By Michele Yeo
“We were everywhere. It was insane. We’re not The Beatles.”
So says Linda Evangelista in the new Apple TV+ doc series The Super Models but if you were around in the 1990s you know that she, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, and Christy Turlington were definitely the John, Paul, George and Ringo of the runway.
Across four episodes titled The Look, The Fame, The Power, and The Legacy, The Super Models tracks the origins of fashion’s fab four, their stratospheric rise to superstar status, and the impact the icons have left on the industry and on pop culture as a whole. Featuring interviews and insider insight from fashion figureheads like Donatella Versace, Michael Kors, Marc Jacobs, John Galliano, and the late Vivienne Westwood, the series smartly devotes most of its time to hearing from the women themselves, both in modern day interviews and from archival footage.
The Super Models is catnip for students of ‘90s pop culture – particularly those who qualify as Gen Xers or Geriatic Millennials – as it revisits the models’ milestone moments like the legendary January 1990 British Vogue cover lensed by famed photographer Peter Lindbergh featuring them and the late Tatjana Patitz. “It wasn’t about the fashion,” says Cindy Crawford of the cover, “it wasn’t about the hair and the makeup, it was about the women.” That cover famously caught the eye of George Michael who cast all five in the video for his song Freedom ‘90. “George was like, ‘it has to be this group of women, it has to be all of them,’” Cindy explains in episode two. After initially baulking at the idea, the women eventually agreed. “He comes up to me and he says ‘so what is it you guys want?” Naomi says of the pop star. “I said we want this much money and roundtrip Concorde tickets.”
The rest, of course, is history. The video scored immediate high rotation on MTV and on MuchMusic in Canada, and is widely considered one of the most iconic, influential, and identifiable videos of the decade, It inspired designer Gianni Versace to cast Cindy, Naomi, Christy, and Linda in his 1991 Autumn and Winter runway show where they closed the epic event by strutting down the catwalk to the song. Ironic that a music video, designed to quite literally blow up George Michael’s past and where he sings about the clothes not making the man, became so essential in ushering in the future of fashion. The Versace moment is an indelible one and the fab four knew at the time. “You could feel the moment, that’s a moment you kinda knew would be iconic, actually” says Christy. “The combination of the fashion and their personalities was magic,” adds Donatella Versace who encouraged her brother to feature the women.
For those who weren’t around or of a certain age in the ‘90s, it’s nearly impossible to properly contextualise just how famous these women were. Before them, very few models were known by name. For every Twiggy, Christie Brinkley, or Iman, there were countless nameless models who graced magazine covers and walked runways. The clothes and the looks took centre stage. But Cindy, Naomi, Christy, and Linda (along with other mega models like Claudia Schiffer, Helena Christiensen, and Stephanie Seymour) were more than just pretty faces, they were name brands who even the least couture coveting fashion illiterate could easily recognize.
“People got to know our names because we were everywhere,” says Linda. Photographer Sante D’Orazio adds, “if you didn’t have those four girls in your show, you were nothing.” Fashion writer Tim Blanks adds, “they transcended anything people thought fashion had been and crossed into mass culture.”
The women achieved rock star status and soon they were demanding rock star money. Linda Evangelista became infamous for once saying she “wouldn’t get out of bed” for less than 10 thousand dollars a day. While the sentiment wouldn’t get much attention in today’s world where influencers can rake in more than that for a single Instagram post, at the time, it was controversial. “I shouldn’t have said that,” Linda says in a modern day interview. “That quote makes me crazy. I don’t even know how to address it anymore.”
The series isn’t all glitz, glamour, runways, and red carpets, though. The Super Models does devote some screen time to the darker side of the business including the racism Naomi Campbell endured at the beginning of her career, struggling as her peers booked more gigs than her despite her impressive portfolio. “Naomi, I thought, was more beautiful, had a much more rocking body than I did, and a better strut and I’m like, ‘why aren’t they booking her?’” reveals Linda. Eventually she refused to sign on to a gig unless Naomi was also booked. There are, of course, the expected problematic stories around weight as well, but most disturbing are allegations of sexual assault involving various model scouts and managers including accusations levelled at Linda’s former husband, agency boss Gérald Marie who the model claims also physically abused her. “He knew not to touch my face, not to touch the moneymaker,” she reveals.
Additionally, Linda opens up about her current disfigurement following a botched CoolSculpting procedure, at one point breaking down in tears saying, “it’s been years since I worked and years of hiding.” Leading to what she calls a “deep depression,” she adds, “to lose my job that I loved so much, to lose my livelihood, my heart is broken.” In another particularly brave scene we also see her undergo treatment for breast cancer.
But all in all, The Super Models is a seriously satisfying and sentimental strut down memory lane, a fitting tribute to a bygone era. That the women currently grace the covers of both British and American Vogue’s September issues and were back on the runway together at the recent Vogue World: London is just the cherry on top of a delicious nostalgia cake. In a current world ruled by social media followers, likes, and engagement rates, where almost anyone can be considered a model, there simply won’t ever be another time like the era of Cindy, Naomi, Christy, and Linda, women Donatella Versace calls, “the first influencers of fashion.”