An enduring model

POWERFUL, wealthy, stylish, beautiful, desired and envied; welcome to the world of the woman who is currently the most famous supermodel on the planet, Kate Moss.

Incredibly, Moss has been modelling for 20 years now, and is more popular and beautiful than ever. Surely she's been necking some elixir of eternal youth along with those whisky sours? To celebrate her two decades in the fashion industry, Five will tonight broadcast the first half of a two-part documentary, The Kate Moss Years, which examines some key world events of the past 20 years, through the prism of the 34-year-old's whirlwind life.

The supermodel's style and charisma has defined a generation of young women, who have relentlessly copied her style, particularly over the past decade.

"Kate Moss is iconic. She emerged at just the right time, and was a great antidote to that really glamorous beauty of the early 1990s," says Alison Bruce, a director at Glasgow-based modelling agency The Look Agency. "She has incredible charisma and such mystique. People have remained interested in her after all these years partly because she's kept her mouth shut. She's discreet yet powerful, and of course incredibly beautiful. Her personal style is amazing because it's clear that she wears exactly what she likes. She doesn't follow trends, she sets them."

However, she is arguably the last supermodel to have had such a universal influence over the personal style of so many. While today's young supermodels probably couldn't be named by those without an interest in the fashion industry, there was a time when they wielded more power and influence than the most famous Hollywood stars. Claudia Schiffer, one of the most famous supermodels of the 1990s, once said: "In order to become a supermodel one must be on all the (magazine] covers, all over the world, all at the same time." Today, it's the stars of Desperate Housewives who grace the covers of women's magazines and even fashion-focused publications such as Vogue feature celebrities rather than professional models on around half of their covers. Since the first supermodel rose to stardom in the 1950s, this elite clan of beautiful women have been linked to some of the world's most famous men, have earned millions, influenced millions and become instantly recognisable around the world. So who were they, why were we so mesmerised by them, and who copied their iconic looks? We take a look at the prettiest power-players of the past six decades who have arguably had more influence over fashion, trends, and popular culture than anyone else.

1950s

DESPITE Janice Dickinson insisting she was "the world's first supermodel", within the fashion industry Swedish-born Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn is generally considered to be the first beauty to be given the illustrious title. She modestly described herself as a "good clothes hanger" and appeared in most of the fashion magazines between the 1930s and 50s, from Town & Country to Vanity Fair, and even Time. She graced the cover of Vogue more than 200 times.

Described as "the highest paid, highest praised, high fashion model in the business", her background in ballet was evident from her elegance and poise. She was photographed by some of the most famous photographers of the time, including Irving Penn, whom she went on to marry, and her career flourished into her forties.

1960s

IT was in the 1960s that the term "supermodel" began to really take off, with Britain's own Lesley Hornby, aka Twiggy, leading the pack on the catwalk and in magazines. Famous for her doe eyes, cropped hair, neat freckles and, of course, her boyish frame, Twiggy became the face of Swinging London. She epitomised the mini-skirted mod style created by designer Mary Quant, left, and thousands of young women rushed to copy her androgynous look, short hair and the long fake eyelashes she drew under her bottom lid.

In 1966 Mattel even issued a "Twiggy" Barbie doll, with a far less voluptuous figure than that of their usual model of dolls.

In 1968, an article in Glamour magazine described Jean Shrimpton – along with Twiggy and 18 other top models – as "supermodels." Nicknamed "The Shrimp", Shrimpton was another icon of the era in London, with her slim figure, gamine features and bouncy red blow-dry. She was romantically linked with a number of high-profile men, including Mick Jagger and David Bailey, and in 1965 she boosted the growing popularity of the mini skirt when she wore one to Australia's Melbourne Cup race meeting.

1970s

IN THE 1970s supermodels were becoming more and more highly paid, with Margaux Hemingway signing the first million-dollar contract as the face of Faberg's Babe perfume. However, perhaps the model who best epitomised the 1970s was Marie Helvin.

Her exotic looks (her mother was Japanese, her father American) and sensuous curves were a departure from the boyish models of the 1960s, and her ostentatious style – gold lam, floaty kaftans and chunky gold jewellery, all worn to fabulous parties at infamous New York nightclub Studio 54 – was widely copied by fashionable women.

Other supermodels who represented a move towards a more glamorous and feminine beauty ideal in the 1970s included Janice Dickinson, Christie Brinkley and the Texan ber-blonde, Jerry Hall.

Her mega-mane, endless legs and provocative lips were wonderfully sensual, and caught the eye of one Mr Mick Jagger.

While her all-American polished glamour was more difficult to copy than Twiggy's gamine crop, her look was popular, and big blow-dries and flawless blood-red lips quickly became the order of the day.

1980s

IT WAS during the 1980s that fashion models became celebrities in their own right, no longer just beautiful, anonymous faces. Their exposure became more widespread, with fashion designers beginning to advertise on television and on billboards. Top model Paulina Porizkova lent her name as well as her face to the global brand Pepsi. She preceded Elizabeth Hurley as the face of Este Lauder from 1988 to 1995. In a decade obsessed with wealth, luxury and excess, supermodels represented high-maintenance glamour, overtaking even the Hollywood stars. Their makeup was flawless, their hair always lustrous and their bodies perfect – none more so than Australian supermodel Elle Macpherson, who became known as "The Body".

While Macpherson sold more pin-up posters in the 1980s than any Hollywood actress, Canadian model Linda Evangelista cut her long mid-brown hair into a sharp bob, sending women running into salons to copy the look. In a decade when workplace feminism was on the rise, this glossy appearance and expensive tailoring these models wore so well led to "power dressing", with shoulder pads, teetering heels and thick make-up becoming the new office uniform.

1990s

THE 1990s was arguably the decade of the supermodel, by now as famous as any actress, musician or sports star, thanks to the influence of the "Big Six". These "glamazons" – who dominated the modelling industry – were Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford, Kate Moss, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington.

These women commanded enormous fees for modelling and public appearances, with Evangelista famously telling Vogue, tongue-in-cheek, that: "We don't wake up for less than $10,000 a day." But she wasn't entirely kidding. In 1991, Turlington signed an $800,000 contract with Maybelline cosmetics for 12 days' work each year, while Schiffer reportedly earned around $12 million through modelling in 1995 alone.

By this point, everyone from Karl Lagerfeld to Time magazine had declared these six women more glamorous than any movie star, and the world seemed to be in agreement. These models were desirable to men, classically beautiful, flawless, but looked less opulent than the 1980s supermodel.

Crawford defined the 1990s look, best described as "drop-dead-gorgeous girl next door". Her simple make-up, jeans and white T-shirt defined the laid back all-American image that dominated throughout the early 1990s.

2000s

BY the late 1990s, the fashion industry had begun to comment on the "decline of the supermodel". Celebrities were increasingly appearing on magazine covers and models were no longer as recognisable as they once were. Claudia Schiffer said last year that "supermodels, like we once were, don't exist any more". Arguably, the only true supermodel to have emerged since the Big Six is Brazilian bombshell Gisele Bndchen. An antidote to the pale, waifish models of the late 1990s, once again here was a model who was desirable to most men.

Her long tanned limbs and relatively curvy figure represented a move to a more sensual look, away from the "heroin chic" look epitomised by Moss. In the past few years Lily Cole, left, and Erin O'Connor have proved popular with designers thanks to their quirky, individual looks. But recently there has been a return to a more conventional look on the catwalk, with pretty blonde models such as Jessica Stam, Lily Donaldson and Gemma Ward being favoured by top designers.

Perhaps the most influential British model since Kate Moss in terms of style is Agyness Deyn. Recently named Model of the Year at the British Fashion Awards, her androgynous yet accessible style is popular with teenage girls.