The year is 1990. Linda Evangelista, one of the world's original supermodels, is at the Toronto offices of Fashion Television with her (then) husband, a notorious French modelling tycoon, Elite's Gerard Marie. I innocently ask the Canadian-born Evangelista what she sees herself doing once her modelling days are over.
"Why don't people ask you what you'll do once your career as a broadcaster is over?" she snaps.
I quickly resort to stroke mode, assuming the diva's prickly response is based on the idea that someone with her fabulousness quotient should never have to stop modelling at all. But really, what are the chances of that?
Fast-forward to 2004. Evangelista, now a full-fledged fashion icon, is on the phone from her New York apartment.
"No, that's obsolete!" she interjects, derailing my attempt to remind her of that old exchange. "Don't!"
I acquiesce, if only because all these years later, it's clear Evangelista was right. "Everyone was so worried about diversifying, so they went off and wrote books and made music and acted," she says. "What's wrong with staying a model? I think it's great to diversify, but it was my dream to model and I'm still fulfilling my dreams every day that I get to work."
At 39, Evangelista is the celebrity host of the 18th edition of Fashion Cares, the annual fundraiser for the AIDS Committee of Toronto that takes place May 29. She's also hotter than ever, on magazine covers and on the runway, and as a newly appointed spokeswoman for the M.A.C Viva Glam V campaign, an effort that has raised $1-million for AIDS charities since February. She is telling me about how proud she is of M.A.C for giving back, when I hear her doorbell buzz.
"Hold on a sec," she says.
I hear a male voice. "Hey!"
"Hi sweetie," Evangelista says. Then a quick smooch. "Did you have a good flight?"
"Yeah, I slept the whole way," he answers.
"If you want to turn your computer on, I'll give you the code," she says.
A picture of domestic bliss rolls through my head. Can't wait to find out who the guy is.
Evangelista gets back on the phone. "That's a fellow Canadian," she says.
Right. So those rumours about them being an item must be true.
"Would you give him a big kiss for me?" I ask.
In a flash, Adams is on the phone. I tell him I'm interviewing Evangelista. "I can tell you all the juicy bits," he says. "I know all the inside stuff."
Don't get excited. According to Evangelista, the famous pair are just friends -- a relationship that began when she and Adams collaborated in 1998 on a CD to raise funds for breast-cancer research called Man to Woman. Then Evangelista was approached by the St. Catharines General Hospital in her Ontario hometown to help raise money for a breast-screening clinic.
"I thought, 'Oh God! How am I going to do this?' So I asked Bryan to do a concert. And with that, and the sponsors, that clinic got built. Ever since then, we've been really great friends." Rightly so: There's a shared pride in their Canadian roots, superstar status and shared passion to reach out, beyond their artistry, to make a difference. "But recently, the media got us in London, and made us a couple," Evangelista says. "We thought it was kind of funny."
When Evangelista vanished from the modelling world in 1998 with French soccer star Fabien Barthez, her fiancé, the buzz was she was on her way out. There had been a widely reported story about her being forced to renegotiate her fee for a Portuguese fashion show after being criticized for being "overweight and unsteady on her feet." Her agency blamed food poisoning.
According to Evangelista, the pressures of modelling had become overwhelming. "I got a fear of flying. Then I started with panic attacks. And I got tired." With the news a year later that she had suffered a miscarriage after a six-month pregnancy, the fashion press considered her effectively retired. "I hope no one has to go through some of the personal things I went through," she was quoted as saying. "I don't wish it on anyone."
But in 2001, a splashy cover story in American Vogue announced her comeback. "Linda's a more grown-up woman than she was 10 years ago," editor Anna Wintour said. "I think in a way, it's making her a better model."
Fans rejoiced, but cynics sneered. What were the chances of a 36-year-old model -- even one who had infamously claimed that she never got out of bed for less than $10,000 a day -- being able to hold her own in the youth-obsessed fashion industry? A short-lived novelty act, maybe. But resurrecting a full-fledged career seemed as unlikely as Karl Lagerfeld giving up his fan.
It wasn't until she started hitting international runways last year that it became clear the chameleon hadn't lost her touch. There was the surprise Milan appearance for Dolce & Gabbana. For Chanel's couture show last summer, Lagerfeld cast Evangelista in the coveted bride's role. The designer, who had indeed given up his fan, couldn't gush enough.
"She's the best model in the world," he told me. Why? "Because she's a true model, pure and simple. She doesn't pretend or aspire to do anything else. She's just brilliant at what she does."
It seems Lagerfeld is on to her. Last fall, Evangelista seemed about to follow her friend Adams into photography. French Elle featured some spectacular self-portraits. But unlike Adams, who's now working on his second fundraising book of portraits of famous women, Evangelista was unnerved by the creative process.
"I will never do that again. I don't know what I was thinking," she says. "I enjoy being a part of the creative process, but I just don't want to be completely responsible for it." Instead, she is compiling a photographic retrospective of her career, which Lagerfeld will publish, with the proceeds going to charity.
It's easier now, she says. "I take such great care of myself. I learned to respect myself. I was so busy before, I had no idea how to do that."
Jeanne Beker is host of FashionTelevsion.
For tickets and information on Fashion Cares, visit http://www.fashioncares.com.