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What We Learned in a Day Spent With Cindy Crawford

Like that a photographer once told her her face was "difficult to photograph," and what she thinks about plastic surgery.
Cindy Crawford and her new book. Photo: John Lamparski/Getty Images

Cindy Crawford and her new book. Photo: John Lamparski/Getty Images

Cindy Crawford, that most superlative of supermodels, just released a memoir called "Becoming by Cindy Crawford." To get the word out, she's been running from nighttime talk show to morning talk show to personal appearance for the past week, and intrepid reporters/Cindy stans Chantal and Cheryl respectively caught up with her at two events on Tuesday: A small book signing at Rizzoli in New York City in the morning, and her talk with Fern Mallis at the 92nd Street Y that evening. Here's everything we learned.


Reading Cindy Crawford's book with my new succulent. Photo: Cheryl Wischhover's iPhone/Fashionista

Reading Cindy Crawford's book with my new succulent. Photo: Cheryl Wischhover's iPhone/Fashionista

A group of beauty editors got to hear about a newlaunch coming from Meaningful Beauty, the skin care line Crawford has with her longtime dermatologist, Dr. Sebagh. More importantly, though, she was there to introduce her book, the publication of which coincides with her 50th birthday. "A couple different people in my life had been trying to get me to do a book for the last 10 years and I was like, 'I don’t want to do a workout and beauty tips book,'" Crawford said to the group. "This idea of 50 iconic images married to 50 essays about the lessons learned along the way, to celebrate turning — and I can't believe I'm saying this — 50." 

For anyone into '90s nostalgia and/or really gorgeous photography, this book is for you. Crawford breaks down the book by photographer and life stage, recounting memories and life lessons along the way. Sample prose: "My very first paying job was a newspaper ad for Marshall Field's wearing some kind of Cross Your Heart bra. It appeared in the Chicago Tribune and within hours was plastered all over my high school... I had made $150. Modeling sure beat working in the cornfields."

Crawford was kind enough to sign a book for me, and even pose for a selfie, though you will not see it here because it was hideous. "Do you think the light is okay here?" she asked me dubiously. Listen to Cindy Crawford when she has doubts about the light! While she looked great, I decidedly did not. That picture has gone deep into the ether, never to be seen again. But here's the conversation we had:

Fashionista: What was the best piece of advice you got from someone in the fashion industry that translates to real life?

Cindy Crawford: I talk about  how Richard Avedon would say, "Have a thought in your head when you're looking at the camera." So it's not just a blank stare — your eyes are saying something. That doesn't really translate to real life, although everyone does selfies now so maybe it would.

Did you have one go-to thought you would use?

I had a couple. There was one photographer in Chicago [more on that below] who was my main mentor, but when I left for New York he wasn't that enthusiastic about it. I had this thought like "Take that! I guess I did make it in New York after all!" 

I know your daughter is starting to dabble in modeling. Does she want your advice?

About that one thing? Yes. She knows that I know what I'm talking about. But at the same time so much has changed. I know that I don't know everything about what's happening right now. For instance, when I was in my prime, Victoria's Secret didn't have the status that it has now. So I'm trying to learn to help guide her. I know so many great people, so the few little things that I've let her do, I know everyone on set so I know she's going to be okay.

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Do you think we're in a new era of supermodels? You guys were it, then there was anonymity, but now there is Karlie, Kendall and Gigi.

I think so. I think this crop of women — basically everyone in the "Bad Blood" video and a few more —  are incredible. And they're pretty sophisticated working with social media. Part of the reason for their popularity is that they're able to let their personalities be known through their own posting. They're not dependent on other people for how they're going to be presented.

So how was it working in the "Bad Blood" video anyway? Did you feel like the den mom?

I was there on green screen sadly. I probably would have felt like the den mother, but they brought me in afterwards. Taylor [Swift] wasn't even there when I shot it. But I was happy to be a part of it and my kids thought it was really cool that I even got asked. --Cheryl Wischhover


Cindy Crawford and Fern Mallis. Photo: 92nd Street Y

Cindy Crawford and Fern Mallis. Photo: 92nd Street Y

Interviewer Fern Mallis wasn't the only person at the 92nd Street Y proudly wearing one of The Reformation's rereleased "Cindy Crawford" sweatshirts. Mallis had so much to discuss with supermodel that the interview went way over the series' typical hour run time. Read on for the best quotes.

Photographer Victor Skrebneski's parting words for her when she left Chicago for New York: "Victor told me that I didn't have an easy face to photograph and that he was the only one who knew how to make me look good. And I was young, I was 19 and part of me believed that... I realize he probably said it and never thought about it again and it was like being branded. I'll even say it to this day to a photographer, 'You know my face isn't that easy to photograph,' and they're like 'What?'"

On hosting MTV's "House of Style": "My agents were like, 'Why are you wasting your time doing this little show?' But it seemed fun and it seemed different and I liked it because I got a chance to — much in the way models now can use social media to have their own [voice] — I was able to do that a little bit with "House of Style." I did it for seven years and I was like, I can't go shopping with one more rock star, I'm done."

On her longtime relationship with photographer Herb Ritts: There are so many models that you think of — Steven Meisel and Linda Evangelista, you know, or Peter Lindbergh and Tatjana Patitz — they really photographed the same women over and over and I never really felt like I had that but in doing this book I realized I did have it with Herb. 

On her controversial Vanity Fair cover with k.d. lang:
"[Herb Ritts said] 'I need you as a prop. I need you to be straddling her while you're shaving her in a barber chair.' Back then I don't think I even had a publicist, it was just my friend Herb calling me to be a prop in a photoshoot and I didn't really think about it. Doing that made me realize that people sometimes don't get the joke or take images literally and really k.d. was making a statement... It made me realize that images do have power and I needed to make sure that what I was saying in my images was what I wanted to be saying."

Her thoughts on plastic surgery: "Not only my job but in our society, everyone else is doing it — do I need to do it? But then you see some people and think, Well, I don't want to end up looking like that so is it better to look old? I'm still trying to figure that out, I guess, where I personally want to draw that line."

What's next for her career? "I didn't know it at the time but in some way [writing the book] is the end of a chapter of my life. People are like, 'Are you still going to model?' And to me, if I get my picture taken, that's modeling. If I have to get my hair and makeup done, that's modeling. So I'm going to continue to do that for Meaningful Beauty and my furniture line but I do think that I've finally realized I don't really have to prove anything in terms of the fashion modeling part of my life any more. But then I said to my husband, 'What am I going to do when this book's over?' It's taken up so much time over the last two years and I love working. I like being busy, so I don't know. Something."--Chantal Fernandez