When the 1981 Miss Teen Niagara beauty pageant in Canada concluded, there was naturally a winner, as well as a host of young girls who did not win.
However, one of these contestants soon found her lack of victory didn’t really matter, and that sometimes when a door closes, there is another one opening for you somewhere. She didn’t have to look far for that same door, because sitting in the audience was a rep from Elite Modeling Management who had remained back due to this contestant’s presence in the pageant. The 16 year old girl was soon whisked off to Japan for a modeling assignment.
If you’re imagining she then began a journey of awesome success and wealth, you’d be wrong. Japan turned into a nightmare for the young girl who faced a lot of nastiness in the assignment which involved nudity. This experience left her so upset, she like other many young women, kept quiet, kept her head down and returned home swearing off modeling forever.
It took her two years to garner the courage to go back to doing what she loved.
After moving to New York, she signed with Elite, then soon after moved to Paris and launched her international modeling career. At 19 she appeared on the cover of L’Officiel’s November 1984 issue.
There was no looking back for Linda Evangelista after that.
“I love, love, love fashion so much. That’s why I became a model in the first place.” – Linda Evangelista
Cosmopolitan, Vogue, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, Newsweek, Allure, Rolling Stone were among only some of the international publication covers she graced. In her career, she has totaled over 700 magazine covers.
When Karl Lagerfeld, head designer of the international fashion house Chanel began working with Linda in 1985, she almost instantly became his muse. She also became one of the first editorial models who crossed over to runway modeling and was successful.
“There is not another model in the world as professional as she is.”- Karl Lagerfeld (Linda Evangelista for Chanel – 1987)
And, Valentino, Dolce & Gabbana, Ralph Lauren, Yves Saint Laurent, Oscar de la Renta, Armani, Donna Karan, Jean Paul Gaultier, Escada, Fendi, Herve Leger to name very few.
AmEx, De Beers, even Pizza Hut.
She was a force, but still waiting to happen. As a successful model, she was only just “in demand” like a thousand others in her field. An average model by most standards.
“As long as designers want to dress me, photographers want to take my picture, and companies think my face will help their products, then I won’t go anywhere until they’re done with me.” – Linda Evangelista
Linda began working with photographer Steven Meisel in 1986, and her friendship with him propelled her career forward. They collaborated on many assignments, after which a number of other photographers joined the list, including Peter Lindbergh, Bruce Weber, Irving Penn and Ellen von Unwerth among many others.
But, it wasn’t till 1988 that things began to really change for the full time model, which for some odd reason began with a haircut.
Lindbergh can be thanked for that. He convinced Evangelista to chop off her locks, which resulted in a short, short crop also known as the gamine cut, and photographed her. The now famous “white shirt picture” came to life and surprised the world.
“At first, there was something about her I didn’t feel. But shortly after that, we worked together almost every day. At one point, I had the feeling we had done everything we could do together, so I said, ‘Why don’t you cut your hair short?'” – Peter Lindbergh
Unfortunately though, a lot of the fashion industry did not see it as anything special. In fact, it upset them so much they decided to teach her a lesson and remind her of an old message. It was either their way or the highway. And, so Evangelista was cancelled out of over 15 shows just for getting her hair cut.
None of this seemed to hinder her progress, and this time she did not go home and swear off modeling for this fickle world. I’m guessing a haircut is not as bad as a nasty experience involving nudity in your teens, and the girl had grown up enough to not back down.
Hair is the greatest thing to experiment with because it’s not permanent. If I didn’t like my colour, I’d just change it. – Linda Evangelista
Her hair stayed short, and by the following year everyone everywhere was talking about the hottest haircut of the year called “The Linda” followed by a cropped wig which was fashioned and lovingly named “The Evangelista.”
“Sure, I like my hair short. It also upgraded my rate. I did get sick of seeing it on everybody though – every stewardess, every sales clerk, and in every restaurant.” – Linda Evangelista
Oh noes, poor fashion industry. What a storm in a teacup for them to pretend never happened.
“A new woman was born. She was a good model, but she became the model.” – Peter Lindbergh
But, it was hard calling her just “the model” – there wasn’t anything special about that. And, Linda Evangelista was special.
She was a changeling, she was a woman who suffered setbacks but didn’t back down, who didn’t conform. She was glamorous, and did strange but wonderful things like cutting her hair short and *gasp* still appeared feminine. She was a blond woman one day and a redhead the next, a woman who wasn’t afraid to reinvent herself for herself and turn the consequences into opportunities. She was a super star, and super stars deserve to be called super.
“Within two months I made the grand slam: covers of ‘American Vogue,’ Italian Vogue,’ British Vogue,’ and ‘French Vogue.’ – Linda Evangelista
So, they wracked their sweet little brains and coined the term ‘Supermodel’ for her. It wasn’t terribly original, but it caused a sensation in the late 80’s and early 90’s and was a game changer for the modeling profession which previously had made great strides in respectability and wages, but nothing close to what Evangelista and other supermodels of that era were about to achieve.
“We don’t do Vogue. We are Vogue.” – Linda Evangelista
And, boy did she achieve it. Cover after cover, showstoppers, runways and billboards, tireless work, dedication and immeasurable confidence. She became (and remains) one of the most influential models of all time. Her work was awe-inspiring, her fan base only kept growing, and so did her career. “Only Linda will do” became a demanding cry for events, magazine covers, and ad campaigns for designers, photographers, make up brands and fashion houses everywhere.
“On the days when I do not work, I am working on my image. I have to hit the gym. I have beauty appointments. I have to work toward my next job and maintaining my image, just like an athlete.” – Linda Evangelista
“We don’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day.” – Linda Evangelista
The above is a statement from her Vogue interview in 1990. It caused a tidal wave in the fashion world, and pretty much everywhere, and still stands as the most famous quote in modeling history.
A full time career woman, an activist for AIDS and breast cancer awareness, and a single mother, Evangelista was a reigning success and responsible for leading modeling into becoming the highest paying profession for women.
She is by far one of my favorite supermodels of all time, and always stays high up on my list of style icons and professional role models.
Linda Evangelista – A phenomenon, a woman.