Last night we went to the NYC premiere of About Face: Supermodels Then and Now, which you can catch on July 30 at 9pm on HBO. Besides everything we learned from the models on the red carpet before the premiere, the documentary itself was really eye-opening. The models were frank and forthcoming about their experiences in the industry and we were absolutely riveted.
Since you won't be able to see it for a few weeks, we thought we'd give you a couple peeks into the film. They're not really spoilers, though. There were so many amazing quotables from the documentary that there's no way we could possibly ruin it for you. So from racism and sexual harrassment to being told you have awful eyebrows, click through to discover 10 things we learned about the modeling industry and the personalities that shaped it (plus some awesome vintage magazine covers).
People thought models were hookers: When director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders mentioned this to us on the red carpet when we asked what he'd learned from his models, we were a little confused. Until we saw the film.
Two models from different eras mentioned that there was a perception that "model" was just code for hookers. Carmen dell'Orefice said that people in the 40s and 50s just assumed all models were hookers. Bethann Hardison, who modeled in the 60s and 70s, recalled telling her mother she was a model. Her mother seemed rather uncertain, until she saw her daughter in a TV commercial. "I thought you were a hooker!" said mom to Bethann, much relieved.
Jerry Hall is hilarious: Don't let her sweet-girl Texan twang fool you. Jerry Hall is freaking hilarious. She had the audience in stitches every time she was onscreen, whether it was talking about her job at Dairy Queen or the way she got discovered after getting gussied up in a pink metallic crocheted bikini and five inch cork platforms which made her about 6'5" to hang out on the beach in France (can't you see it now?). "I was expecting to be discovered that day. And I was!" With that confidence it's really no surprise that she bagged Mick Jagger.
Schiaparelli tidbits: Schiaparelli's granddaughter Marisa Berenson dished that her famous designer grandmother considered herself to be ugly and once planted seeds in her nose and mouth hoping that pretty flowers would grow from them. Also, Schiap never talked to Diana Vreeland (a good family friend) again after she started using Marisa as a model, because Schiap didn't want her granddaughter to be in the industry. (No hint on who may be tapped to revive the Schiaparelli label, though.)
Models really are asked to lose weight a ridiculous amount of weight: Carol Alt said an editor told her, "If you lose 15 pounds I'll take you to the collections in Italy." She did it, eating little else besides celery. When she returned from the trip her mother passed by her multiple times in the airport because she didn't recognize her daughter any more.
The dark role Vogue played: Former Vogue fashion director Jade Hobson was pretty frank and seemed genuinely ashamed about how the magazine used models who were actively using drugs. She recounted a shoot with Gia Carangi (a model who was a heroin addict and died of AIDS in the 80s) in which she could see the model's arms covered in track marks. "We made them into something. We created a monster," Hobson said in the film. "We maybe exploited these girls."
Fueling the plastic surgery debate: There seems to be two camps when it comes to older models: Those who nip and tuck openly and those who don't. In the former camp is Carmen dell'Orefice who, when asked about plastic surgery replied, "If you had the ceiling falling down in your living room, wouldn't you go and have a repair?" Isabella Rossellini (whom I love even more after seeing her in this), on the other hand, wonders if it's the "new foot binding" for women. (Meanwhile, Eileen Ford shyly yet proudly showed off her Botox'ed forehead.)
Sexual harassment: Paulina Porizkova, who pulls no punches during this film, said that sexual harassment was seen as a compliment. "When a 16-year-old girl is flattered by a man pulling out his penis, that’s noteworthy.” It is indeed. And we suspect it's still happening. (Ahem. Not naming names here.)
Blatant racism: Harper's Bazaar didn't want to run Richard Avedon's photos of China Machado because the mag was worried they'd lose subscribers in the South. They felt China was too exotic looking. Avedon said he'd quit if Harper's didn't run them. Three years after that, Machado was an editor at Harper's Bazaar.
Pat Cleveland, who is mixed race but traveled with black models to Ebony Fashion Fairs, teared up while telling a story of an angry mob in the South trying to overturn her bus. Bethann Hardison told a story about being called for a recommendation for a black girl to walk in a runway show, like it was an enlightened thing. She was to be one of 36 models, the rest of whom were white. One of the models asked: when a designer says a girl doesn't fit his "aesthetic," isn't that racist?
"When they tell you you're beautiful they can also say you're ugly": Paulina Porizkova, who we think would make an excellent philosopher and who really should have her own reality show, dropped those words of wisdom. Many of the models told stories about having their physical attributes discussed in front of them like they were invisible. Carol Alt remembers an editor telling her, "You're too fat, your hair looks like shit and who does your eyebrows?" Yes, you're told you're beautiful, but that is obviously a double-edged sword.
China Machado is also hilarious: Between swearing her face off, trying to replicate her iconic finger out pose for a shoot with About Face's director, and admitting on the red carpet that she was wearing a 20-year-old shirt, this woman, as she put it, is a "survivor." She's done a million things besides model including being a fashion editor, TV producer, and running a store. We want to hang with her.