‘Twas a dream come true: For the October issue of Harper’s Bazaar, I was assigned a story on my supermodel fantasy, Linda Evangelista. Few models have inspired and conspired like she has. And she did not disappoint. When we met she was in head-to-toe Lanvin. She was fiesty. She was fierce. She was everything I wanted and more.
The cons, of course, involve things that come up when one Googles oneself. “If I’m ever feeling real good about myself, all I have to do is go online and read a blog or two, and it brings me right back.” Indeed, the life of Linda Evangelista provides colorful search results. She was a small-town Canadian girl who moved to New York in the ’80s and, along with cohorts Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, and Christy Turlington, became one of the world’s most sought-after supermodels. She filled fashion magazines with glamour and tabloids with drama. She was a diva. She changed her hair color 17 times in five years. She married Gérald Marie, the head of her Paris agency, at the age of 22, then left him for (and almost married) the actor Kyle MacLachlan. In 2006, she had a son, Augustin James, but refused to name the father. (It was later revealed to be the French businessman François-Henri Pinault.) Most recently, she dated Hard Rock Cafe cofounder Peter Morton before splitting with him this past spring.
Evangelista, 48, became known for being the industry’s best in front of the camera and the industry’s worst away from it. In 2001, she was sued by her former agency Wilhelmina for defrauding it of commissions before the agency dropped the case. Not that bad press mattered. She was still booked solid. That’s what led to the infamous quote that pops up with any Internet search of her name: “We don’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day,” a reference to her fellow supes, and one that she hasn’t been able to live down since. And last year, when she took Pinault to Family Court in Manhattan to sue him for child support, the media (myself included) reviewed her court ensembles as if it were a fashion show.
What Evangelista finds most appealing about social media is the idea of speaking directly to those fashion fans who grew up idolizing her. “Maybe I should start a blog,” she says. “You control it. You can correct things that are said about you. That’s the first thing I’d do.” Like, for instance, the details that were reported in her child-support case—that she allegedly sued Pinault for $46,000 a month, though her lawyer insisted she was not seeking a specific amount of money, and she eventually settled for an undisclosed sum. Evangelista says she was surprised at all the attention, since the headline-making behavior recalled a former version of herself. “Motherhood is my whole life now,” she explains. “It’s the best. I am so fulfilled.” The week before we met, she spent a month vacationing with her family in Canada, at a house she rented in Muskoka Lakes. “This place was the furthest you can be from five-star. It was basically one step up from camping.”
The notion of Evangelista as a mother hen on float trips is hard to reconcile with her haute couture alter ego, a dichotomy she readily acknowledges. “There are lots of things you don’t know about me,” she says. “I do needlepoint, I do crochet, I cake-decorate.” She says she’s a proficient chef and a barista, and can play a mean accordion, a skill she acquired growing up in St. Catharines, Ontario. (“I have two in my apartment, but they have dust on them. It’s more of a winter thing.”)
Yet even with her various hiatuses from the spotlight, Evangelista is as super as ever. She was featured on the cover of Italian Vogue‘s “25 Years of Fashion” special issue this past summer, and recently starred in campaigns for Chanel Eyewear, Hogan, and Talbots. And the supermodel’s appreciation for her three-decade-and-counting career has grown over time. The images she created with photographers like Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Peter Lindbergh, and Norman Parkinson (not to mention her iconicBazaar covers) have become part of fashion history. “I knew they were legendary, but I didn’t know how relevant their work would become. Now I’m like, ‘Linda, you fucking idiot!’ I didn’t appreciate it at the time, and I regret that.” Francesco Scavullo was another master, and one of the few who got her to undress in front of the camera. “He said I had to do a nude with him, and I finally said, ‘Fine, but you’re cropping it. You can’t go past my chest, and I’m turning my back.’ That was my nude. It’s beautiful.” She remembers when makeup artists and hair stylists didn’t have teams of assistants, when the backstage cabine was the size of an airplane bathroom, and admits to being nostalgic for that era. “It was more personal. It had more energy.”
Evangelista is quick to crack a joke, which raises the question: Could the model the industry loved to paint as bitchy and cynical actually be playful with a killer sense of humor? “I don’t know,” she says. “I’m just too honest. I say what other people wouldn’t. I like to be tongue-in-cheek.” Her nasal, winging voice, immortalized in Isaac Mizrahi’s 1995 documentary, Unzipped, when she moaned backstage at a fashion show about always being stuck with flat shoes while Naomi got the heels, now lets loose with punch lines and double entendres. I tell her that Karl Lagerfeld calls her “the best.” “The best what?” she snaps back. “The best complainer?” And she’s not afraid to poke fun at herself. “Want to know what I’m doing when I’m not working? Therapy—individual, group, all of it.”
Still, few can boast the kind of fiercely loyal cadre of friends that Evangelista has built for herself. Famed photographer Steven Meisel is one of her closest confidants. So is Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele, the French stylist who Evangelista says “acts like a mom to me. She is very protective, caring, nurturing. And she yells at me!” And the hairstylist Garren, who was largely responsible for her colorful crops and fluorescent bobs through the 1990s, Evangelista calls a big brother.
Earlier this year, too, it was revealed that she was the only one of John Galliano’s famous friends who visited the designer in rehab following his 2011 dismissal from Dior. “I hadn’t seen him in a long time, and I suspected he wasn’t well,” she recalls. “When I was brought up-to-date on the situation, I asked, ‘So, who’s going to see him?’ and they said no one. I booked a ticket and spent the day with him, and then went right back to the airport. I didn’t want him to be alone.” She didn’t tell anyone; Galliano was the one who spilled the beans. “I’ve always been there,” she adds. “If you speak to people in this business who’ve known me for 30 years, they’ll tell you. All the stuff that is said about my ways and my personality is far more interesting than the truth.”
Her friendship with Galliano aside, Evan gelista refuses to be pinned down when asked to pick a favorite designer, even when I point out that she’s wearing head-to-toe Céline. “No! It’s like asking a mother to pick her favorite child!” She does say that she’s adamant about supporting American labels. And she reveals a recent go-to: the Row, the line by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. Evangelista says she was at Barneys and a sales associate was pushing a leather skirt on her, and she asked who the designer was. “I said, ‘Those two little girls? I’m not trying it on.’ But she put it in my dressing room and I put it on, and it became my favorite skirt.” She calls the Row a reliable label now. “I think those girls were put on this planet to be designers, not actresses. I really respect them now. I didn’t want to, but I do.”
To hear Evangelista talk about fashion is to listen to a woman describe her first true love. “I still crave fashion. I still love fashion. I mean, I’ve traveled the world to work in studios. Nobody put me in bathing suits on a beach.” She wasn’t the sexpot; she was the supermodel we wanted to dress up and project our fashion fantasies on. But when I mention the S-word, she says, “I don’t even know what that means anymore. Is that era over? Who is a supermodel now? Is everyone? Is no one?” She squints her eyes and smiles. “You can call me whatever you want to call me. All I know is this: I’m still here.”
above photo by Derek Blasberg, all others by Terry Richardson for Harper’s Bazaar