Even if you don’t follow fashion, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, and Christy Turlington were pop culture fixtures and household names throughout the 1990s. No other group of fashion show and print models has captured the public imagination quite like this since. “Supermodels,” a four-part docuseries streaming on Apple TV+, looks at their careers through new interviews and archival footage.
Evangelista’s participation in the series attracts attention. For years he remained out of the spotlight She was diagnosed with breast cancer after a fat freezing procedure went wrong. But here it is. I didn’t expect it would be so nice to see him again.
But “Supermodels” isn’t particularly exploratory; This is the case when celebrities are also executive producers. They are interviewed individually and we only see them interact briefly at the moment. Although Evangelista goes deep, they are not asked to be particularly vulnerable or introverted. The series isn’t so much about who these women are beyond the surface, but rather meditates on a particular type of fame that predated the concept of social media and influencers. Compared to today, when many models are children of famous parents (including Crawford’s children), it’s fascinating to think about what it once looked like and how it worked.
“There’s so much mythology surrounding models,” says fashion critic Robin Givhan. “And the job of this mythology is to kind of hide their humanity.” The footage created by directors Roger Ross Williams and Larissa Bills confirms this. There was a lot of resentment about their success. An old clip of Allure magazine creative director Polly Mellen includes a nasty rant about what goes into booking these models: “They demand Concord. They demand their cars and drivers. Some claim their chiefs. Some request their suites from the best hotels. They don’t stop making demands. “So we spoiled them and turned them into the supermodels they are.”
Even then, Evangelista saw the situation clearly, telling a reporter: “I’m providing a service, and the people I work for make a lot more money than I do.” His fee, he adds, “is only a very small percentage of an advertising budget.” And you should see what they get.”
There are models to sell – whether as a moving product or just an idea – but these supermodels personalities It was an aura that came through in photos and on the runway, creating the illusion that they were more than just pretty faces that existed just to shiver.
They built real relationships with designers, including Paris-based Azzedine Alaïa. “It introduced me to so many things in the world,” Campbell says. “I met so many wonderful people and learned about art, architecture and design. Most importantly, I got to watch him work, I got to be a part of his work. And she truly treated me like a daughter. He saw his work as art, not just business. Or a job.
The series barely touches on body image, and we’re left to assume that women never struggled to conform to the standards accepted by the fashion world: “We were physical representations of power,” says Crawford, very briefly dipping her toe into these waters. “And I think where it gets tricky and difficult to talk about is that some people don’t comply with it and then it makes them feel less beautiful.”
But other than that, there are no conversations outside of Evangelista about the pressures around this or what it means to get older. “In the empty world in which I worked and lived, we had all these tools available to us. “I used some of these tools because I wanted to like what I saw in the mirror.” We wish they could see ourselves in the mirror, truly, undistorted, without any filters or retouches. This is what got me into this deep depression I’m in. It’s like a trap. You are trapped in the self you hate. It’s been years since I worked. And hiding for years.”
They avoided some of the worst abuse in the industry based on the stories they shared, but Evangelista speaks openly about her short and torrid marriage to her manager. They divorced when she was 27. “He released me on the condition that he took everything. But I was safe and I regained my freedom.”
Campbell doesn’t say a word about the racism he experienced, which led to less money and fewer jobs. “I started to realize that I had to work really hard to feel culturally accepted,” she says. When Campbell failed to receive offers to appear at certain shows, Evangelista put his foot down. “I told them, ‘If you don’t book it, you don’t understand me.’”
The details of how each entered into a modeling career are notable for their lack of strong connections. However, by the end of the 90s, their dominance came to an end and was replaced by interchangeable blank-faced models from Eastern bloc countries chosen for their homogeneous appearance.
It’s a busy month for documentaries about models. Filmmaker Nailah Jefferson’s “Donyale Luna: Supermodel” is streaming on Max, and unlike the flashiness of “Supermodels,” the film is necessarily a rawer, more complex portrait. Peggy Ann Freeman, a black girl from Detroit and a leggy stunner who never quite fit in, reinvented herself with a new name, Donyale Luna, with a European accent and mixed heritage (the film is sensitive about how it handles her confusion). her relationship with her racial identity) and achieved real success in the mid-1960s, appearing on the cover of British Vogue. However, there was a limit to this, and its origins stemmed from racism.
He died in 1979 at the age of 33. Postpartum depression may be a factor. Maybe it was drugs. Maybe it was natural causes. He was living in Italy at the time and was extremely lonely; Worryingly, she was married to an Italian photographer who was not concerned that her parents’ racism meant she was not allowed into her mother-in-law’s home.
This month also “Invisible Beauty” Siskel (Starting on September 22) tells the life story of Bethann Hardison, who has been a powerful name in the modeling world since the 70s. An autobiographical documentary directed by Hardison and Frédéric Tcheng, it’s a look at her efforts to push for equality in the fashion industry as a black model and later as a modeling agency owner and activist. The film doesn’t reveal much about Hardison outside of her work, nor does it offer much insight into her private relationships (she is the mother of “A Different World” star Kadeem Hardison, hinting at some tensions between them; Hardison doesn’t discuss this). her feelings on this subject), but when seen alongside “Supermodels” and the Donyale Luna documentary, it offers a more comprehensive picture of the fashion industry.
The steps Hardison took in the 80s and 90s disintegrated when designers such as Miuccia Prada and Calvin Klein began using only white models in the 2000s. “Everything has changed,” Hardison says. “They were going to send out a notice to all the modeling agencies: No blacks, no ethnicities. “It’s disheartening and confusing when you think you’ve accomplished something in history and then you turn around and see what you’ve accomplished has been erased.”
Hardison has high expectations from those around him, including himself. He is smart and outspoken. Does not beat around the bush. It’s also very funny. “Oh, I have so much to do,” he says at one point. “And I need to do laundry! Listen to me, I don’t know who I think I am!”
Neither of these two projects is likely to attract the attention of the more glamorous “Supermodels” by comparison. But these are integral parts of a larger story.
“Supermodels” — 2.5 stars (out of 4)
Where to watch: AppleTV+
Nina Metz is a Tribune critic.