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She moves. She is slender, radiant; her close-cropped auburn hair sparkles against the bright, starkly white background, shifting ever so gently with the motion.
Her head tilts, barely. Her smile, unchanging yet real, radiates an unconventional beauty; not a classic blonde mannequin but a living, breathing, intense individuality.
A leg bends, ever so gracefully, at the knee. The white silk blouse, open at the collar, undulates flowingly, as if in a breeze, the folds as sculpturally flawless as a Michelangelo.
The eyes, limpid and crystal blue, narrow and mysterious, come sensuously alive, reflecting the photographer's flash with a million brilliant points of diamond light.
She moves again. A new position, minutely different from the one previous, yet just as flawless; every pose, every angle, every stance a model of perfection.
A model of perfection. Make that a supermodel of perfection. Because the model in question, finishing a long day's magazine-cover photo shoot at an East Fourth Street studio in downtown Manhattan, is Linda Evangelista.
In the intense, competitive, fast-lane world of fashion and modeling, with its glitz and glamour, celebrity and gossip, only a few of the best and most beautiful rise to and stay at the top. In recent years, there have been but a handful. They include Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, Christy Turlington. And Linda Evangelista.
For nearly a decade, Evangelista has graced the covers of Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Allure, Cosmopolitan, Mademoiselle, W and scores of other major magazines. She has starred in ads for Ralph Lauren, Chanel, Versace, Perry Ellis, Lanvin, Guy Laroche, Capezio, Bloomingdale's, Barneys New York, Donna Karan, Valentino, Calvin Klein and countless other top-name designers, as well as for perfumes such as Opium and Jil Sander. She and her companion, actor Kyle MacLachlan of "Twin Peaks" fame, are regulars in newspaper gossip columns and on television gossip shows. Even the well-known fashion writer Michael Gross (not one of her favorite people) has called her "the most accomplished model of her time."
Evangelista is sitting in the outdoor garden of a trendy Italian restaurant in Soho one muggy, late-spring evening, her 9-to-5 day of work over and a glass of ruby red Chianti resting before her. Just turned 30, but looking at least five years younger, she is getting ready to talk about what the life of a supermodel is really like. She will reveal that sometimes she must create an imaginary cocoon to shield her from the glare of success. She will reminisce about her childhood in Canada, just north of Niagara Falls, where she was raised in a working-class Italian Catholic family and where she began dreaming at age 12 of becoming a model. She will discuss the difficult early days of her career and what she had to do to rise to the top. And she will speak about cigars, because she smokes them and loves them.
But there is also another topic, a best-selling book called Model, by fashion writer Gross. Model describes the world of fashion, of models and supermodels, as rife with sex, drugs, mindless orgies and hard-nosed business brutality. He also has a few less-than-nice things to say about Evangelista. She does not really want to talk about the subject, which she finds unpleasant, but because she has been asked, she will.
"I have not read the book," she says. "I don't want to. But I do know his style of writing, and I do know that he has never had anything positive to say about me or about a lot of my colleagues and friends. And I can paint a picture for you right here of what I have seen in my career. I have never slept with anybody I did not want to sleep with. I have never slept with a photographer to get work. I have never slept with an art director. I've never had to sleep with anyone to get a job. That does not happen in this business. Maybe way down at the bottom of the ladder it does, but I didn't even see it there. No one forces you to sleep with them."
And as for drugs, she says, "Everyone knows I have never tried cocaine. I've seen it a couple of times, and I've walked away from it. I just say no, I'm not interested. I'm not saying I'm Miss Goody-Two-Shoes, but I never have used it, and I never will. Yes, drugs exist, but they exist everywhere, in every business. And people sleep with people in every business. This business is full of the most amazing characters and the most fun people. I don't see them hurting people, and I don't see them doing drugs."
Gross writes that "wags at Elite" have called her "Evilangelista" (and, indeed, some gossip columnists have accused her of being bratty and bad-tempered). But Evangelista says it just isn't so.
"He doesn't know me," she says. "He's never talked to me. If he wants to write about me, he should talk to people who really know me. I don't think they call me Evilangelista. I say 'sir' to my taxi drivers in the morning. I'm so nice to people when I go into stores because I'm afraid that something negative might get out. I'm Miss Polite. I'm not a slut. I'm not this awful person. I'm a businessperson. I do my job. I go to work, and I go home, and I have a very normal home life. It all makes me want to do a documentary and have a camera follow me from my bed all the way through a shoot and all the way home so I can tell my side of the story."
She pauses and takes a sip of wine. She has begun to tell her story--and in doing so she will be unfailingly polite. There is no trace of brattiness or bad temper apparent, and indeed, it is difficult to conceive of her ever being so. Her eyes, her face, her sinuous lips, her classically prominent cheeks radiate sincerity, just as her longish, thin nose makes apparent that she is a fashion model cut from a different cloth.
Part of that different cloth includes the appreciation of a good cigar. In fact, she loves cigars.
"I've always loved the smell of cigars," she says. "I have always been fascinated by them. My boyfriend is a cigar smoker. He reads Cigar Aficionado from front to back, and I've started reading it. I've started getting obsessed with the whole art of cigars, the different kinds, the rolling of the leaves. And I just think they're delicious. My favorite is the Cohiba panatela, even though it's small. I've tried every kind of Cohiba, and Montecristos and Romeo y Julietas. I love the Cohiba robusto, but I can't do the whole thing."
She has been smoking cigars for about two years. Her smoking buddies these days, in addition to MacLachlan, include Ronald Galotti, the publisher of Vogue, and Steven Florio, president of Condé Nast Publications, Inc. "I'm going to a party with Steve tomorrow night," she says, "so we'll probably smoke some there."
Her other favorite aspect of cigar smoking, she says, is the humidor. "They are the most beautiful objects. I buy them for Kyle. We have quite a few of them: Davidoffs, a Dunhill, a beautiful blue Hermès."
What does she appreciate most about a good cigar? She takes another sip of her Chianti. "It's like sharing a nice bottle of wine," she says. "It's comforting. When you pick one up, whatever you're doing changes for the better. And when you smoke, you're always doing it with friends."
You talk about the cigars you're smoking, she says, about how they taste and how they compare to others of the same brand you've smoked and to other brands you've smoked. You talk about the people you've smoked cigars with.
"You tell cigar stories," she says. "It's great fun."
Linda Evangelista's story begins in a city of 120,000 residents called St. Catharines, in the Canadian province of Ontario near Niagara Falls.
"It was my whole world," she says. "It was all I knew. Now, having traveled as much as I have, I don't consider it a very interesting place, except for my family and friends who are still there. It's very blue-collar. There's the car industry. Paper mills. Ship factories. A lot of steel. My father worked for General Motors."
She went to a Catholic elementary school and a Catholic high school. "I graduated from high school, but I didn't go on. Compared to all the stories I've heard from other people, I think I had the most normal upbringing."
Early on, though, her mind focused on modeling rather than academics. "From about the age of 12, I got it into my head that I wanted to be a model," she says. "I dreamed about it. I did not really think I could become one. I started with the women's fashion magazines. It was more the clothes than the actual modeling that fascinated me. I got every magazine. I would tear the pages out and dream."
Her mother made sure she was busy. "She kept me in all these extracurricular activities," Evangelista says. "I took accordion lessons and skating lessons and tap lessons. Then my dance school closed down, so she wanted to find something else for me to do. And people said, 'Oh, your daughter's really pretty. She's tall enough to be a model.' When I was 12, I was five foot eight. Now I'm five foot nine and a half. I thought I was going to be seven feet tall. And I had really big feet. They haven't grown since then."
So one day her mother took her to a local modeling school. "They interviewed me and said I could join the modeling class. But I think it was too expensive, so my mother enrolled me in the self-improvement class instead, which actually was not a bad thing. I laughed at it, but I learned how to set a table, how to get in and out of a car. I learned a lot of etiquette. Then I begged my mother to let me get into the modeling class. The school was the only way to get jobs."
The jobs she got, though, were not exactly high-paying. "I don't know how much money it cost my mom, but I think that, with the price of makeup and the classes, I probably grossed about $100 a year. It was real small-time. I would go to fashion shows. I would be the bridesmaid. I would have rehearsals and fittings, and I would get $20. She would take the day off from work and drive me to Hamilton to do a store catalog for $8 an hour, and it would be for two hours."
When Evangelista was 15, the modeling school entered her in the Miss Teen Niagara Pageant. "I didn't place at all," she says, "but there was a scout from the Elite model agency in the audience who gave me his card afterward and said that if I was ever interested, I should give him a call and he would test me and send my picture to New York."
She decided, though, to remain in school. And a year later, she had an experience that almost turned her off modeling for good.