Wednesday, August 8, 2012

About Face: Supermodels Then and Now, on HBO

A group shot of the original supermodels -- photographs are by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and from HBO.
I recently enjoyed watching on HBO a documentary called About Face by photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders in which he interviews top models from the '70's and early '80's – the first supermodels. In fact, I plan to see it again, as HBO is running it through August. Greenfield-Sanders gathers up a stellar group to talk to including Christie Brinkley, Cheryl Tiegs, Jerry Hall, Karen Bjornson, Lisa Taylor, Beverly Johnson and Kim Alexis. I remember a lot of these women on the cover of Vogue when I was growing up. They perfectly captured the energy and beauty of American fashion and style which was exploding at the time with the likes of Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Bill Blass. The documentary offers a fascinating look into modeling and the world of fashion, and for me, who has a tender spot for that era, it was kind of like seeing old friends again.
Naturally, given the stature of these women, a subject of the documentary is aging and how growing older is perceived in the fashion and beauty business. The women have differing opinions about plastic surgery and medical efforts to look young.
The elegant and striking Carmen Dell'Orefice, now age 81, is all for it.
"If you had the ceiling falling down in your living room," she asks, "would you not go and have a repair?"
Paulina Porizkova, who was born in Czechoslovakia and is married to Ric Ozak, the lead singer from the band The Cars, disagrees, "To me the most beautiful thing there is in another human being is confidence, and nothing says 'I'm not confident' as much as Botox."
The glorious Jerry Hall, who is the daughter of a truck driver from Gonzalez, Texas, and had four children with Mick Jagger, also demurs.

"I think it's bad we have as role models people who are scary to small children," she says. (Hello, Joan Rivers!) "Why shouldn't we be allowed to age and why shouldn't we be respected for it?" she drawls in her wonderful Texan accent.

"It was about more than selling clothes and making money. It was about creating a beautiful world that you entered into." Jerry Hall

My favorite model to see again was Lisa Taylor who was in two iconic fashion photographs from that era. I took pictures of them both at a 2009 exhibit about models at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vogue fashion editor Polly Mellen worked on both of these shoots and I talked to her about these pictures when I interviewed her.
One by Helmut Newton shows Taylor wearing Calvin Klein and provocatively watching a man walk by,

and the other is by Arthur Elgort, and pictures Taylor, again in Calvin Klein, driving over the George Washington bridge.
Lisa Taylor was the epitome of a carefree American beauty which always looked perfect but effortless at the same time. Taylor now lives in California, and admits to the great doubts she had working as a model. "I really didn't think I could do anything," she says. She also talks about using drugs which were rife in the business and took their toll on her peers including Gia Carangi. "I'm really glad I didn't die in the process," Taylor states.

"For me it was about the picture. I felt I could communicate. How do you translate your experiences good and bad into something that's meaningful to yourself and to others." Dayle Haddon

These women are a part of the evolution of American fashion, and the story continues. Cheryl Tiegs, who was famous for her Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue covers, remembers some valuable advice: "My agent said to me - the key to beauty is to always be educating yourself, always learning something new and to have something to talk about. I never forgot that and I think that's how one ages beautifully."

Blog bonus, not one but two trailers:


Anonymous said...

I watched it last night.Thought it was eye-opening. Convinced me that surgery is more 'natural' than botox which robs all expression.
Still prefer aging gracefully,there is beauty in every age...its just different. Some of these beautiies I admired at their peak actually looked scary today.
Would love your take on this.

Bart Boehlert said...

Hi Sandra,
I prefer aging gracefully too. I saw Meryl Streep on Charlie Rose this week and I think she is so smart not to screw around with her face, like other actresses do. Though, I have to say, Carmen Dell'Orefice, who talks about her surgery in the documentary, looks naturally great. I think if you notice any work, then it is not successful; it should look natural. But as one of the women in this documentary correctly says, society requires women to look younger and I think that is wrong -

Renée Finberg said...

i can't wait to see it!

thank you

Gail, northern California said...

Thanks, Bart. I knew nothing about this documentary. Now set to record August 14. Thanks again. Should be interesting. I feel sad for women who think they need botox or surgery but if that's what they want to do, who am I to say they shouldn't?

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Loved that documentary! As Anna Magnani said to her cameraman, "Please don't take away my wrinkles. It took me so long to earn them." xxx

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Anne said...

Thanks for the post. I think they all look great still...and that something extra that caught the camera in the first place is still there. It's an internal something as well as physical beauty that creates a "super model" and that inner something is impervious to wrinkles.

Looking upon youth and beauty allows us to lose oursleves in it and that is part of the attraction. When youth and beauty fade somewhat, we are left with more of oursleves...and that is when society turns to the new icon of youth and beauty....a cycle endlessly repeated

Gail, northern California said...

Finally had a chance to watch the documentary, Bart. Very interesting. Some have aged beautifully without surgical intervention. They seem more at peace.

Rick said...

Looks interesting. Where's the gap tooth Lauren Hutton? As my cousin was a model in the 70's, I remember buying magazines with Hutton on the covers.

HG said...

Wonderful blog Bart. We're completely on the same wavelength. I moved to NYC in '80 and have had the joy of the decades that have followed. Helmut Newton (and all the models he's shot) have had a major influence on how fashion transcended from mere clothes to an art form. :)

Kind Regards,