The Super Models director reflects on enduring legacy of iconic stars
Larissa Bills discusses the supermodel phenomenon and the "unique and inspirational" stories of Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford.
The idea to film a documentary about supermodels Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford, who all rose to fame in the late-'80s to the mid-'90s, has been floating around for some time.
Apple TV+’s The Super Models finally landed in the hands of Academy Award-winning producers Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, who brought Roger Ross Williams and Larissa Bills on board to co-direct.
RadioTimes.com spoke to Bills, who tells us she thinks the term “supermodel” relates more to a phenomenon rather than the four of them as individuals or as a group.
“It was this perfect stew of culture, fashion, music and celebrity combined with these incredibly beautiful, but alluring, women,” she says. “They not only had this incredible beauty, but they also had a sense of power and agency within themselves.”
The four-part documentary series charts their careers, from teens starting out in the industry to their mega stardom as they took on New York, and not only became as famous as the designers who styled them, but even made some of their careers.
“They were holding up whole brands. Christy was 20 and was the face of Calvin Klein. It’s a huge responsibility. They each had such wherewithal at such a young age,” Bills says.
The series views that timeframe through today’s lens, touching upon the sexism, racism and abuses that occurred when Linda, Christy, Naomi and Cindy were minors without chaperones on set, although they each had their own protectors looking out for them in the industry.
We often think of modelling as incredibly glamorous, and although it can be, it’s also emotionally and physically taxing.
“When you understand that these women sat in hair and make-up chairs for hours and hours and were poked and prodded and pinned in – you realise it’s hard. It’s actual work, it’s not just being beautiful and standing in front of a camera,” says Bills.
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“Linda was saying, ‘I don’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day.’ No one would question a man saying that. These women moved a lot of product for a lot of people who made a lot of money, and why shouldn’t they be paid what they’re worth? They broke that glass ceiling, and the fact they were able to do it on their terms is meaningful.”
Linda, Christy, Naomi and Cindy’s influence is still felt massively today, as proven by the calibre of industry names featured in the series – from designers Donatella Versace, Michael Kors, Anna Sui, and the late Dame Vivienne Westwood; to photographers Arthur Elgort, Martin Brading, and Peter Lindbergh; and fashion commentators Grace Coddington, Suzy Menkes and Edward Enninful.
“These people were truly gracious and truly wanted to do it. There’s such a loyalty there,” Bills says. “When one of the supermodels makes a call, things happen.”
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Plus, all four of them are still modelling in their fifties, recently gracing the cover of British Vogue’s September issue. “There’s this idea of ageing out of this industry, but their story is unique and inspirational,” says Bills.
Even in a saturated market where everyone can be a supermodel now or become famous on social media platforms like Instagram or TikTok, “they’re still the supermodels. Whether it’s back then or now, you know who we’re talking about.”
The Super Models is streaming now on Apple TV+. Sign-up for Apple TV+ for £6.99.
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