Docu-series explores origin stories of supermodels
It was difficult not to notice the buildup for the docuseries, “The Super Models,” that was uploaded on the streaming platform Apple TV+ on Wednesday. The four-part series focuses on the rise of the top fashion models of the ’90s, namely Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista and Cindy Crawford.
Aside from video clips and teasers posted online by the four who also serve as executive producers, they were also photographed for the September issue covers of both American and British Vogue. Traditionally, the fashion magazine’s September issue is the heaviest and most fashion- and advertisement-packed issue.
Last week, they closed the annual Vogue World event held at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London, walking hand in hand and showing to the audience and viewers online alike why they were christened supermodels in the first place.
Those who were expecting a showcase of full-on 1990s glamor will get their fill but not just yet. The hourlong episode explores the origin stories of these supers that were not at all glamorous, and were in fact, rather dispiriting.
Growing up, Canada-born Evangelista was obsessed with fashion although her taste level—she once sported a mullet haircut—were not as refined. Even the photos in her portfolio left much to be desired.
She took a chance and went to Japan while still a teenager for a possible job. They wanted her to remove her clothes even if her measurements were already on her model’s set card. Evangelista went home without booking the job.
Campbell recounted that as a 5-year-old studying in a private school in London, she was bullied for the color of her skin, but that didn’t faze her. “My mother was paying the school fees just like everyone else. I had every right to be here, so go take your bullying somewhere else,” she said.
This sass and attitude has served her well because even then, she was determined to stake her claim in the modeling industry. “I was determined to work harder, go further.”
Her first magazine shoot for British Elle magazine was on a slave plantation in New Orleans.
“It was six white people and a Black girl,” photographer Martin Brading said. “That was 30 years ago. Different world.”
Campbell continues to be the most visible of the four until now, booking campaigns and even recently designing a capsule collection of sparkly dresses. It was Crawford, however, whose origin story shaped her into an astute businesswoman.
One of the first international jobs the all-American girl from Illinois booked was a shoot in Rome. She recalled how the hairdresser came to her hotel room, put her hair in a ponytail and chopped it off. Crawford was traumatized and although the photos taken then were fresh and of the moment, she remembers crying after the cut.
“It wasn’t that I didn’t like my hair short. I was not seen as a person who had a voice in her own destiny,” she said. “If people wonder why I’ve never had my hair cut since then, that’s why.”
That incident early in her career made her realize the need to take a more active, participative role in her image and career. “As you mature, you know when it’s important to say something and when it’s not,” Crawford said.
It would seem that only Turlington managed to escape the trials of being a young model in the late ’80s-early ’90s relatively unscathed. Turly, as she is known by her fellow supers, grew up in the suburbs of California, going to school and riding horses. This all changed after she was approached by a model scout while she was at the stables.
The chosen one
Turlington joined Ford Models in New York headed by Eileen Ford, who housed her wards in dorm-style rooms located on the premises. Top photographer Arthur Elgort personally chose the model for a Vogue shoot which then mushroomed to more bookings.
As Turlington said in an earlier interview, “When you work with one good photographer, the rest will follow.”
We may think we know these familiar faces after seeing them splashed on magazines and music videos—George Michael’s “Freedom 90,” for example—but what “The Super Models” docuseries does is provide voices and back stories to all this supernatural pulchritude.