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Evangelista!

Supermodel Linda Evangelista loves her job, a glass of wine and a good cigar.
Mervyn Rothstein
From the Print Edition:
Linda Evangelista, Autumn 95

Click.

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.

Click.

Her head tilts, barely. Her smile, unchanging yet real, radiates an unconventional beauty; not a classic blonde mannequin but a living, breathing, intense individuality.

Click.

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.

Click.

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.

Click.

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.

"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.

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