and emerging brands that one has barely heard of — a plethora of denim and T-shirt companies — by using mocktresses as their preferred method of PR. Ah, the joys of being a fashion journalist: cracking open the computer every morning to a torrent of hundreds of daily news releases with subject lines that read (not a joke; all caps have been faithfully reproduced): “January Jones Wears Frame Denim” and “DIANE KRUGER WEARS ANN TAYLOR FOR THE THIRD TIME.”
Mocktresses have even pushed aside reality actresses — “reactresses” — as branding tools because outside of Nicole Richie and Lauren Conrad, reactresses don’t have high fashion cred. Kim Kardashian may be a brand, but she’s not a mocktress, as she lacks the clotheshorse body and subtle chic. Rachel Zoe may have created the fashion-star reactress, but now those names run in tabloids, not fashion blogs, and they simply are no longer aspirational.
The mother of all mocktresses is Elizabeth Hurley, who became better known as a fashionista than an actress after donning the famed Versace safety pin dress for the London premiere of Four Weddings and a Funeral in 1994. Former mocktresses Mischa Barton and Lindsay Lohan carried the torch into the early 2000s. But none has taken mocktressdom to the levels they are today, where short-lived TV series actresses pose alongside blockbuster ingenues, both of whom increasingly are more admired for their ability to wear a frock than open a film.
The playing field is even becoming crowded. “There are not enough big fashion and beauty campaigns to go around for all the beautiful actresses who’d like to land them,” says Sale. “But there are lots of opportunities for fashion-savvy actresses who aren’t A-listers to act as brand ambassadors. They have to be authentically fashion-loving and have to wear lots of different brands, or a particular brand won’t want to associate with them.” Adds Doonan, who says of today’s freewheeling fashion climate: “An actress could be flogging dresses one minute and playing opposite Dame Maggie Smith the next, and nobody would try to bust her cred. All bets are off.”
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