Cindy, Linda, Christy and Naomi.
In the ‘80s and ‘90s these women were fashion royalty and they were everywhere: On billboards; strutting their stuff on catwalks in Milan, London, Paris and New York; gracing the covers of Vogue, Vanity Fair and Harper’s Bazaar; and bringing style and sass to Super Bowl ads and MTV music videos.
Barely out of high school when they started to model, they came of age together – and reached the pinnacle of the fashion world – long before Instagram and Facebook. Cindy Crawford, now 57, was the all-American girl. Christy Turlington, 54, the classic beauty. Canadian-born Linda Evangelista, 58, was the chameleon. And Naomi Campbell, 53, the fierce goddess.
Their transformation from small-town girls to bona-fide celebrities, idolized by men and women alike, is the subject of a new, four-part docuseries – aptly titled The Super Models – launching globally on Sept. 20 on Apple TV+.
Together, they became an unstoppable force that captured the zeitgeist of the day, which under Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher was all about consumerism, materialism and more is more. They were heady, hedonistic times and these four women were in the thick of it.
However, unlike famous models that came before them (Twiggy, Lauren Hutton or Cheryl Tiegs), they took charge of their own careers instead of letting modelling agencies, designers and fashion magazines dictate what they could and could not do.
The models were “as prominent as the designers who styled them,” asserts a teaser for the show. But many industry players say their clout was far more significant than that. Italian designer Donatella Versace sums it up this way: “Those girls defined power for women. It was women supporting each other. And people listened to them. They were the first influencers of fashion.”
Prior to this foursome, models were treated like mannequins whose sole purpose was to make the clothes look good. But they had something different working in their favour: The women’s friendship (which endures to this day) gave them the confidence to push back, says Larissa Bills, co-director of The Super Model, alongside Oscar winner Roger Ross Williams (Music by Prudence). “They understood what the other was going through, and together, they achieved a level of fame that hadn’t been seen before. It shifted the power dynamic of an entire industry,” says Bills.
Some have called the 1980s and early 1990s the boldest period in modern fashion history. They were the years of quarterback-worthy shoulder pads, power suits, spandex leggings, big hair, teased perms and flamboyant colour. Media platforms were also in flux. Cable television was just taking off and super models were ratings gold. These four women were omnipresent, appearing on talk shows, in gossip columns, in multimillion-dollar TV ads, even Hollywood films.
In 1990, photographer Peter Lindbergh shot Crawford, Turlington, Evangelista, Campbell and Tatjana Patitz for an iconic cover of British Vogue. Singer George Michael loved the photo and cast the same five models in the music video for Freedom! ‘90, directed by David Fincher. That video cemented their superstardom and they became known by their first names alone.
It was also the year, however, that Evangelista infamously told a reporter: “We have this saying, Christy and I … we don’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day.” A backlash ensued, and some designers and fashion editors began to balk at paying the exorbitant fees. By the mid-1990s, a new era for the supermodel began driven by the grunge movement and heroin chic. The waifish, emaciated look was the basis of the 1993 advertising campaign of Calvin Klein for his perfume Obsession featuring Kate Moss.
By the late ‘90s, the glory days of the indomitable foursome began to wane. However, as Bills points out, their influence continues to be felt today, and she believes they could teach modern-day influencers a thing or two about professionalism, strong work ethic and staying power.
“They were perfecting their craft and making art long before there were things like photoshop and the ability to take thousands of images with a digital camera,” she says. “Before I worked on this series, I don’t think I realized or appreciated how hard it was to be the subject of so many iconic images and how hard it was to bring these clothes to life. And they were doing it the old-school, analogue way.”
In the series, Edward Enninful, editor-in-chief of British Vogue says the women made the field more equitable for all players in the fashion world, and they continue to “redefine what it means to be a model today.”
Bills agrees: “These women are in their 50s and they’re still working, which used to be unheard of in the fashion world. Fashion is fickle but their iconic status has survived because they gave power to beauty in a way that served the women as opposed to serving the industry, the men in charge, or the commerce. They opened the door and let more people in.”