Cindy Crawford has done about as much for the modeling industry as anyone. She not only invented our idea of the modern supermodel in the 90's — along with Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell, Claudia Schiffer, and Linda Evangelista — but she redefined a model as a businesswoman, creating a retail empire fronted by her all-American sex appeal. For our Royals porfolio, we paired the icon with a similarly shapely model of the moment, Irina Shayk.
What was story of your first modeling job?
Well, I grew up in a small town in Illinois called DeKalb. Modeling wasn't even a dream that I had because I didn't know it was a real job or something that people could aspire to. I actually think that my dad thought model was a nice word for prostitution. So I didn't grow up dreaming about fashion or being a model. I did, however, look at Seventeen magazine, and I had Calvin Klein jeans, and Gloria Vanderbilt jeans, so I knew Brooke Shields. I loved Phoebe Cates. That was kind of my first little introduction to fashion. And there was a local photographer in my town. His name was Roger Legal, and he shot parades, football games... If a house burned down, there was Roger. And he saw me at a high school football game and asked if he could photograph me for a "co-ed of the week" thing they had at the university in my town, which was normally a college girl. And of course my parents insisted that they chaperone me because they thought he was just a creepy guy. [Laughs] He did this picture of me in the backyard of my boyfriend at the time, laying by the pool in a swimsuit. I had to do my own hair and makeup. And that was it — the first time I did a picture.
And did you ever think about getting rid of your mole? Because your mole is so fantastic.
My mole has a life of its own. [Laughs]... I think especially when you're young, you don't want anything that sets you apart and makes you different. And then when the very first modeling agency told me that I should think about removing it, I went to my mom. I was like, "Please. Even a modeling agency says I should remove it." And my mom gave me great advice. She was like, "Okay. We can go, you know, we can inquire about getting it removed." But she said, "Just remember, you know what your mole looks like and you might get a scar and you don't know what that will look like." The great thing is that she didn't tell me no. She let me make my own decision, and I ended up obviously keeping it.
There were times in the beginning where you can find pictures where they've retouched my mole out, and it's weird because they don't look like me. But then eventually I did a Vogue cover where the mole stayed, and after that it was never an issue.
So was the American Vogue cover the moment when you knew that you had passed a certain mark in terms of making it, so to speak?
I definitely think for a model, especially my generation of models, there was really no bigger seal of approval. I'm not sure there really is today, either. So I shot with [Richard] Avedon shortly after I committed to living in New York, and I had my first Vogue cover in 1986, in August, which apparently isn't a very good month according to Linda Evangelista. But I was still excited about it.
And what was Avedon like?
Oh, I loved working with Richard Avedon. It was so different because he used the large format cameras and so he had to go under the cloth. You know, like an Arthur Elgort. He's like click, click, click. When you're shooting with the slower, bigger format cameras, you have to funnel all of that energy into that one take, that one shot, and I feel like Avedon was helping you do that. He wanted all this energy, but at the same time, you had to be very precise. So I learned a lot from him because you couldn't just be crazy jumping all over the place, but you still had to infuse the photograph with energy.
Did you feel that you had a relationship with the camera? Did you feel that the camera was somebody that you personify in some way, or was it the photographer that you were interacting with?
I didn't start out having a relationship with a camera. If you think about it, none of us did back then, because remember your grandma would get out the camera with those flash bulbs and if you happened to be the one with the closed eyes, too bad for you 'because that picture ended up on her wall for the rest of her life. So I didn't understand anything about taking pictures but my first mentor was Victor Skrebneski, a great Chicago photographer, old school like the [Irving] Penns and the Avedons, and he really taught me so much about understanding clothes, light, and how to fill the space.
And then I worked with other great teachers like Patrick Demarchelier and Herb Ritts so that slowly, even if maybe I didn't have an incredible rapport with whoever was behind the camera, I was able to call upon past experiences and bring that to the table. But you know, the thing is you normally do develop a relationship with the photographer and the team — the hair, the makeup, all of that — which to me is what makes modeling fun. Each day is like a little film set that becomes your family. That's my favorite part of my job.
There are some quotes from early on during your career about how "Cindy Crawford" was a character that you played. When did you come up with that character? You became so famous that it was healthy for you to separate the two, in a sense.
It's not so much that I came up with this character of Cindy Crawford, but it kind of emerged in how people saw me and where I fit in that group of other supermodels. We all looked different but we looked good together as a group: Christy [Turlington] was the classic beauty, and Naomi [Campbell] was the mover. Linda [Evangelista] was the chameleon. So we had our roles. I think I was kind of the sexy, all-American girl next door. That's how people saw me and then that's how people would photograph me.
And in a way, even though you were not from there, you seemed like the ultimate California girl.
[Laughs] For a girl from Illinois, I spent a lot of time on beaches in bathing suits, a lot of them with Herb Ritts, who certainly was one of the most important photographers in my career. I think I would say that Herb wanted people to be the best version of themselves, so that's kind of what he brought out in you. I happen to love the way that Herb saw me, which was strong and sexy. We did a lot with makeup but it was more like how you wish you looked when you woke up in the morning.
I think your Playboy issues were the best sellers ever. They were huge, huge, huge.
Oh really? That's cool. I did decide to do Playboy a second time. They came back 10 years later [the first time was in 1988]. First of all, I thought that was cool to be asked ten years later, but also with Herb Ritts again. We went to Mexico and we did it in color. I really love the pictures. We definitely pushed it a little further, but I was also 10 years older and as you get older, you have appreciation that your body might not look like that for the rest of your life. I was like, "I'm gonna like having these pictures at some point." And it's funny. One of the pictures from the second Playboy shoot I have in my bedroom and I hardly have any pictures of myself up in the house. Actually, I only have two and they're both by Herb — one is from the first Playboy shoot but it was actually for French Vogue, but whatever. It was on that shoot and it's me from the back coming out of the water.
Oh, I know that picture. It's a postcard. That's a gorgeous picture.
Yeah, I love that. Herb gave me a print of that, so I have that one, and there's another print that he gave me from the second time we did Playboy that I would only ever have in my bedroom because I wouldn't want the plumber seeing it. But it's just really strong and I think it's a testament to my relationship with Herb, that I trusted him that much. It's interesting because I thought about this recently. I don't think I would have done that shoot in this day and age of digital technology, where everyone has their cell phone out on every shoot and every angle. I don't care how great your body looks, it doesn't look great from every angle all the time. When I knew Herb was just in front of me with the camera, I could focus all my energy on making it look great for him. There's no monitor where people can, you know — not every exposure is good. Part of the photographer's job is to direct you — "Oh, arch your back more" — but also to edit and pick the right one. But now, the caterer's walking by and he's saying, "Oh, I like that." I mean it's changed so much and I think for me, there would be a lack of a sense of intimacy that was required to do those kinds of shoots.
So tell me about retiring or not retiring.
I was recently quoted and I probably did say that I'm retiring but it's kind of a joke that I have with my kids because every year, I'm like, "I'm slowing down, I promise." And then I'll put a book out and they're like, "I thought you were retiring." So I did an interview right after my book tour. I was exhausted and I think I said, "Oh, I'm retiring." But it was a joke. And then it came out and I didn't really want to say I'm not — I'm shifting my focus. I think the truest thing is that when I did my book, I didn't realize how the process of doing my book and taking all that time to look back and reflect on where I'd been, it really enabled me to go, "Wow, that was awesome. What a great chapter of my life that's been. Now what?" And I'm ready for what the "now what" is, but I'm sure the "now what" will still require me at times to be in front of the camera. I mean, I have a skin care line. I have a furniture line. I still work with Omega watches. I did a commercial last week.
I think the biggest change is more in the way that I'm approaching work and my career, so I probably should have just kept my mouth shut because no one would have had to know that I'm approaching my career differently other than me. And I think after doing the book, it's like, "Okay, I was a model and that was great." Now what?
But I think it's important that people like you continue to model even in a limited sense, because you do look amazing and I think it's very inspiring to people. And I think it actually makes people think that you can be beautiful at any point if you work hard at it. You obviously are working with extremely good material, but still you're yourself and you have great presence. And that's a great thing for people to see.
Well, thank you, but I think also I want to continue learning more, and evolve. Something I say to my kids and myself is, "It's like when your plate's full, there's no room for anything else so you have to take some things off to make room for the brownie or whatever the really good thing is at the end." So I'm just trying to make a little room on my plate.
Who is royalty to you in fashion or photography?
I mean Karl Lagerfeld popped in my head as royalty. Carine [Roitfeld]. Anna Wintour. I think for me, royalty is more about a Jane Fonda, people who have stood the test of time, who've put the hours. It's not just a one-hit wonder. They're an institution.
Were you photographed by Irving Penn?
I was. I actually wrote a chapter about Mr. Penn in my book and just how much I learned from him because he was really a master, old school. If you could just learn from him, you could take what you learned from him with you to other studios and put it in front of other photographers. It wasn't necessarily fun working with Penn, but it was like a master class.
Our mutual friend, [MTV "House of Style" creator] Alisa Marie Bellettini just died.
I heard that. I learned so much from her. She loved fashion. It's funny because for someone who's spent her whole life around fashion, I love it but I'm not like a fashionista. I'm not like obsessed with it. I like storytelling. I figured out what I love most about modeling is communicating whatever we decide the story is for the day. But Alisa loved fashion and when she asked me to be part of "House of Style" on MTV I got to see her love of fashion paired with my access. She made me have an appreciation [for fashion]. It was like she opened my eyes to how lucky I am to get to even wear a couture gown. I mean, it's amazing.
For the Met Ball, the seamstress was at my hotel for five hours because all the little mirrors were hand done, and she was just making sure every one laid perfectly. When a dress is made for you and you put it on the first time, it's incredible.
You didn't keep things, though? You're more of a jeans and t-shirt kind of a person.
I have kept a few things. I wasn't ever good at asking for things, and there were other models who were really good at asking for clothes, or just taking clothes. That was never really my thing. But I remember when we used to do Chanel shows, we would always could go down to the boutique afterwards and — like I have a couple of great classic Chanel jackets that I saved. Azzedine [Alaia], of course. He would always give us clothes. I've tried to save some great pieces just for my archives but also I think there are pieces that my daughter is just dying to get into. She's not quite my size yet, but she's excited to inherit all of that.