PRINT January 1989

Like Art


SO CINDY CRAWFORD, the supermodel who is totally down by Vogue, who posed for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and topless for Playboy, who is so hot that Prince, the rock ’n’ roll love god, was, according to Cindy, afraid to go up and talk to her at a club so he wrote a song about her instead, Cindy Crawford, proprietrix of the world’s second-most-famous mole, comes back from Senegal or China or Milan or someplace and finds that her Greenwich Village apartment isn’t exactly the way she left it. Things have been moved around. The place looks strangely lived-in. The phone rings and it’s the guy who’s been staying there while she was gone. An admirer. He wants to get to know her and can they get together and discuss it. “Sure,” says Cindy. She tells him she’ll meet him at a restaurant. She does. And so do the police.

Cindy is safe. The man is arrested. But apparently he still writes. He’s still interested in getting together. That’s life when you’re a supermodel. Your image is reproduced millions and millions of times. Strangers think they know you. They think it’s their eyes you’re looking into. Modeling is a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it. We have artists to teach us how to see, but we still need models to teach us how to look. Not just how to style ourselves, but how to look. Models are evolutionary targets: they show humanity what form to take. Culturally, they perform many of the duties once performed by goddesses.

Once a model was simply an attractive young woman who posed for pictures, sometimes earning a good living for a few years, enough to put her through college or acquire a modest nest egg. Modeling provided opportunities for meeting good marriage prospects. Sometimes an extraordinary model actually became known by name to the public: Suzy Parker, the most famous model of the ’50s, had a bit of a movie career, and some lucky models, like Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, and Cybill Shepherd, switched to the movies full-time. But today modeling is more than a few years of bonus cash, more than an entrée to society and better job opportunities, more than a career in itself. It’s a way of life.

That’s why there’s Model magazine. Founded in 1988, this is a publication dedicated to modeling yourself after models. The December issue features a cover story on Brooke Shields, who has been a model for 22 of her 23 years. Brooke talks about her life and thought, and gives valuable advice to would-be models, like Don’t be a drop-out. (Brooke was also the cover story in a recent Splash magazine, discussing Gabriel García Márquez, Baudelaire, Stendhal, Flaubert, lonesco, and Proust. Brooke was depressed by Diderot to the point that she couldn’t remember the book.) The issue also contains fashion and makeup tips, as well as cultural coverage to let you know what models are reading, what music they’re listening to, what they’re eating, how they’re working out. And there’s a chart in the back, like the pop charts of music magazines, listing the top ten models of the month. The chart claims a scientific basis, calculated on magazine appearances. Paulina Porizkova was number one, up from number four in November on the strength of signing a $5 million contract with Estée Lauder. Cindy Crawford was number two, although we may find her at the top of the chart next month when the world finds out about her ordeal with a crazed fan. Christy Turlington was still hot at three. Seven of the top ten are represented by the Elite agency.

Cindy Crawford, Paulina Porizkova, Christy Turlington, Rachel Williams, Iman, Cheryl Tiegs, Christie Brinkley—not only do these models earn thousands of dollars per day, they mean something. This is the age of the supermodel—the model who’s more than a model, more than just a pretty face; the model with super powers of persuasion and of product-positioning. Sometimes the supermodel serves as a muse, a sort of sacred spokes-model who provides inspiration to the world in general and to the artiste in particular. That’s what Ines de la Fressange is to Chanel, the legendary fashion house now featuring Karl Lagerfeld as executor to Chanel’s unwritten will. More and more we see models marrying a corporation, becoming its figurehead.

Christy Turlington, the most successful new face in the modeling picture since Paulina Porizkova, recently signed a rather exclusive contract with Calvin Klein, which broke her out of still photography into doing a talkie TV commercial for his Eternity perfume. “I don’t know where I end and you begin,” declares a heated male model playing her apparent spouse. This discussion of interpersonal metaphysics is an important step for Calvin. Although the racy Obsession spots still run, times have changed. Eternity seems to be the safe-scent version of Calvin’s Obsession. This one isn’t sold with nail-scratched group nude pictures but with nuclear families on the beach. It’s an important role, for which Christy is paid in the seven-figure range. But is it enough? It might be my imagination, but now when you see Christy’s picture she looks somehow sad. Exclusives don’t suit her. Eternity alone doesn’t do her beauty justice. As a crazed fan, I think she’s a prisoner of Calvin. Why spend the best years of your life in Eternity?

But let’s just be grateful for the supermodels, the women who’ve taken posing to new metaphysical heights. The supermodels have turned physical perfection, and evolution itself, into an industry. The concept of the supermodel started in the media revolution of the ’60s with the emergence of a superpowered information network. Stars became superstars, models like Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy became supermodels. Image reproduction mushroomed. Exposure increased exponentially. Something clicked in the mind of mankind. It clicked again, on motor drive. Veruschka, writhing for the camera in Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 movie Blow-Up, created an archetypal ritual that elevated the world of fashion to a Nietzschean Olympus where beauty conspires to make life a dream.

Models are the dream team, instilling in us desires that will become the needs of the future. Their ritualized modeling poses are the asanas of a yoga of desire. They live in a dream world that’s real. They marry the Rolling Stones. They do what they please.

Andy Warhol was a far cry from a classic beauty, but his dream was to be a fashion model and he realized his dream, working for the Zoli and Ford agencies. As they say in the best industrial films, “And the dream became a reality.”

Models may be the stuff of dreams, but they’re better than goddesses because they have phone numbers. In a world that can be led by beauty, let’s just hope beauty doesn’t lead us astray.

In Ishmael Reed’s novel The Terrible Twos, 1982, set in the immediate future, the president of the United States, Dean Clift, is a former male model. “He’s the highest-paid model in the United States. His face is everywhere. He gets as much as $20,000 an hour.” Obviously Reed considers a model president the next step after a movie-actor president. “He won’t shy away from the script the way the actor did, and he’s such an active heterosexual he won’t embarrass us behind public statues. He’s just content fidgeting with his lapels and dabbing hair cream into his palms. He spends hours in front of the mirrors. He removed all the portraits from the Blue Room and replaced them with ones of himself from different ad campaigns.”

Perhaps there is a lot of President Dean Clift in Vice President Dan Quayle, a politician obviously better in stills than in live or talking-picture action. Quayle, who, during the campaign, compared himself to Robert Redford until Redford requested he cease and desist, is boyishly handsome. He was rumored to have been put on the ticket to appeal to women, who, according to the polls, tended to favor the Dukakis/Bentsen slate. Bush hoped to appeal to the ladies in the audience with a silent-screen V.P. You can almost see the headlines: “Quayle talks!”

Did Quayle help or hurt the Republican cause? We’ll never know. But he was on the winning side. And if you ask me it’s no coincidence that Bush and Quayle really look good in a suit, whereas liberal Michael Dukakis’ suits always looked cramped and ill-fitting. I always thought that an arsenal of broad-shouldered Armani suits might have helped Dukakis convince the nation he could shoulder the responsibility of the presidency. And finally, the best-tailored team won.

The thing about beauty is that it carries with it a responsibility that its bearers might not always realize at first. But they have a way of finding out. Brooke knows. She told Model, “I never want to phase out of modeling. I’ll model for as long as people still want me. I’ll concentrate more on film, but modeling—these people are my family. It’s my life.”

I, for one, would have preferred Brooke Shields to Dan Quayle, but we can always hope that as vice president he learns to live with his beauty and becomes a model politician.

Glenn O’Brien, a writer who lives in Brooklyn, contributes a monthly column to Interview magazine, “Glenn O’Brien’s Beat.” His column on advertising appears monthly in Artforum.