THE BLOG

Happy Birthday, Linda Evangelista! The Original Supermodel Turns 50 And Is Happy About Aging

05/08/2015 02:49 pm ET | Updated May 08, 2016
Larry Busacca via Getty Images

"Linda Evangelista defined a new breed of model and unprecedented fame for them," argues High50's Alexa Baracaia. Now, turning 50 on Sunday, she's embracing aging, saying, "I don't care how old I look but I want to look good."

Reason to love Linda Evangelista number one: No, not the "only getting out of bed for $10,000" thing. That was always a bit meh.

But yay to, "I do want to age, that is my goal. I want to get old." The original 'super' has declared: "I don't care how old I look but I want to look good. I have wrinkles. I look my age."

She looks like a supermodel, also, but we applaud the sentiment. One can, you see, have wrinkles and (gasp!) still look good.

When Linda, Naomi, Christy And Cindy Ruled The World

Looking good, of course, is Linda's thing. In the days before being a top model meant gurning while simultaneously falling out of posho nightclubs with ex-girlfriends of heirs to the throne thrice removed, Evangelista and her band of fellow glamazons -- Naomi, Christy, Cindy, and (nope, not Kate) the one they all forget, Tatjana Patitz -- ruled the world.

The Big Five, most famously captured in black and white on the cover of January 1990's British Vogue, were icons of an era. Handpicked by photographer Peter Lindbergh for the shoot, all had strutted their way into the public consciousness from the mid-1980s.

These women dominated the runways, the glossies, the big ad campaigns. As Michael Kors once put it: "Christy and Linda and Cindy and Naomi are movie stars. They're the pin-up girls of the '90s."

"It was almost the female equivalent of Sinatra's Rat Pack," says Paul Wilmot, former head of PR at Calvin Klein. And in 1992, fashion journalist Suzy Menkes decreed Evangelista "the world's star model." Who else but Evangelista could declare of superstar photographer Mario Testino, "I gave Mario his break. I used him for a Vogue cover in Germany"?

We Don't Wake Up For Less Than $10,000 A Day

Which takes us, inevitably, to that $10,000 dollar question. When Evangelista uttered the infamous words to Vogue in October 1990 (actual quote: "We don't wake up for less than $10,000 a day") it caused a huge stir. Was this the 'let them eat cake?' of an over-primped, overpaid catwalk strutter or, as she later insisted, a mere quip gone wrong?

In truth, she was understating reality: Barely months later, Christy Turlington received $800,000 for 12 days' work as the new face of Maybelline. And in 1991 it was estimated that Evangelista had pocketed $20,000 for walking the runway for Lanvin's spring/summer couture show.

She later bemoaned the furor that followed her comment: "I feel like those words are going to be engraved on my tombstone. It was brought up every single time I did an interview. I apologized for it; I acknowledged it; I said it was true; I said it was a joke. Do I regret it? I used to regret. Not any more. I don't regret anything any more. Would I hope that I would never say something like that ever again? Yes. Am I capable of saying something like that again? I hope not."

Linda's Route To Supermodel Status

Joke or no joke, it reflected a rags to riches rise for the daughter of devoutly Catholic, working class, Italian immigrant parents.

She was born in Canada to father Tomaso, who worked for General Motors, and mother Marisa, a bookkeeper. Her first taste of the fashion world came when she attended a self-improvement school at 12, where the joys of poise and etiquette were on the curriculum and she was advised to try modeling classes.

At 16, a brief attempt at international modeling came to an abrupt end with an iffy nude experience.

"I was chosen by a Japanese agency to go over to Japan for the summer to work," she recalls in Interview magazine.

"My parents were strict Italians who didn't let me go out past ten o'clock, and I had to choose between going out Friday or Saturday night and was not allowed to have a boyfriend. But they said OK. I got there and it was a catastrophe. They wanted me to take my clothes off and shoot me naked. It was a nightmare and I panicked and basically the Canadian Embassy helped me out."

Nevertheless, that same year, while competing in a Miss Teen Niagara beauty pageant, she was spotted by a talent scout for Elite Model Management.

A Move To New York And The Big Time

In 1984, she moved with the agency to New York -- where she lives today -- then to Paris, where she scored her first major fashion cover at 19 for L'Officiel, a fresh-faced shot of the model swathed in fur.

A year later, she began working for Karl Lagerfeld (whose notion of a compliment is to say of Evangelista: "You can play her like you can play no other instrument") then as muse to Gianni Versace and fashion lensman Steven Meisel.

In 1988, fatefully, she got herself a gamine crop on the advice of Peter Lindbergh, a move that nearly cost her career when she was unceremoniously ditched from 16 fashion shows.

But so blows the fickle wind of fashion and by 1989 The Linda was 'the Look', emulated by all from Demi Moore to -- as Evangelista herself wearily put it -- "every stewardess, every salesclerk and in every restaurant."

It was also the cut that catapulted her to superstardom. "Sure, I like my short hair," she told People magazine. "It also quadrupled my rate."

Still Selling Out Magazines

More than 800 cover shots and a quarter of a century on, Evangelista is still stalking the covers of Vogue and modeling for the likes of Moschino and Dolce and Gabbana. (See her Hudson's Bay campaign earlier this year.) And last September, she appeared on the front of Harper's Bazaar, an issue swiftly described as "Harper's biggest ever".

Married to the then-boss of Elite Paris, Gerald Marie, in 1987, and divorced six years later, Evangelista has had tabloid-titillating relationships with actor Kyle MacLachlan, French soccer player Fabien Barthez and Hard Rock café founder Peter Morton.

In 2006 she had a baby boy, Augustin, at first refusing to reveal the father, then five years later filing court papers naming French billionaire Francois-Henri Pinault, now the husband of actress Salma Hayek. A high-profile child support case was launched, with Evangelista claiming Pinault had never supported her son. Several days in, the pair reached an out-of-court settlement.

These days she juggles motherhood with modeling and a role as guest judge on Australia's Next Top Model, as well as working as an activist for HIV/AIDS research and breast cancer awareness.

"I've only left [Augustin] a handful of times -- for three days maximum. I can't leave him. I'm hands-on, and I have separation anxiety. I admire women who are able to do their job and come back, but I need to be with him.

"I'm still going as strong as I would like it to be," she adds. "I do not work every day. I am not up for every job. There's a place for me... I'm presented with offers, and if it's right for me, I do it."

Related Articles From High50