Supermodel Linda Evangelista loves her job, a glass of wine and a good cigar.
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She decided, though, to remain in school. And a year later, she had an experience that almost turned her off modeling for good.
"These people from Japan came to my hometown agency and said they were looking for girls for the summer in Tokyo, and I was the chosen one, the only one they wanted. I got so excited. I said I was going to go and do it on my own. So I went to Japan, and when I got there I completely panicked. The accommodations were disgusting, and they started throwing questions at me like 'Will you do nude?' It was overwhelming. After one day I said I didn't want to be a model. The Canadian Embassy got me out, and everything was fine, but I dropped the whole modeling thing and went back and finished high school."
After graduation, her mother suggested that she try again. But it was not easy. "She said I should call the guy who gave me the card. I was terrified, but I said, 'All right, I'll do it.' I came to New York, and at first they were very excited about me. But things didn't happen quickly. I thought I was doing OK. I got a couple of bookings, and I was overwhelmed to get those. I even made $600 on one job. But I guess my agency was very frustrated. They said I should try Europe, because it wasn't working out here." ("I didn't really have myself together," she once recalled. "I still had baby fat, and the hair was a problem.")
She moved to Paris in 1984 and began working right away, "at the bottom of the ladder." The climb was slow. "It was three years before I got a booking with Vogue," she says.
The people at Elite in Paris were not enthusiastic about her, she says. "And if you don't have a booker or manager who believes in you, you're not going to get anywhere." She left. She met an important fashion executive, Gérald Marie, and she went to his agency--and with the switch, her move to the top began. (Evangelista and Marie were married in 1987 in her hometown; they separated in 1992.)
Her career acceleration was swift. The magazine covers began coming, and once they began they never stopped. Marie's firm merged with Elite, and Evangelista was back with her original New York agency.
Now her face, and especially her hair, are going to become even more familiar to her appreciative public. Evangelista recently signed on as the official Clairol spokesmodel, specifically for its Ultress hair tint.
It's a multiyear, multimillion-dollar contract--the gossip columnist Cindy Adams wrote that it would bring in between $5 million and $7 million, plus percentage. Evangelista's agent, however, would not provide the official figures.
The deal involves magazine ads and television commercials worldwide and seems particularly appropriate for Evangelista: Ultress comes in 33 shades, and the supermodel is widely known as the "chameleon" of hair styles and colors. She reportedly has changed her coloring a dozen times in five years, going from platinum to red, with many stops in between. In the first four ads, Evangelista reportedly is light blonde, dark blonde, red-brown and auburn.
To Evangelista, her success is more than she ever expected. "I certainly never dreamed this high," she says. "My dream wasn't being a supermodel. They didn't even use that word when I started. My dream was to wear the clothes."
And she most certainly enjoys wearing them. "I love modeling," she says. "I know it sounds so corny, but everyone who works with me knows how much I love my job. I'm not going to say I don't do it for the money. Yes, it's become all about money. But I do it because I love my job. And you don't hear a lot of models saying they love their jobs."
The privacy of photographic work is what she prefers, rather than walking down a runway with hundreds of people watching and scores of flashes flashing. "I'm not that crazy about the runway," she says. "I don't think I'm a great performer in front of a live audience. I prefer being in the studio with people I know in a closed environment."
She readily admits that there is a negative side to success and celebrity, to the barrage of publicity and to being constantly in the public eye. And she has adopted a strategy to deal with the problem, when necessary. "I worked in, of all places, Wall Street, on the street at lunchtime, right in the middle of all those people, and I had so many eyes on me," she says. "But I just don't see them. I sit there in this little cocoon. I have to put myself in a cocoon. I'll be out with a group of friends, and they'll say, 'Oh, that table's staring at us.' But I don't see them."
It is, however, not always that difficult. "It's not that I'm recognized all the time on the street," she says. "After all, a lot of people don't give a damn about models. They don't read fashion magazines, and they don't know who we are. And most of the time people who see me think I just look like Linda Evangelista."
The pace of success can also be wearing. "Sometimes I feel like I'm going to cry," she says. "It's just amazing that my schedule is so jam-packed. There's not a day off in sight. I told myself a couple of years ago that I would start allowing time for myself and maybe work three weeks and take 10 days off, or work two weeks and take a week off. But that's not happening. I've just done four weeks straight. I had the weekend off. My first weekend off in some time."
There is, though, a reason for all that activity--a very important reason. "You do that because you're like an athlete," she says. "You say that your time is now; it's not in 20 years."
But, she says, the relentless march of time in the fashion business has eased somewhat in recent years; the shelf life of a model, especially of a supermodel, is much longer than anyone would have imagined a decade or so ago. "I used to think there was this clock ticking over my head," she says. "The longest career span was three years. But I started at the same time as many other top models, and we're still here. We're still working. And I never, ever thought that would happen."
She pauses for a moment, takes another sip of her Chianti, the ruby red in the glass just a little brighter than the red of her lips. "I think a lot of things have changed for the better in the fashion industry," she says. "I'm so proud of the fact that we don't have to be the stereotypical button-nosed, blue-eyed blonde beauty, that we don't all have to be five foot nine. You can be whatever height and still be beautiful. You can be whatever race and still be beautiful. And you can be whatever age now, and I think that's wonderful.
"We're like old shoes now," she says of herself and her supermodel compatriots. "Yes, you buy new ones. New ones are fabulous. You wear the new ones. But every once in a while you go and put on the old ones. Because they're comfy. And they fit. And they make you happy. And I think that's what happens in our business. They bring us back."
There's something to say for the thirty-something generation, she says, even though youth also has its advantages. "New models are incredible to watch, because they do things that are so different. But at the same time, if there's a problem with the garment, I know how to fix it with my body. It's just that practice makes perfect. I don't mean I'm perfect, but I've gotten better, much better, at what I do."
She is, she believes, much better in other ways, too. "I don't have a problem with turning 30," she says. "All my friends turned 30 and were completely freaked out by it. But I was happy to turn 30. I would never want to be 22 again. I've grown, and I've learned a lot. I like myself better now than I did back then. I'm not in such a rush anymore. I used to be in such a rush for everything. There's still much to improve on, but I'm content."
She has, for instance, no burning desire to do what several other models have tried to do--make it in the movies. "I'm not going to say I'm not interested, but my dream was to be a model. It wasn't to be an actress. I don't think all models become great actresses. I get offers, but the stuff I've been offered is not anything I would care to do. If a beautiful script falls from the sky, and it has a major star and a major director, of course I would say I'm interested. But I think people who are born to act should be actors. I don't know if I was born to act."
Part of her contentment comes from her personal life. Her relationship with MacLachlan began in late 1992. She has just bought a house in Greenwich Village, but her main home is in California's Hollywood Hills, where she heads whenever she has time off. And where she loves to cook.
"Basically, you'll find me in the kitchen," she says. "Mostly Italian or healthy Mexican food. Very healthy food: turkey burgers and stir-fry. All my favorite dishes I can't eat, like pizza and pasta. I love pasta."
Her other hobbies include gardening, playing the accordion and photography. "When I'm home, I'm busy editing photos and printing them and working on them. But basically, when I'm not working I really just veg out. And then I end up doing all the stuff I was supposed to do and all the chores--the banking, seeing the accountant, the dry cleaning." She smiles. "And every once in a while I will get a facial."
She adores wine. "I'm really into wine," she says. "I have at least a glass a day. Sometimes two. Sometimes more. I especially like French wine. My favorite is Lynch-Bages. Actually, my favorite is Petrus, but I can't afford to drink it every day."
Pretty soon, though, considering her still growing success, Petrus may well become an everyday event. And so may a good cigar.
She takes a final sip of her wine. The interview is over. She gets up, pushes away her chair, and heads out of the garden. Heads turn. Linda Evangelista, supermodel, is making her exit, graceful as ever. She is something to appreciate, and to be appreciated. A model of perfection.
Mervyn Rothstein is an editor at The New York Times and a frequent contributor to Cigar Aficionado and Wine Spectator.