ICONS

Supermodel Kristen McMenamy Has Turned Instagram Into High Art

Kristen McMenamy posing as a mermaid in an iconic shoot for W magazine
Photo by Tim Walker

There’s a pretty standard formula to the grids of models who post on Instagram: campaigns, editorials, and subtle self-promo in the form of ultra-flattering selfies (or, in days past, party pics). Kristen McMenamy has posted none of the above since joining the platform in April, sharing entirely filter-free self-portraits ever since. Of course, there are some flattering ones among them—the 56-year-old is, after all, a supermodel—but they appear to be almost accidentally so. Her carefree approach to social media is perhaps best summed up by a post from May 23: Chin tilted up, cigarette between her lips, McMenamy stares directly into the camera, embodying the DGAF words scrawled across her bare chest in lipstick: “CANCEL ME.”

You don’t have to know the backstory to find the post delightful, or, at the very least, recognize that McMenamy is in a category of her own. But those who do catch that the post also references “cancellation” in the classic sense will enjoy it even further. In the mid-’90s, Versace canceled campaigns with both McMenamy and the photographer Juergen Teller. (“Versace, at that point, was it—if you’re in with Versace, you’re in,” McMenamy once recalled, noting that she was “devastated.” As for if you weren’t: “It’s over.”) That didn’t stop the pair of “Versace rejects” from scrawling the house’s name across McMenamy’s bare chest, staging their own photoshoot, and publishing it on the cover of the German magazine Süddeutsche Zeitung.

The moment McMenamy’s recreation popped up on my feed, I clicked her account and set up post notifications. It felt—and still feels—creepy; the only other person I have notifications set for is another supermodel, Bella Hadid. That has more to do with my job, but McMenamy’s posts are so delightfully kooky, chic, and, well, Kristen McMenamy, that I felt a greater sense of personal duty. Besides—as I’ve tried to justify to myself—the super is deeply embedded in W history. Her editorials for this magazine are the stuff of legend, and I don’t think I’m biased for saying as much. Her embodiment of a mermaid for a Tim Walker shoot in 2013, for example, prompted a whole New York Times story.

McMenamy does not post on her Instagram Stories (at least, not publicly). But her presence continues on the app in the comments section, where she often responds to the many fellow members of the fashion elite who reliably flood them with affection. Give McMenamy a follow, and you just might start seeing her in other comments sections, too—particularly if you also follow Marc Jacobs’s personal Instagram. “Like a 20 year old!!!!!!!,” she recently commented on one of the designer’s facelift recovery updates, followed by “ok. 25!! Better? ❤️❤️❤️❤️” in response to a user who disagreed.

To be clear, there is absolutely no need to stoop to such a granular level to appreciate @kristen_mcmenamy. In fact, I’m praying you don’t; the last thing I want is for Kristen to stop being Kristen.