NOT TO BE OBVIOUS, MODELS ARE BACK By GUY TREBAY Published: September 10, 2004 Except for those of the lone black woman, their eyes are all blue. Each face is different, but only by minute degrees. One has a nose that is a tiny bit larger. The lower lip of another is more pouty and petulant. Every one of them has a symmetrical cast of feature and an expression that it does not take a Naomi Wolf to see as submissive and unchallenging. They are the nine women on the cover of Vogue for September, the largest issue in the history of a magazine where fat is good only when it can be measured in pages. The September Vogue rings in at 832. That it is a whopping success comes as no particular surprise. Few editors can approach Anna Wintour's gifts for the care and feeding of a cash cow. Beyond the heft of American Vogue (and the curiosity that none of its current cover subjects are American), what is noteworthy about the magazine is that the editors chose to put models and not celebrities on the cover of the all-important September issue for the first time since 2001. It may seem an odd thing to point out during Fashion Week, when leggy creatures with phenomenal faces crowd the pavement at Bryant Park, but models are back in style. "I had a sort of feeling that we were saturated and slightly OD'ing on the celebrity factor," said Ms. Wintour, whose own celebrity has reached the point where she is accompanied to and from shows by a pair of Sub-Zero-size bodyguards. "Models are more reserved, less overexposed, if you like," Ms. Wintour said. "They have more mystique and glamour." Certainly they have more than, say, the average Botox abuser with a degree from some dubious acting school and Kevin Huvane on speed dial. "They also help you pay more attention to the clothes," she added. That is obviously the hope behind a multimillion-dollar campaign that Annie Leibovitz has photographed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ann Taylor and that features 50 models drawn from this week's catwalks as well as fashion's back pages. Half are cult-familiar beauties with names like Donna Mitchell and Lisa Taylor. Half are current runway stars like Heather Marks and Lisa Cant, two from among a crop of large-eyed creatures who resemble John Currin paintings and who are known in the business as the Bugs. The campaign itself is being promoted in the 685 Ann Taylor stores, as well as in a 50-page Vogue insert; with a direct marketing effort; at a sprightly interactive Web site with films by Kate Elson, the sister of the model Karen Elson, on the making of the photographs; and on the Astrovision screen in Times Square. And it was celebrated last night at a benefit party in Chelsea, where five of Ms. Leibovitz's signed portraits of models (Twiggy, Beverly Johnson, Linda Evangelista, Erin O'Connor and Ms. Elson, the model) were auctioned to benefit the Susan G. Komen foundation for breast cancer research. "From its beginning in 1954, Ann Taylor has worked with some of the world's most beautiful women," said Jerome Jessup, an Ann Taylor executive. If anything is striking beyond the obvious scope of the campaign's ambition (putting Ann Taylor back on the fashion map) and budget, it is how starkly it demonstrates that beauty ideals vary hardly at all. When Thorstein Veblen (and, honestly, would it be Fashion Week without a nod to the man who came up with "conspicuous consumption"?) first outlined the concept of what he termed a "feminine fashion ideal," he was conjuring a philosophy from a world in which definitions of beauty were rigidly class-based and class itself was in tremendous flux. In that world, not yet dominated by the mass reproduction of images, subtle qualities like a melodious voice, a fine carriage and lovely hands went into any judgment of what was beautiful. That planet has disappeared. It was already gone when Ann Taylor was founded, at about the time that television came onto the scene. In the century since Veblen wrote, there has apparently been little significant change in what constitutes a feminine beauty ideal, unless you take into account that those ideals now apply with unexpected equality to men. "There are five million male models and basically all we see is the same boy over and over and over," said Steven Cox, one of the designers of the men's wear line Duckie Brown, which showed at the Bryant Park tents on Wednesday a collection of humorous acid-colored and — in the case of a frilled bikini worn with blazer, white bucks and golf socks with "meatball" pompoms at the heel — vaguely humiliating spring clothes. "Obviously, there are lots of beautiful people out there and people who are stunning in a variety of ways," Mr. Cox said. "I'm not sure I can explain it, but for some reason the marketplace is narrowed so completely that they are all beautiful in exactly the same way."