Sunday, 5 July 2009


For many, Cindy Crawford was the face of the Eighties. Her sophisticated, sultry look ran against everything the decade represented, but in spite of that Crawford brought ‘sexy’ back to the modelling industry, and made curves big business.

Born in 1966, and discovered at the age of 16 by a local newspaper photographer, Cindy broke into the industry when she entered the Elite Model Look of the Year contest a year later. She did not win the competition, but Elite were so impressed by her potential, that they signed her up anyway.

Cindy’s inauguration into the fashion world coincided with the ‘boom’ years of the Eighties, where people had plenty of disposable cash, and were in a mood to spend.

Classic American designers like Ralph Lauren did especially well during this era: the ‘preppy’ look (think 1950’s college student) was especially popular and people were definitely willing to pay top dollar for it.

The craze for labels started here. In the 70’s, top fashion labels such as Halston were only worn (and known) by a select few. In the Eighties, all that changed. Advertising made high fashion visible, desirable and most importantly, attainable.

Labels became a second language both here and especially in America. They spoke of status and wealth, taste being a secondary concern at this point. All that mattered was wearing the ‘right’ labels. It was more a case of who you wore, rather than how you wore it. Which goes some way to explaining some of the sartorial delights you can see if you google Eighties fashion.

This is the world Cindy Crawford stepped into when she signed up with Elite. High-fashion at the time was devoting its energies to pursing the income of the glitz and glamour crowd, and as we know, the Eighties were all about excess.

Bouffant hair laden with hairspray, and heavy make-up, made catwalk models appear years older than they actually were. This allowed customers to envisage themselves in the clothes. Designers wanted their clothes to sell, and flattered their customers by making the models look like them.

It was a canny ploy. Everyone now wanted to look worldly and sophisticated, and the concept of natural beauty was left behind, as much a part of the discarded Seventies as tank-tops and T-Rex.

This pursuit of mannequin-like perfection meant that Cindy Crawford’s impact on the modelling scene was not immediate, as the industry did not fully appreciate what it was she had to offer.
Her now-trademark mole was airbrushed off many of her earliest photographs, including a cover for Vogue. Crawford has since admitted that at the time, she felt under pressure to conform and have the mole removed – to create that perfect blank canvas – but she stood her ground and the mole stayed.

At the time it was a small decision, but in terms of her career, absolutely pivotal. Cindy Crawford flew the flag for natural beauty and the mole saved her from getting lost in the crowd. The ‘imperfection’ made her stand out, and being remembered is half the battle in getting work within the modelling industry.

As modelling jobs began to stack up, Crawford made a reputation for herself. Her curvy physique and dark features caught the attention of people outside the immediate fashion circle and created a stir in the wider media. She was a refreshing antidote to the 80’s mega-macho pop culture of cold beer, fast cars and beautiful women. A complete opposite to the coldly perfected faces in fashion, her fresh-faced beauty captured the public’s interest. Here was a model they could empathise with: someone who was warm and engaging, but still undeniably beautiful. The girl-next-door got an upgrade, as Crawford became a pin-up for teenage boys across the globe.

As her popularity grew, Crawford widened people’s perception of what sexy could be: a girl with beauty and brains, and unapologetic about having both? That was something new. She switched the idea of the ‘sexy American girl’ from a ditsy blonde bombshell to a sultry brunette ‘with brains and charm’, to quote US designer Michael Kors. Her image ran counter to every expectation, and her popularity soared because she was so different. People were ready for someone who was a non-conformist, and smart with it.
Expanding these horizons has been absolutely fundamental to the modelling industry, because if sexy only equals blonde hair and blue eyes – that’s a somewhat limited brief. Cindy was one of the first models to appeal equally to both men and women. Her unique mix of natural beauty and intelligent sex appeal made her a favourite with both.
Her success in the fashion world (including campaigns with Escada and Revlon, and covers with Vogue, W, Harpers Bazaar, Elle and Cosmopolitan) shows that she understood very clearly the difference in modelling for a predominantly female market, and modelling for a campaign specifically targeted at men. Her expertise in crafting her image towards a product, designer or campaign has been crucial to the development of modelling. Models like Tyra Banks and Gisele Bundchen owe a great debt to their predecessor.
As her name became better known, Crawford moved from fashion to television, as popular adverts (including one for Pepsi) proved that television couldn’t get enough of Cindy’s down-to-earth charm. She scored a lucrative job hosting MTV’s ‘House of Style’ from 1989 to 1995. The fashion news and features programme made contemporary fashion a visible presence in living rooms across the world. Cindy’s easy-going personality and natural flair in front of the camera ensured people stayed watching.
The popularity of the style show coincided with the era of the ‘supermodel’: a small, elect band of models who could command huge fees for just one day’s work. Cindy was part of that group, alongside Claudia Schiffer, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington. They were not just models; they were celebrities in their own right.
Their fame turned to notoriety when Linda Evangelista famously told an interviewer that she wouldn’t consider getting out of bed for anything less than $10,000. There is now some discussion as to whether Evangelista made that comment in jest, but its controversy sparked a backlash against these models. Where they actually worth the astronomical fees they commanded?
At this point, Cindy Crawford sidelined into more television and film work, allowing herself to quietly drop off the fashion radar. It was good timing on her part, as fashion lost interest in the ‘Supers’, and fell in love with a new generation of androgynous girls spear-headed by a newly-discovered Kate Moss. They were younger, but more importantly, as the 80’s economic bubble burst, they were cheaper.
As fashion moved on, Cindy Crawford developed her business acumen she had cultivated during an unusually long modelling career. Tailoring a skincare line and home furnishings brand, she devoted the next decade to doing what she did best: selling.
Cindy Crawford was one of the first models to ‘do it all’: modelling, acting, presenting and big business. Crawford was perceptive enough to take notice of what was going on around her, and not take success for granted. Her astute business sense and ability to openly evaluate her own strengths provided a stand-out business model for the next generation following her.
Fashion once sneered at the concept of ‘sex sells’, perceiving it be something low-rent and nothing to do with the rarefied world of haute couture. Now it is difficult to imagine the fashion world without it. From catwalks to editorials, a smouldering look now sells everything from sunglasses to face cream. Cindy proved that sex appeal could be something subtle and aspirational – something that would enhance high fashion rather than act as an unwelcome distraction.
Cindy Crawford also opened doors for models to be able to do ultra-sexy swimwear shoots, alongside more traditional modelling fare of beauty campaigns and couture shows. Crawford proved it is possible to do it all, and do it on your own terms.
By not conforming, Crawford created a new type of career that had a huge impact on the modelling industry itself. A model entering the market today does not have to pick and choose as to whether she can be sultry, or high-fashion. It is possible to pursue both avenues and retain your credibility.
Crawford altered our perceptions of what ‘sexy’ looks like, and did so while holding onto her intelligence and much-needed sense of humour. It has kept her in the public eye for more than 20 years, and her place within modelling history remains, and will be for the foreseeable future, undisputed and unrivalled.


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