The secret suffering of the supermodels: 90s pin-ups, including Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington – reveal their battles with addiction, abuse and racial prejudice in shocking new TV series

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  • Reading time:5 min(s) read

  • Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington and Tatjana Patitz star in the documentary  
  • READ MORE: Naomi Campbell speaks about George Michael’s Freedom! video

When George Michael recorded his catchy single Freedom! in 1990, he was becoming worn out by the vagaries of fame. 

Refusing to appear in the song’s video, he instead cast the five models who had adorned a recent cover of Vogue – Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington and Tatjana Patitz.

The resulting video, which saw them lip-synching to the song’s lyrics, was the perfect melding of pop culture and high-end glamour, and by the time the models walked the Gianni Versace runway a few months later to the George Michael hit – and to rapturous applause – they were household names. 

‘It was insane. We are not the Beatles,’ Linda later remarked, but the term ‘supermodel’ had entered the public lexicon.

Now a new four-part documentary entitled The Super Models charts the rise of the women who earned millions and dated movie stars. 

Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington in 1992. A new four-part documentary entitled The Super Models charts the rise of the women who earned millions and dated movie stars

Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington in 1992. A new four-part documentary entitled The Super Models charts the rise of the women who earned millions and dated movie stars

‘We looked powerful,’ says Cindy Crawford in the series. ‘And we started owning that power.’

This is the first time the four surviving supermodels have come together to discuss the phenomenon in depth (Tatjana Patitz died earlier this year of breast cancer). 

While the Apple TV+ series basks in the exceptional beauty of the women it doesn’t shy away from the uglier issues they faced, such as addiction, domestic abuse and racial inequality. 

As Naomi remarks, ‘People feel like we don’t hurt and we don’t cry, we don’t get sad. None of that is true.’

Of the four, the story of south Londoner Naomi is perhaps the most eventful. Having been discovered at 15 while shopping in Covent Garden, she tells how she’d secretly go on jobs as a teenager while her mother Valerie remained oblivious. 

Yet it was far from easy. The late 80s and early 90s was a period when black models still weren’t being given the opportunities of their white counterparts and as Linda Evangelista explains, ‘Naomi, I thought, was more beautiful, had a much more rocking body than I did and a better strut and I’m like, “Why aren’t they booking her?” She and Christy Turlington refused to accept bookings unless Naomi was hired too and as Naomi explains, ‘They stood by me and they supported me and that’s what kept me going.’

But Naomi’s period in the spotlight didn’t come without controversy. Already in the throes of a cocaine addiction in her 20s, she checked herself into rehab. 

The series also briefly addresses her anger issues (she was charged with assault in 2006 for hitting her housekeeper with a mobile phone). ‘Addiction can cause such huge fear and anxiety, so I got really angry,’ she explains.

This is the first time the four surviving supermodels have come together to discuss the phenomenon in depth (Tatjana Patitz died earlier this year of breast cancer). Cindy Crawford pictured in 1991

This is the first time the four surviving supermodels have come together to discuss the phenomenon in depth (Tatjana Patitz died earlier this year of breast cancer). Cindy Crawford pictured in 1991

Of the four, Linda (pictured in 1990) has had more than her fair share of hardship. She's fought breast cancer and speaks in the series about the fat-freezing procedure she claims left her 'disfigured' and depressed

Of the four, Linda (pictured in 1990) has had more than her fair share of hardship. She’s fought breast cancer and speaks in the series about the fat-freezing procedure she claims left her ‘disfigured’ and depressed

The four women say they largely avoided the sexual abuse issues that have rocked the industry in recent years, but Linda married her agent Gérald Marie at 22. 

Though they divorced after six years she was horrified when two years ago he faced allegations of sexual misconduct and rape (he denied them and the criminal investigation was closed due to France’s statute of limitations). 

She is in tears describing how she felt when she heard the claims and reveals her own abuse at his hands. ‘He knew not to touch my face,’ she says. ‘Not to touch the money-maker, you know?’

Of the four, Linda has had more than her fair share of hardship. She’s fought breast cancer and speaks in the series about the fat-freezing procedure she claims left her ‘disfigured’ and depressed. 

‘I can’t like myself with these hard masses and protrusions sticking out of my body,’ she says.

The quartet’s dominance had already begun to wane in the mid-90s when outrageous glamour went out of fashion and grunge came in. As Linda says in the series, ‘When this all comes to a halt, what else do you do?’

Cindy managed to turn herself into a brand, launching a make-up line and appearing in Playboy. 

All four kept modelling and after withdrawing from public life after her cosmetic procedure, Linda returned to the catwalk last year.

Produced by its four stars as well as by Ron Howard, the series is revealing when you least expect it. 

Martin Brading, a photographer who shot Naomi when she was starting out, says she ‘was very cooperative in those days’, suggesting she might not have been so cooperative later on.

And as Linda explains, back then there were tricks to capturing the perfect image on film such as holding the end of a skirt up with fishing wire or cinching in a model’s waist by slipping a Coke can behind her belt. 

‘Nowadays all the magic happens in post-production,’ she says. ‘In the 80s and the early 90s, all the magic happened exactly at that moment that you heard ‘click’.’

  • The Super Models is on Apple TV+ from Wednesday.



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