Sunday, 16 August 2009


In the world of modelling, there is perfection, and then there is Christy Turlington.

Born in 1969, Turlington turned 40 this year, and her career shows no signs of slowing down. Scoring new contracts for A/W 09 campaigns with Bally, Escada, YSL and cosmetic brand Maybelline, Turlington is living proof that there is mileage in good bones.

After being discovered whilst horseback riding with her sister, Christy began modelling aged 14. She graduated from high school a few years later, moved to New York and began modelling full-time.

One of the world’s most successful supermodels, with a career spanning two decades, Turlington is the embodiment of modern, classic beauty. Her perfectly proportioned face, with its equally balanced and symmetrical features, is unusual even for the modelling world, and this is what has kept her in demand.

Her face, as rare as a flawless diamond, is the reason Christy is so embedded in popular culture. Along with Kate Moss and Gisele Bundchen, Christy is part of that exclusive club of models who are known well beyond the perimeters of the modelling industry.

Christy’s look is clean-cut American, but her dark eyes and winning smile are from her mother, who was born in El Salvador. Turlington’s look is classic with traces of the exotic – a map of America itself.

Her perfect features pitch her square-centre of the modelling industry. Sandwiched between the catalogue crowd and the edgy, editorial girls, Turlington’s classic appeal is anything but mediocre. Christy has consistently outperformed every passing whim the fashion industry has for the quirky and unusual. When the dust settles, and the mood passes, the fashion world once again wants that clean-cut modern face that can sell anything, without a preconceived image or media-fuelled reputation getting in the way.

Turlington’s brand of beauty remains covetable because it goes with any trend, any season and any designer. To prove it, Christy has a CV that is the envy of every working model. Her ready-to-wear and couture catwalk credits include Chanel, Prada, Balenciaga, Dior Haute Couture and Atelier Versace, plus a famously successful collaboration with godfather of American cool, Calvin Klein. Pairing Turlington with Klein’s sleek, minimalist designs proved massively profitable, not least of which was Christy’s series of iconic campaigns for the ‘Eternity’ fragrance.

Her success has been analysed in countless interviews and features, but essentially it can be boiled down to one simple point: Christy’s face (and image) represent the basic principle of modelling. Designers want a flawless base that presents, rather than competes with, their clothes.

In the best possible sense, Turlington is a blank canvas on which editors, stylists and designers can project their ideas. Turlington can turn her hand to anything in the fashion sphere, from high fashion editorials, to bringing out that warm, welcoming smile to persuade women to buy a tube of lipstick. With another American Vogue cover recently under her belt, it is clear that the fashion industry is by no means losing interest.

In modelling, experiencing a career ‘second act’ is rare, usually an honour reserved for models that have paid their dues. Turlington’s new phase coincides with fashion’s rekindled love affair with all things Eighties, including its models.

With contracts from Chanel to Escada, open any fashion magazine and it’s as if Christy never went away. Returning to modelling after a career break spent furthering her education at NYU and Columbia University, her resurgence is about more than a nostalgic fashion industry paying lip-service to a once-great career.

Christy’s gravity-defying bone structure has made her comeback totally credible. Advertisers wanting sell lipstick to consumers over 40 can use her, but she can still go toe-to-toe with the younger girls. Not aligning herself with any particular trend has meant that Turlington is able to slot back into modelling like she never left in the first place.

The term ‘classic’ often gets a bad rap in fashion circles (a little too safe), but when it comes to modelling, classic beauty lasts the course long after the fads have gone. When Yves Saint Laurent said that ‘fashions fade, but style is eternal’, he could have very easily been talking about Christy Turlington.

Once part of the modelling trinity (Turlington, Campbell and Evangelista), Turlington found the level of fame induced by her popularity a double-edged sword. It brought her work, and plenty of it, but she had no enthusiasm for the fame game itself, disliking intensely the tag ‘supermodel’ and everything it stood for. The expectation of acting like a diva sat uneasily with Christy, who preferred being ‘the nice girl’, even picking up after herself at runway shows and hanging clothes back on rails when she was done.

It is therefore not surprising that Christy chose to take a break at the very height of her career. Aged 25, Turlington took a sabbatical and went to New York University to study art history. The move baffled industry insiders, but to Christy, who had been modelling since her teens, it made perfect sense. She was on a search to find meaning and purpose in her life.

She found it. Inspired by the Russian and Islamic religious paintings she studied during art history classes, Turlington transferred to a Comparative Religion course. Exploring different types of spirituality showed Turlington, in her own words, ‘how we are all connected. It was an awakening for me on so many levels.’

Her search for meaning, as she returned to modelling after graduation, came full circle in 2005 when she was asked to become the ambassador for humanitarian organisation CARE. Now undertaking a Masters in Public Health at Columbia University, Christy’s enthusiasm for this cause is self-evident in every interview she gives.

On her return to modelling in her late thirties, it is striking to see how Christy’s newer photo shoots differ from her earlier work. Look closer, beneath the make-up and thousand-dollar clothes, and you will see a woman who is at the forefront of a new age where caring is no longer seen as the soft option.

Her photographs, while absolutely beautiful, have always been about something extra. It is not a chilly, aloof kind of beauty that keeps us looking at Christy. She has brought knowledge and experience with her which takes a fashion shoot beyond the pedestrian. The former art history student is now creating art herself.

Christy has always done things differently, and when she chose to return to modelling, she did so on her own terms. Christy has become her own woman in the intervening years, and as a result, has become a better model.

Not many careers enjoy second acts, but Christy found favour again because she is using what she has learnt to make fashion more meaningful. In a recession age, the pursuit of meaning beyond the dazzle of a brilliant career is longer seen as pretentious. It is becoming essential.

By not compromising who she is, Christy has become not only one of the world’s leading models, but a real life role-model - and there is nothing more beautiful than that.

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