Supermodel, mum, businesswoman: Is there anything Cindy Inc can't do?
This week, Cindy Crawford announced her retirement from modelling, telling United Airlines’ Rhapsody Magazine: ‘I’m sure I’ll have my picture taking for 10 more years, but not as a model anymore. And that’s okay. I’ve done it. I’ve worked with all these incredible photographers. What else do I need to do? I can’t keep reinventing myself. I shouldn’t have to keep proving myself. I don’t want to.’ The supermodel, mum and all-round superhero has done incredible things in her thirty-year career, so in honour of her fiftieth year, we take a look back at Cindy’s life story.
It’s a balmy autumn evening in Beverly Hills, LA, and a celebrity crowd has gathered for a tequila-fuelled 2015 Halloween bash. Singer Fergie rocks up as Karl Lagerfeld’s much-loved moggy Choupette, in a sheer white dress, fur stole and cat ears. She’s joined by Gwen Stefani, who’s dressed in a candy-coloured take on a country cowgirl, and Paris Hilton, booted up as a medieval warrior. But the braying paparazzi outside – and the newspapers the next day – are all focused firmly on the party’s hostess, Cindy Crawford.
Dressed in black leather hot pants, thigh-high leather boots, a Hells Angel vest, spiked leather choker and glossy Morticia Addams wig, the supermodel still has the killer curves that made her a star. It’s been an incredible three decades since she became the highest-paid model in the world, paving the way for a new era of supermodels that were as much about global brands as they were about catwalk moments.
This month, Crawford turns 50 – a milestone that prompted a book, Becoming, a highly personal ‘lessons learnt’ tome that looks back on her incredible career. It certainly wasn’t a future that she had planned as a young girl growing up in DeKalb, Illinois, but it was one that she carved single-handedly with an astounding work ethic and cast iron determination.
Born Cynthia Ann Crawford on 20 February 1996, she was the second of four children to John Crawford, an electrician, and his childhood sweetheart Jennifer Walker. It was an all-American upbringing, but when Cindy was eight, her carefree childhood was shattered when her younger brother Jeffrey was diagnosed with leukaemia. He died just weeks before his fourth birthday. Four years later, her parents divorced.The loss turned all three sisters into focused students (‘We would be good girls and make them proud,’ she has said of that time), while her mother’s unstable financial position as a single parent would give Cindy the steely resolve to earn her own money.
Teenage jobs included cleaning and shucking corn on local farms, before she began her modelling career aged 18, having been a runner-up in Elite Model Management’s Look Of The Year contest. ‘I was always working so hard, and I started so young,’ she’s said. ‘When I started modelling, I trated it like a job, not a lifestyle.’
The signs of that purposeful, straight nature were there from the start. Crawford’s first paid job, while still at high school, was a bra advertisement – her 36-26-35 figure and 5ft 9in frame were perfect for underwear ads. Despite her hectic schedule, she was a straight-A student, graduated top of her class and won an academic scholarship to study chemical engineering at university.
However, within the first term of college, her modelling career took off. She quit her course and worked with Chicago’s top fashion photographer, Victor Skrebneski, for two years, earning $200,000 (about £136,500).
In 1985, aged 19, Crawford left for New York. Then, her rise was stratospheric. ‘I applied myself to modelling the same way I had applied myself to school,’ she said. She was eager to learn, and learn she did from a roster of big-name photographers, including Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Herb Ritts, Helmut Newton and Arthur Elgort.
During her first three years in New York, she graced 200 magazine covers and was well on her way to supermodel status. That mole which had put off so many agents just a few years earlier soon became a signature. And her steady professionalism has undoubtedly contributed to her longevity in an industry obsessed with the new. ‘Cindy is totally committed to making the picture happen,’ says creative director of 10 magazine Sophia Neophitou.
For Neophitou, Crawford also has the level-headedness to look beyond modelling. She was the first to recognise the power of her personal brand. She once turned down a job with Bruce Weber and Calvin Klein because her face wouldn’t be seen in the ads. She understood that she could promote herself and still land big-money contracts. ‘She has always had the magic dust and that has stood her though the test of time. But she’s also smart,’ adds Neophitou.
Crawford was setting a new beauty ideal, too – her voluptuous figure was perfectly in sync with the powerful aesthetic that dominated the late 80s and early 90s. ‘I never had a typical model’s figure,’ she has admitted. ‘It’s testament to the photographers that I worked with that, instead of making me feel self-conscious or telling me I should lose weight, they gave me confidence in my body by showing me how beautiful it was.’ When she started out, she was a girl next door with an other-worldly figure; a fact amplified by the exercise videos that she compiled with her personal trainer in the 90s, which sold in their millions. She was the poster girl for brands like Pepsi, which famously cast her in its ads wearing denim hot pants and a tight vest, much to the glee of boys and men across America.
Of course her personal life was just as riveting. Richard Gere was a huge Hollywood star by the time Crawford met him via their mutual friend Herb Ritts in 1987, and they got together at a barbecue that Ritts hosted for Elton John. Crawford was 21, Gere, 38. In December 1991, the couple were married with makeshift tinfoil rings at The Little Church Of The West in Las Vegas with just two guests and diner pancakes for their wedding breakfast. But the fairy tale didn’t last, and the pair were divorced four years later.
But during their relationship, her career flourished. In 1988, she posed for Playboy – an incredibly risky move for a successful fashion model. The following year she negotiated a multimillion-dollar contract with Revlon in a partnership that would last more than a decade. She also realised there was a market for her curves outside of fashion, and launched her own swimsuit calendars, too.
Just as her first Revlon ads emerged, Crawford took another career risk as the host of a debut fashion show on MTV, House Of Style. She would interview her supermodel pals – in one episode, she chatted with Naomi Campbell, Kristen McMenamy and Linda Evangelista as they trawled through the thongs and bra fillers in their kit bags. She would try on dresses at Sears with Simon Le Bon, or hang out with rock stars. She fronted the show for six years, bringing high fashion into living rooms across the globe.
By 1994, Crawford was clocking up earnings of around $7 million (about £4.7 million) a year, and Vanity Fair dubbed her Cindy Inc. The following year, she was the world’s highest-earning supermodel. But she was ready for a new chapter in her personal life. Soon after her divorce from Gere, a friendship with ex-model and nightclub entrepreneur Rande Gerber turned into romance. The pair married in May 1998 in the Bahamas. The wedding had been kept secret until just a few days before – even her stylist had simply been asked to source black and white dresses for a party. Crawford wore one of them – a lace-trimmed silk slip by John Galliano – to the ceremony. ‘I wore very little make-up and my hair in beachy waves,’ Crawford recalls. ‘I wanted to look like the best version of the girl Rande loves waking up to.’
Crawford has described her husband of 18 years as gentlemanly and uncomplicated, and credited their relationship to the fact that they were friends before any romance. With their two children, Presley, 16, and Kaia, 14, the family are rarely out of the spotlight. Not least because of their starry friendships – most notably with George Clooney, who has been a friend and business partner for years. Crawford and Gerber attended Clooney’s pre-wedding brunch on the day of his marriage to Amal Alamuddin in Venice, and the couples often double date.
Yet, despite A-lister friends, on her days off you’ll find her in dressed-down denims at home in Malibu or holidaying in her lake house in Ontario. Today, she uses Instagram to promote her healthy body message and skincare range.
Perhaps her personality is best summed up by her reaction to the supposedly unretouched photographs – which were later discovered to be fake – purporting to show her with a wobbly mum-tum. She faced a choice: ‘It put me in a tough spot. I couldn’t come out against it because I [would be] rejecting these people who felt good about it, but I also didn’t embrace it because it wasn’t real.’ Another day, another situation expertly handled by a pro.