Arts·Q with Tom Power

Linda Evangelista reflects on the ups and downs of being one of the most iconic faces of the '90s

At the height of her fame, Canadian supermodel Linda Evangelista was one of the most famous women on the planet. She joins Q guest host Talia Schlanger to talk about a new book and docuseries that chart her supersonic rise to fame.

The Canadian supermodel talks about a new book and docuseries that chart her supersonic rise to fame

Linda Evangelista with short blonde hair, photographed for Allure magazine.
Linda Evangelista photographed by Steven Meisel. Allure, June 1991. Hair: Garren, Makeup: Kevyn Aucoin. (Steven Meisel)

For several years in the late '80s and early '90s, Linda Evangelista was one of the most famous, most photographed and most recognizable women in the world.

The Canadian model who hails from St. Catharines, Ont., was part of a wave of fashion models — often bigger and more recognizable than the brands they wore — who became brands in and of themselves. The supermodels, as they were known, were so big that they were often identified by just one name: Cindy, Naomi, Christy, Linda. (The story of these four women — and their effect on the fashion world — is the subject of a docuseries on Apple TV+ called The Super Models, which debuted in September.)

But in a recent interview with Q guest host Talia Schlanger, Evangelista insists that fame was never a goal for her. In fact, she's not a fan of the modern culture of pursuing fame for its own sake at all.

"When I hear young people say that they want to be famous and that their motive and for doing what they're choosing to do is to be famous, that disturbs me," she says.

For Evangelista, fame was just a byproduct. She got into modelling because she really loved fashion. For her, fashion was a way of imagining a bigger world. In her early teens, she would buy fashion magazines, rip out the pictures, and tape them to her bedroom wall. Back then, she adds, no one knew the model's names, which were only printed in small type on the inside cover of the magazine.

When she was 16, Evangelista had a brief, ill-fated attempt at having a modelling career in Japan. After finishing high school, she went to New York to try again.

WATCH | Official trailer for The Super Models:

"It was a little intimidating," she says of New York in the mid-'80s. "I was taught to use the subway and I stayed in a 'models' apartment' where there were four girls to a bedroom, eight girls to each apartment.… I was doing my 'go-sees,' to meet photographers, magazines, photographers who might want to do tests with me to build up my portfolio. I would have about eight appointments a day and I would take the subway and come home, have dinner and start again the next day."

I had 20 [shows] booked and 16 cancelled me because of my haircut.... I was in tears, just crushed.- Linda Evangelista

Unlike in Japan, things quickly started to go Evangelista's way in New York. In 1985 she began working with fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld. In 1986, she met photographer Steven Meisel, with whom she'd collaborate throughout her career. And in 1988, she got a haircut — a haircut would take her already successful career and launch it into the stratosphere.

"I wore a wig for a photo shoot one day," she says. "Julien [d'Ys], the hairdresser, had put this very short wig on me. The photographer, Peter Lindbergh, fell in love with me in that wig …  and he thought I should cut my hair. And then him and [then-American Vogue editor] Anna Wintour thought I should cut my hair.… He said, 'I don't see how much more we could do with you with long hair,' which is ridiculous because, you know, Cindy Crawford has had long hair her entire career. Nobody told her she had to cut her hair."

While Lindbergh loved the boyish crop that would eventually become her signature look, it wasn't particularly well received by other people in the industry, at least at first.

Text-based black and white book cover for Linda Evangelista Photographed by Steven Meisel.
(Phaidon)

"I went … to Greece with Peter and I did a photoshoot with him there, and I then went off to Milan for the fashion shows," she says. "I had 20 booked and 16 cancelled me because of my haircut. So I thought, 'Whoa, I blew it.' I called my friend Steven Meisel that evening and I told him what happened. I was in tears, just crushed. I said, 'They don't like it!' And he said, 'Well, I want to see it. Let's get you here.' Him and Franca Sozzani from Italian Vogue put me on the Concorde the next day. I went to New York and I shot Italian Vogue cover, and between the two of them, I had many Vogue covers within a couple months, and spreads in magazines, and then it took off. People needed to understand it, I guess."

Evangelista's work with Meisel is the subject of a new retrospective book, titled simply Linda Evangelista Photographed by Steven Meisel. Evangelista says her success as a model was a result, in large part, of her ability to collaborate with photographers. Of all the photographers she worked with, Meisel was far and away the one she worked with the best.

"I get the whole composition of the photo," she says. "I get what we're trying to achieve. And I just collaborate very well with Steven. He makes it so easy."

It's a look back on a career and legacy that Evangelista could have never imagined as a girl growing up in St. Catharines.

"I didn't think I would make it that far, I just wanted to work," she says. "It was a fairytale. I didn't dream that high. Of course, my dream was to appear on the cover of Vogue, but I never thought that would happen."

The full interview with Linda Evangelista is available on our podcast, Q with Tom Power. She also talks about the pressure of fame, starring in George Michael's Freedom! '90 video and her recent journey with breast cancer. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.


Interview with Linda Evangelista produced by Cora Nijhawan.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris Dart

Web Writer

Chris Dart is a writer, editor, jiu-jitsu enthusiast, transit nerd, comic book lover, and some other stuff from Scarborough, Ont. In addition to CBC, he's had bylines in The Globe and Mail, Vice, The AV Club, the National Post, Atlas Obscura, Toronto Life, Canadian Grocer, and more.

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