The modeling industry is supposed to be all about who’s young, who’s hot and who’s next. Yet Linda Evangelista finds herself on the cover of the August issue of Vogue at 41 and pregnant. It’s her 10th cover for the magazine, and she’s the first model, not a Hollywood star, to be featured on the front in more than a year.
Her pals from the supermodel heyday a decade ago are faring equally well: Naomi Campbell, despite her run-ins with the law, is still queen of the catwalk at 36. Kate Moss, after a stint in drug rehab, is starring in half a dozen designer ad campaigns this season. That includes the fall Versace campaign, which also features Christy Turlington, Angela Lindvall and Carolyn Murphy, not really a new face in the bunch. These genetically blessed women aren’t ready to make way for the newbies yet.
Supermodels are simply super models. That’s the key to their staying power, they say.
Evangelista never saw modeling as a means to another career. “I decided when I was 12 that it’s what I wanted to do, and I count my blessings that I got to realize my dreams,” she says. “Being a rock star was out of the question. I can’t sing. I’m so glad this worked out for me. I do think I know how to be a good model. And I didn’t have a Plan B in place.”
It helps too that she’s a fashion junkie and keeps up on the styles and trends, whether she’s working or not. “I love that it changes every six months. I really love the creative process of making beautiful images. I so enjoy everything about it,” she gushes. Evangelista’s affection for the industry mirrors that of many of her peers.
Some models who ruled during the late ‘80s and ‘90s have gone on to other things -- Turlington, who launched her own activewear company, Nuala, and led a crusade against smoking, comes to mind -- but they always seem to come back to the camera. Turlington posed in her first Versace campaign in 1987 and was called back for the same duty this year.
“I started my career working with the Versaces and it had been years since I had seen Donatella. It was great to spend a day catching up with old friends and familiar faces. Shooting the campaign was definitely much more fun than work,” Turlington, 37, says.
At 22, Daria Werbowy is probably the youngest model to be known by her first name (she’s in the Versace campaign too). But she’s part of a different generation that talks about life beyond the lights of New York, Paris and Milan. Personally, she dreams of becoming an artist.
For designers, there is an incentive to use seasoned models, says Sally Singer, fashion news director at Vogue, where the annual “age issue” features the supermodels. These women care about making a beautiful picture and will do whatever it takes to do it, she says.
The catwalkers who emerged in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s didn’t have a certain “look,” Singer says. In fact, they are among the most diverse-looking women to succeed in modeling. What keeps them at the top, she says, is their talent.
“They trained with the best photographers and they saw the business of modeling as valid as acting or any other career. They approach it intelligently. They think a lot about fashion.”
Singer adds: “Great models are born but also made -- by themselves.”
The best models have personality, says photographer Patrick Demarchelier. “Linda loves fashion. She’s a chameleon. She can change her look anytime she wants and still always look good,” he says.
Vogue’s Singer thinks someone with a full life, public recognition and a few (or more) years of experience is an even more effective model because the women buying clothes, beauty products and magazines can relate to her.
“Readers and customers respond to images of older women -- women who’ve had lives, women who they know something about. They’re more interested in a woman who’s had children and still looks great. It’s more inspiring than seeing a 14-year-old from a former Eastern Bloc country.”
Fame is a factor too.
Evangelista, Campbell, Turlington and Moss, for example, are full-blown celebrities.
“The more iconic models of the ‘90s have greater appeal because they are, in their own right, celebrities, and we all know celebrities and campaigns do work,” Singer says. When even the jaded crowd at a fashion show cheers for Campbell as she struts the runway, they cheer because they know her, she explains.
“It’s a celebrity moment, not a model moment.”