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supermodels

Supermodels Beverly Johnson, Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell and Lauren Hutton gather for "A Model Conversation" in 1993.
Photo: MTV

Season: 5 Episode: 24
Title: A Model Conversation
Original Airdate: 7/93
Appearances: Beverly Johnson, Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell, Lauren Hutton

DEMYSTIFYING FASHION: A MODEL ROUNDTABLE

In many ways, this one-hour special acts as a State of the Union for the modeling industry in 1993. It’s a roundtable discussion between two generations of models, and features Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford, Beverly Johnson, Lauren Hutton, and Linda Evangelista, along with short interviews with modeling agents like Bethann Hardison and Monique Pillard, and editors like Anna Wintour and Gabé Doppelt. The supermodels talk about their careers, how each got her start and the taxing aspects of their jobs. They break down the politics of becoming a successful model and assert that it’s largely based on relationships with photographers and magazines. It’s an interesting time to be discussing the shifting ideals of beauty: The supermodels were still very much in the forefront of the fashion industry, but their influence was beginning to wane in light of the waifish, gamine look embodied by newcomer Kate Moss.

On starting out:
The models take turns describing how they were discovered: Cindy met a local photographer in Chicago; Christy posed for a portrait when she was on the competitive horseback riding circuit(!); Linda competed in a Miss Niagara pageant that a scout attended; Naomi was playing hooky from school with a group of blonde, blue-eyed friends when an agent approached her. Beverly had visions of becoming a lawyer and Lauren Hutton got noticed the hard way—hitting the pavement for 7-9 months before she got her start. Linda mentions that she used to get paid $20 for modeling in bridal shows (she always played bridesmaid) and $8 an hour for local department store ads. Long before America’s Next Top Model, we learn the term “go see” (what it’s called when models hit up agencies, editors and photographers with a book of their photos) and Cindy mentions how humbling the process can be.

+ WATCH STARTING MODELING

On being objectified:
The models talk about how frequently they’re mistreated. They’ve been on multiple shoots and sets where they’re often referred to as “it” and directed as if they’re not even in the room. In fact, when Cindy asks if her assembled peers have been objectified, Lauren scoffs, “Are you kidding?” Naomi talks about a time when, at age 16, she was felt up by a stylist for a Japanese client. Cindy recounts the time she asked to be let out of a steam bath; her protests went unheeded until she passed out.

+ WATCH PHOTO SHOOTS

On modeling contracts:
At the start of her career, Christy landed a major contract as the face of Calvin Klein, so she knows how and why it can be a mistake to take a contract too early. Beverly talks about how exclusivity to one client and aligning with one campaign can make a girl seem to lose access from other aspects of the business. The most salient point comes from Cindy, who readily admits how envious other models were when Christy landed her Calvin Klein contract. Cindy’s frank in acknowledging the pros and cons of any career decision, but you can tell from the exchange that it’s the first time Cindy admitted her jealousy to Christy in person, and it’s a revelation.

+ WATCH MODELING CONTRACTS

On degrading photos:
Cindy talks about the difference between choosing to participate in a sexy shoot now that she’s older, versus being manipulated into taking her top off for Elle magazine at 16 and having her parents and high school friends find out. She talks about how feminism doesn’t preclude steamier shoots, but that it’s about feeling empowered enough to choose.

+ WATCH DEGRADING PHOTOS

On relationships with photographers:
It’s obvious that a good rapport and a level of comfort with a photographer makes for a more positive working experience, but Beverly notes that it’s the entire vibe on set — from the makeup to the hair — that’s key: A good shoot is a team effort. Beverly also talks about the back-and-forth that comes naturally when you’re working with a photographer you trust. She discusses being “turned on,” and you’re reminded again of how much the end result is reliant not just upon the model’s face, body language, and the photographer’s technical skill, but chemistry. It's that attraction that leads to truly transcendent photographs.

+ WATCH PHOTOGRAPHERS

On eating and traveling:
For all the well-intentioned segments that House of Style aired on eating disorders, and on the societal pressure to emulate a certain idea of beauty, there’s something tremendously powerful in hearing Beverly talk about her dysfunctional relationship with food. She doesn’t go into any gory details, but she sounds rueful and tired. Linda admits that she could eat anything she liked until she was 25, at which point she had to actively start watching her intake. But Cindy brings up an interesting point that people rarely consider apart from the weight question: the awkwardness of looking like you’re 25 despite being 16. Cindy says that looking like an adult and being made to look like an adult can be extremely unhealthy — people assume it's ok to offer you drugs or ask you to remove your clothes. There are men coming on to you, and it's not considered gross or unseemly.

Lauren quips that all models should be at least 30 years old before they start, and Naomi chimes in to say that she put a lot of pressure on herself to act mature because her mother had just had a baby when Naomi was 15 and starting out in the business.

Then each of the models discusses how lonely it can be to travel, despite the exciting cities they visit. Christy expresses how much she hates Paris. Naomi agrees that Paris can be brutal, because they don’t care whether you’ve worked 7 days in a row for 20 hours a day; she says she sometimes cracks up and cries because she works until she’s fried. Cindy admits that the money is a great incentive, and that she’s worked on shoots where the photographer and the clothes were awful and led to her doing division in her head to calculate how much money she’s making per second in order to make the experience worthwhile. Lauren then chides everyone who’s complaining about the long hours because being a model is a ridiculous, absurd, obscenely lucky job. It also becomes apparent that the savvier you are as a businesswoman, the better you are at controlling your career. Linda equates their work as a sort of commission taxed on the deals of multibillion-dollar conglomerates and Christy counters that their clients are not stupid and that they wouldn’t be making the sort of money were it not worth the companies’ while. Linda is clearly the one who wanted to be a model the most, and says simply that her job is a dream come true.

+ WATCH PROBLEMS AND PERKS

On ever-evolving standards of beauty:
The models talk about falling in and out of favor with photographers and magazines. They generally understand that this is a matter of course and seem nonplussed, but Naomi is visibly angry when the question of racism comes up. Without naming names, she says that certain magazine editors tell her, “You can’t be on the cover because you were on the cover three years ago and we can’t have another black model on the cover right now.” She also says she’s been told that an alarming number of times, and that she’s determined to change this thinking and behavior. She speaks of her gratitude toward Beverly and Iman for opening the door for younger black models, particularly the August 1974 issue of American Vogue, on which Beverly was the first African-American cover model.

Funnily enough Lauren Hutton played a part in Beverly’s historic Vogue cover. They were in Richard Avedon’s studio: Lauren had been called in for a cover try, saw Beverly and told Polly Mellen (legendary stylist and editor for a number of fashion magazines) to do a cover try with this “beautiful woman.” Lauren was also a pioneer in a manner of speaking: She refused to fix the gap in her teeth, which Cindy always admired (Georgia May Jagger and Lindsey Wixson also have Ms. Hutton to thank), since she was badgered to have her beauty spot removed from her face. Naomi confides that she’ll never remove the scar on her face. Lauren talks about how important their jobs can be to hold up different ideals of beauty, and then agrees that modeling in 10 hairpieces, after 5-hour makeup sessions, with taped boobs can be misleading.

+ WATCH STANDARDS OF BEAUTY

On the fashion industry powers that be:
In this complementary segment, House of Style interviews the people who decide which girl is “it.” We speak to former model, now agent Bethann Hardison; agents Monique Pillard and Ann Veltri; editors Anna Wintour, Gabé Doppelt; and Polly Mellen; and photographer Sante D’Orazio. The industry insiders talk about that moment everything gels. The agent knows when he or she has met someone special, and sends her to meet editors. Those editors impatiently complain about why they’ve never met her before. That’s when the “go see” results in exposure in Mademoiselle (R.I.P.), Elle and Vogue, which in turn creates “miracles” seemingly overnight. American Vogue EIC Anna Wintour cautions viewers not to overestimate what Vogue can do (a notable and rare moment of candor about the limits of her power), explaining that the photographer often launches the career. Sante confirms this, and says there’s a moment behind the lens when you know that a model has never looked more beautiful, and that it’s often that instant or that point-of-view that clinches a model’s ascent. Anna also reminds us that, many times, a photographer can also end a career, noting the moment when Steven Meisel not only invented Naomi, Christy and Linda, but also decided when fashion needed new faces like Shalom Harlow and Amber Valletta.

+ WATCH DEVELOPING MODELS

+ CHECK OUT MORE PHOTOS FROM EPISODE 24

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