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Sunday, June 08, 2008

Return of the glamazons

Feature on the return of the 1990s supermodels in yesterday's Irish Independent

They were the Amazonian goddesses who transcended the boundaries of the modelling scene to become megastar celebrities – and now the original supermodels are returning to their rightful place at the heart of the fashion world.

This autumn, some of the leading members of the original “Big Six” that Gianni Versace first sent shimmying sensuously down the catwalk in the early 1990s will be back on billboards across the globe.
Linda Evangelista (43) will star in Prada’s autumn/winter ad campaign, while Christy Turlington (39) has been signed up by Escada, and last month modelled Chanel for Karl Lagerfeld.
Furthermore, Claudia Schiffer (37) will front campaigns for Chanel and Salvatore Ferragamo and Eva Herzigova (35) will pout for Louis Vuitton and Amber Valleta by Dsquared.
Meanwhile, Naomi Campbell (38) remains one of the busiest supermodels around, and this week picked up a e250,000 contract with Yves Saint Laurent, despite, our perhaps because of, her phone-chucking, air rage tantrum-throwing ways.
These glamazons were at the height of their commercial and earning power in the mid-90s, exemplified by Evangelista’s immortal utterance that she and Christy Turlington “don’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day”.
But gradually the industry deserted them, leaving just Kate Moss and Brazilian stunner Gisele Bundchen (currently the world’s richest model) to fly the diminished ‘super’ flag. Actresses, singers, and, eventually, the current crop of waif-life stick insects began to dominate the scene.
So why are these old-school supermodels suddenly back in vogue? The answer to that question is most likely down to their ages – ironic for an industry where youth is considered the golden ticket.
“Models in their mid 30s and 40s more accurately reflect the demographic of designers' clients and customers - literally the women who have the most money to spend,” explains Sarah McDonnell, editor of The Gloss magazine.
“Designers have taken to "reviving" the older model for advertising campaigns, while still choosing very young girls to wear their clothes on the catwalk. It's a classic example of high fashion (as worn by super-slim teens on the runway) meeting commercial reality.”
The strategy seems to be working. L'Oréal has said that its profits have increased 20 per cent since Linda Evangelista started appearing in their ads eighteen months ago.
Celia Holman Lee, who has run her Limerick-based modelling agency for the past three decades, argues that these supermodels are in demand once more because their profiles and personas are so entrenched in popular culture.
“These women made such an impact back in the 1990s that they are still obviously household names,” Holman Lee explains.
“The key here is familiarity. It takes many years to reach a level of iconic fame where a woman can open a magazine and straight away say, ‘Oh there’s Claudia Schiffer’.
“The members of today’s cool set like Agyness Deyn and Lily Cole are not as widely known, despite their exposure.”
Holman Lee adds that this recognition factor has turned the supermodels into brands, and that their mere presence in a campaign brings its own set of associations, expectations and even desires. “It’s not necessarily the supermodel per se: it’s the persona, the sense of individuality and the mystique that this woman has created around herself that draws companies and designers,” she says.
Those lucrative supermodel personas were certainly given enough space to flourish in the public sphere in the heady years of the 1990s. These days it’s substance-bothering pop stars and actresses, and reality TV has-beens and never-weres that keep the tabloids and gossip rags in business.
But in their heyday these clothes horses were the number one fixation of the media, who slavishly tracked what they ate, where they were partying and who they were dating and hating.
Naomi Campbell continues to live the most “colourful” life of the supermodels, and was most recently arrested for allegedly assaulting an officer when she learned her luggage had been lost at Heathrow’s disastrous Terminal Five.
Before she became defined by her anger management issues, Campbell was a red-top favourite for her succession of love affairs with actor Robert de Niro, boxer Mike Tyson, and , of course, Adam Clayton from U2, whom she was engaged to for a period.
Campbell was also one of the so-called “Trinity” alongside Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington. Together, these three pushed for better jobs and higher pay, and are generally credited with improving the industry’s work conditions and pay rates for models.
Evangelista has spent most of her career trying to escape the shadow of her infamous $10,000 remark, which she made during an interview with Vogue in 1990. “I said that a long time ago and I would hope that today I am a different person,” she said in 2005.
The Canadian was also known for her ever-changing hairstyles, transforming her look a dozen times over the decade, earning the nickname The Chameleon. Her famous short cut shocked the industry, but it was replicated by women the world over.
Evangelista’s private life was equally changeable. In 1987 she married Gerald Marie, her boss at the Elite model agency in Paris. They divorced in 1992, and she subsequently had relationships with Desperate Housewives actor Kyle McLachlan, French footballer Fabien Barthez and Formula One driver Paulo Barilla.
In 2006 she gave birth to a boy, but has never revealed the father’s identity. Refreshingly – if that’s the word – Evangelista has also admitted to using Botox, though not during pregnancy. And while her personal life was always a bit of roller coaster, Evangelista had sound financial judgement, and wisely invested her millions in property.
Christy Turlington, meanwhile, was never comfortable with the ‘supermodel’ tag despite being one of its first and most successful proponents. She amassed millions in the late 80s and early 90s through her contracts with Maybelline, Chanel and Calvin Klein, appeared on over 500 magazine covers, starred in music videos for Duran Duran and George Michael, and was even hailed as the ‘Face of the 20th Century’ by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Along the way she dated actors Christian Slater and Jason Patric, before marrying actor/director Ed Burns in 2003, with whom she has a son and daughter. Turlington focussed intently on her post-modelling career by creating two yoga-clothing lines for women, and is said to be worth some e20 million today.
Elsewhere, Czech stunner Eva Herzigova was dubbed “the Marilyn of the 1990s” when she burst onto the scene – quite literally in fact - modelling for Wonderbra, Guess? and Victoria’s Secret.
The multi-lingual model cemented her sexbomb reputation by posing nude in Playboy, and marrying Bon Jovi drummer Tico Torres, whom she divorced after two years. She has since said the experience turned her off marriage for life. She now has a one-year-old son with her Italian boyfriend.
Perhaps the savviest supermodel of them all is Claudia Schiffer. Her earning capacity has been so immense that she is believed to be worth upwards of e50 million. The range of her contracts is astonishing – everything from L’Oreal to Pepsi to Citreon, whom she posed for in the nude in an advert and pocketed e3 million in the process.
After spending six years engaged to magician David Copperfield, Schiffer married film producer Matthew Vaughn in 2002 and has since had two children.
It was Schiffer who pronounced the end of the supermodel reign last year. “Supermodels like we once were don’t exist anymore,” she said. Trends had certainly shifted since the turn of the millennium. Soon the supers began disappearing from the magazine covers, as the market responded to the public’s apparently insatiable appetite for Hollywood A-listers and the designer craze for paler, skinnier, more ‘average’ women than these strapping, tanned giants.
“Fashion changes so much, and as soon as one designer starts tiring of them, others follow suit,” Celia Holman Lee explains. “The supermodels just became over-exposed.”
Now that it appears the fashion cycle has spun back in their favour, Holman Lee recalls the supermodels’ appeal that made them such powerhouses in the first place.
“They were simply magnificent,” she states. “I remember seeing Naomi Campbell, Linda Evenagelista and a few more when they came to Dublin for a Brown Thomas show to raise money for Chernobyl.
“I got up quite close to them at the show and they were spectacular. We try to think that it’s all down to the make-up, the hair and so on, but it’s not. These women really are that beautiful, which is very disappointing for the rest of us because we can’t bitch!”
So has time been kind to Evangelista, Turlington et al? Do they look as good as they did back in the 90s? “They seem to look the same,” Holman Lee replies. “You’d really have to go looking for a bad picture or nitpick a lot to find flaws with these women.”
Sarah McDonnell has a similar take on the ageing question. “I'm always a bit bemused by what seems to be a sort of collective sigh of relief on the part of observers inside and outside the industry regarding these models,” she says.
“The tone of the coverage seems to be along the lines that these ageing supers have been rescued, at the ripe old age of 35 or 40, from a bleak future of soft-focus infomercials and senior moments.
“The fact is these women are probably more breathtakingly beautiful and interesting now than they ever were.”


Anonymous said...

It's great to see these iconic women back on the stage. If Meryl Streep and Lauren Bacall can continue to dazzle us in Hollywood, why can't Linda and Christy represent fashion in the same way?

Anonymous said...

I am miffed as to why there was no mention of Cindy Crawford, Nikki Taylor, Rachel Hunter,and Kathy Ireland. They helped cement the name " Glamazons"!!! There would not have nbeen the 90's of fashion like those models, but alas no mention of them in your article. I am saddened.