Ageless Beauty: Supermodels Are Still in Vogue

he August 2006 cover of Vogue featuring a pregnant Linda Evangelista
Linda Evangelista appears on the cover of August's Vogue magazine. (Courtesy Vogue)
By Robin Givhan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 21, 2006

The familiar face of model Linda Evangelista smiles from the cover of August's Vogue magazine, an issue devoted to aging. Evangelista, 41, wears a black Bottega Veneta dress with sterling silver chain-link straps, and her blond hair with its artfully dark roots is brushed back, except for a few messy strands jutting out from behind one ear. Reflexively there is an urge to smooth her hair down, but intuitively one knows that the asymmetry is fashionably intentional.

Evangelista is part of the generation of mannequins who in the 1990s were popularly dubbed "supermodels." The rules for what truly defined these hyperbolic beings were never made clear but they included regular appearances on the catwalk and in glossy magazines, enormous salaries and the average person having some vague first-name familiarity with them. The most famous of these were Linda, Christy and Naomi.

That troika is back in the spotlight and just as stunning. Evangelista recently modeled for designer Stefano Pilati of Yves Saint Laurent and has turned up on the red carpet glamorously enveloped in YSL ruffles. Her appearance on Vogue's cover marks the first time this year that the magazine has used a model, rather than a celebrity, in that position.

Christy Turlington is also in the August issue, starring in a story that pronounces "red is the new black." (One assumes that cover line was written in a frothy fit of sarcasm and cheekiness, lest the September issue command readers to "Think pink!") Turlington notes that she was lured back into the modeling limelight thanks to a job offer from Donatella Versace.

Naomi Campbell never went away, although she has judiciously edited the frequency of her runway sashays. But her work life has continued virtually uninterrupted except for those occasions when, after being accused of assaulting assistants with cellphones and PDAs, she has had to spend time in anger management classes or the courtroom. Her perp walk is not nearly as glamorous as the powerful strut she favors on the catwalk.

These women are not trying to revive the hectic glory days when they dominated fashion. They don't need to work that hard, and besides, there are babies, marriages and other business ventures to occupy their time. But their return gives fashion aficionados a pleasant break from the umpteenth Lindsay Lohan-Hilary Duff-Mischa Barton-Olsen twin picture. And in comparison to the wan creatures who currently sleepwalk down the runway, the supermodels possess a stage presence that is mesmerizing. There is something more than mere beauty that draws the eye.

Christy Turlington in the August 2006 issue of Vogue
Christy Turlington, 37, as she appears in Vogue magazine's August issue, devoted to aging.(Vogue)
Turlington is 37 and Campbell is 36 now. Evangelista is the grande dame. (In model years, she's the equivalent of 82.) It would be warm and fuzzy to say these women are especially intriguing because of laugh lines or because they exude a greater sense of themselves thanks to the wisdom of age. But even in their twenties, they were able to animate their faces, express emotion through their eyes and force people to stop and stare. And truth be told, there are no lines of any sort in evidence. In fact, Evangelista happily cops to using Botox and even serves up a couple of referrals to doctors in New York and Los Angeles.

There is no empathetic balm in knowing that Evangelista is 41 instead of, say, 19. She still possesses the sort of beauty that stops traffic. That's why she's a highly paid model who years ago famously noted that she wouldn't roll out of bed for less than $10,000. A dozen syringes of Botox later and the average woman is no closer to Evangelistadom.

Throughout the magazine's August issue, which details how to look fashionable from one's twenties until teetering on the edge of one's centennial, there are non-models used as exemplars of style. Several of the women were particular beauties almost from birth. Others have the benefits of wealth: the best doctors, beauty treatments, nutritionists, relaxing vacations. The average woman doesn't have their advantages, just as she will never have Evangelista's cheekbones or her almond-shaped eyes. Vogue has never been in the business of exalting the average.

What is reassuring about that cover, however, is its familiarity. Evangelista has posed and vamped through fashion's obsession with ostentation, minimalism, grunge, tartiness, bohemia and elegance. She took a break and now she's back for grunge: the remix. Over the years, she altered her hair color and changed her body language with each shift of the fashion tides. But through it all, she also always looked like herself. In an industry of planned obsolescence, she is still here.

The supermodel on the cover and the exceptional women on the inside pages have seen every trend and emerged unscathed. It is impossible to empathize with them. But they offer inspiration. They have tamed fashion. And their portraits are as articulate as the words of the finest motivational speaker: Fashion excludes only those who quietly acquiesce.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company