A History of Fashion’s Faces
A History of Fashion’s Faces

July 18, 2012

Wall Street Journal

Marshall Heyman


No matter what statistics you throw down, how many times you put Anne Hathaway, Mila Kunis and Emma Stone on your magazine covers, how regularly you import gorgeously androgynous 15-yearold girls from Eastern Europe to walk your high fashion runways in Milan, Paris and London, supermodels aren’t going away. Their tenacity always keeps them crawling back. To Broadway; to product lines at Kmart; to documentaries.

That sentiment is made patently clear in the photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’s new film “About Face: Supermodels Then and Now,” which features interviews with several aging fashion models, including Cheryl Tiegs, Christie Brinkley and Isabella Rossellini. And that sentiment was made patently clear on Tuesday where the film was given a New York premiere at the Paley Center for Media. (It will be shown on HBO on July 30.)

Several of the (former?) supermodels featured in the movie—though not, as it happens, Ms. Tiegs, Ms. Brinkley or Ms. Rossellini—stormed this Midtown Bastille, pretended to nibble on mini-lobster rolls and hamburgers and spoke outwardly about their lives perpetually in front of the flashbulbs, many of which, by the by, were present to capture the proceedings.

How did Mr. Greenfield-Sanders settle on this topic anyway? “He went to a party and he saw all these beautiful girls,” said the ’60s Avedon muse China Machado, who is working on a memoir tentatively titled “I Was Always Running After the Laughter” and is a subject of at least two other documentaries.

The hairstylist Harry King “gave a Facebook party for all of his model friends,” said Mr. Greenfield-Sanders, “And I just thought,

‘This would be an interesting film.” He added that making a feature is much more challenging than shooting a portrait of one of these famous ladies. “There’s music, there’s what’s behind them, there’s all the machinations of getting someone to show up on set,” Mr. Greenfield-Sanders explained.

“For my photography, there’s just a backdrop and a light. Filmmaking is freaking hard.”

How did he like working with Ms. Machado? “She wouldn’t stop talking,” he joked.

“Oh, please,” Ms. Machado responded.

“She was perfect,” Mr. Greenfield-Sanders said. Everyone was low-maintenance, he added. “Isabella Rossellini showed up with a backpack off the subway.”

Bethann Hardison, the model agent and former model, was initially hesitant to participate in the movie because she has been pursuing a documentary on the subject of race and diversity in the business. “Maybe it would interfere with my film,” Ms. Hardison remembered thinking. “But it was Timothy, and he said he would help me with my film, too.”

“Models today are not really models,” Ms. Hardison explained. “They don’t bring it to the table. When they walk down the runway, they’re controlled and they’re replaced very quickly. That’s part of the culture.”

Pat Cleveland, who turns 70 this year and is of black, Cherokee and Irish descent, bristled at the suggestion that she might have been on the fence about lending her story to “About Face.”

“Why would I be hesitant?” she asked. “Never turn down the opportunity to work with an artist. Artists make us see things.

Timothy gave me the opportunity to look deep into his camera. And I learned that the other girls, the other models, had a lot of problems, too.”

Then Ms. Cleveland introduced us to her friend, the writer Tom Eubanks—”We’re working on my autobiography,” she said—and her husband, the photographer Paul Van Ravenstein, with whom she’s working on a documentary about her mother, the artist Ladybird Cleveland.

The only model hanging around who actually seemed not to be working on a documentary was 51-year-old, Flushing-born Carol Alt. But that may be because she has a part in Woody Allen’s “When in Rome” and has been pushing her latest raw food cookbook “Easy, Sexy, Raw.” A raw food diet, Ms. Alt explained, is her secret to making it to 51 without plastic surgery.

“The truth is,” Ms. Alt broke it down, “I’ve done 65 films and I’ve never sat through one of my movies. I’ve played Anna Karenina and a druggie. But this one, ‘About Face,’ I’ve seen five times. For me, it’s not about aging, but the history of modeling. There are these milestones that each of us experienced. When I started modeling, they weren’t giving covers to brown-haired girls. Only blondes.”

“The truth is, I’ve seen it so many times that now I know everyone’s dialogue by heart,” she said. “I have a photographic memory. It’s my specialty.”

Marshall Heyman at marshall.heyman@wsj.com

More in: Article