Still Super
Red February 2003

interview: Liz Thody

Fashion in known for being a bitchy industry, so the idea that three of the original supermodels could have stayed friends for nearly 20 years may be surprising. But despite their different backgrounds, and living thousands of miles apart, all-American Cindy Crawford, 36, South Londoner Gail Elliott, 40, and Oxford-bred Yasmin Le Bon, 37 [corrected - the original article read 39], are as close as when they met in the 1980s. They stay in touch mostly by phone, looking out for each other during the bad times - Cindy's 1995 divorce from Richard Gere, Gail losing her first husband to cancer - and enjoying the good. Right now, it's domestic bliss all round. Yasmin has three daughters, Amber, 13, Saffron, 12, Tallulah, eight, with Duran Duran frontman Simon Le Bon. Cindy has been married to bar developer Rande Gerber for four years, and they have two children, Presley, three, and Kaia, one. Together with Helena Christensen, both were bridesmaids at Gail's 1998 wedding to writer and filmmaker Joe Coffey. We caught up with them on a rare reunion, at the idyllic Parrot Cay resort in the Turks and Caicos islands in the West Indies.

Is it easy to make friends in the business?

Yasmin I think so. Keeping them is harder.
Gail I don't have that many friends at all. My friends live in different countries - these two live in California and London.
Yasmin That's the problem - we all live in different places and everyone is travelling. None of us have that many friends.
Cindy But then you might not see them again for a year.
Yasmin We wanted to enjoy modelling, make it easy for each other. The shows, for example - it's a young girl's game because of the levels of stamina required. Now, I couldn't possibly do what we used to put ourselves through.
Gail I've done 27 shows in one season in Milan before, and I'm sure the others have, too.
Cindy Every day, someone has a meltdown.
Yasmin It takes just one more person to scream your name, or try and grab you, and that's it. I'd turn from a reasonable person into an absolute monster.

Do you each have a role in the group?

Yasmin Gail is the one who calls people, keeps the relationships going. She's always been the person who we all lean on. If it was down to me...
Cindy I'm too much of a hermit.
Yasmin ...we'd all be strangers by now.

Has work ever put a strain on your relationships?

Yasmin No, never - we all had to travel. I'm an old married woman now - started modelling at 19, married by 21. Simon has always quelled my moments of insecurity. I only have to get on the phone and within seconds I have my reason for being.
Gail For us, it's fine. Joe loves travelling and meeting new people. In the past, though, I was married at 22, and I travelled constantly. Looking back now, I'm sure it made things worse. [Although she and her husband were separated, Gail nursed him through his illness.] Now, Joe and I are always together. He's a writer so he can bring a computer and work wherever we are.
Cindy It's probably hard to be my husband sometimes, but the great thing about Rande is that he has his own business, so even if some years he doesn't make as much money as me, he's thrilled.
Yasmin He's a very chilled, confident man - all three of them are. Simon's had years when he hasn't earned anything and other years I'd never be able to catch up, but it doesn't matter.

How has modelling affected the way you feel about your body?

Cindy It's weird for me. 'Cindy Crawford' is separate to me. I know 'Cindy Crawford' is successful, that there's something about her that works. I would say I was given good packaging. At 20 I couldn't really take responsibility for it; now I work out, eat right, I take care of myself. I'm not saying my body looks better now because to other people it might not, but I am more confident because I worked for it. My breasts aren't as high or full as they used to be, but I have more confidence than when I was 22.

Is confidence about knowing yourself?

Cindy Yes - I know this wrist is bigger, that this earlobe is lower, we know every freakish thing about ourselves, because people point them out. We feel better and stronger now, but the sad thing is, I bet each of us is looking at the other thinking, 'Oh she's so skinny!' When you're backstage with 40 girls and each one is amazing, you can't help it. I used to feel like a big cow backstage.
Gail Me, too.
Cindy They'd hand me Kate Moss's trousers and I'd be like [she holds up her fingers six inches apart, open-mouthed].
Yasmin I feel stronger, but physically I feel like I'm falling apart. Every day I get a new pain or ache and think, 'Oh, that will be a hip replacement in a couple of years!' [She laughs.]
Gail I would hate to be 10 years younger - I feel really comfortable about being the age I am now.

How have your attitudes to work changed?

Cindy I did Roberto Cavalli's show in Milan last March - I was still breastfeeding and I leaked all over the clothes! And during the fitting, I was just so sad because I wish I had appreciated how fun this is, 10 years ago. We have a great job - but you can't appreciate it when you're doing 27 shows a season... You don't have to prioritise any more, because you're looking at your priority - your kids. I am in the fortunate position not to have to work with people that I don't want to, but you can't have everything. I don't have to travel as much. If I bring them, it's a break but not relaxing. If I don't bring them, I feel guilty. I'm like every working mum, but as a model, you have no job security. I was fortunate because I had Revlon for 10 years.
Yasmin Which is why saying 'no' is hard. And you have to make the most of every day.

What would you tell your kids if they wanted to model?

Yasmin I'd have to be brutally honest with any of my own daughters, because it's a very hard business and if you're not going to be really successful then no, I wouldn't want them to. Modelling chooses you, you don't choose it. And it's hard work. You can't even say you have a headache.
Gail We've never called in sick.
Cindy I could name a hundred models who've called in with food poisoning!
Yasmin We were brought up in a generation that was professional. We were on time, did the job, made it as easy as possible.
Cindy My opinion is that before our generation, everyone was at Studio 54, doing drugs or whatever, but fashion wasn't the money making machine that it is now. In the 1980s, there was a lot of money but also it was a business, and everyone treated it like a business. There were always people who would turn up two hours late or whatever, but it was about money. And you had to treat it like a real job.

So what about when grunge happened in the early 1990s?

Cindy I had to restudy my whole way of modelling with the drugs thing. In the 1980s our hair was this big, our shoulder pads were this big, our skirts were this tight, where could it go from there? It could only go to the other extreme.
Gail But now every six months you see different girls. We were there for every single season for eight, ten years. These girls now don't. Gisele is the first person since the 1980s to have done what she's doing.
Cindy And Kate.
Gail OK, Kate. Kate changed modelling. She was the next generation.
Cindy Also every model has a publicist, a manager. Before our group, you were just a model. Even agencies didn't really comprehend that you would be around for more than five years. They didn't think long-term. And now every young model knows it's possible because of all of us laid that ground work.
Gail And now, all these girls know who to work with. It's so much more competitive now.
Yasmin I think a lot of them are in it purely for the money. It's very cold-blooded.
Cindy But I would never put down the girls who are in it for the money. I was in it for the money. And now I get paid a lot, and sometimes you arrive at a shoot and you haven't put on your face and your hair is a mess and you say don't worry, in two hours I'll look like Cindy Crawford, I promise.

Did anyone tell you how to invest your earnings, how to keep track of what you earn?

Gail Not me.
Yasmin Nothing.
Cindy It's terrible. They don't help you. You're nineteen years old and you're making a couple of hundred thousand dollars and they don't teach you.
Yasmin It's become so much better these days, and the agencies are so much more professional. I see girls, big girls, being chaperoned at shows or having agents there. I can't remember being chaperoned. We were on our own. Nowadays, it's so professional. You know who to call. In my day, they didn't even have a list of people you could call, you were really on your own. That much has changed and it's a good thing.