Why you should care
For about five years — for better and for worse — they were the platonic ideal of feminine beauty.
Pooja Bhatia is an OZY editor and writer. She has written for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and the Economist, and was once the mango-eating champion of Port-au-Prince.
They once reigned as the Trinity: leonine goddess Naomi Campbell; Christy Turlington, she of the golden-mean facial proportions; and Linda Evangelista, whose eyebrows seemed to tell the time. Isaac Mizrahi booked them for his first show, in 1987, and they turned up again and again, lucky pennies indeed. In 1990, they landed on a now-iconic cover of British Vogue. By then, they’d become a quintet, their posse enlarged by Tatjana Patitz and an Illinoisan named Cindy Crawford.
George Michael got it right away. Liberated from Wham!, Michael cast all five of them in maybe the most model-saturated video ever, Freedom! ’90. The video is full of shadows, yet the women — their skin, their lips, their limbs — glow as they writhe in steam rooms, stretch out on bare floors, prance across an empty hall. Gianni Versace had them strutting arm in arm along the catwalk, lip-syncing to the tune, in his spring shows.
It was the supermodel heyday, an era of models known by their first names and imagined as individuals, with actual personalities. RuPaul, in an apt homage, called them out by name in his parody hit Supermodel:
Linda, work mama, Naomi, she is fierce
Christy, foxy lady out of sight, Cindy, I can feel it
Claudia, sell the garment, Nikki, work the runway, sweetie
By today’s standards, the supermodels were statuesque, even borderline Amazonian. OK, well, at least they had some semblance of hips. Tatjana faded from the public eye, but the rest of them, as they got “old” for models, parlayed their celebrity into business. Some even became “supermoguls.”
They were fetishized for their physical perfection, and while their power only points up the sexism in our society, one has to hand it to them for monetizing our culture’s tendency to objectify women. “We don’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day,” Linda famously told a reporter in 1990. She was among the edgiest and fashion savviest. Early in the ’90s, she cut her signature locks, with some hesitation, and immediately scored a grand slam of Vogue magazine covers.
“Sure, I like my short hair,” she said at the time. “It also quadrupled my rate. I did get sick of seeing it on everybody, though — every stewardess, every salesclerk and in every restaurant.”
#Supermodelproblems. To which we have but one thing to say, dahling: Sashay. Shantay. Shantay Shantay Shantay.