Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington on the Versace catwalk in Milan, 1991 Photo: REX
“There will never be anything like the era of the supermodel again,” declares renowned photographer Peter Lindbergh, thumbing absent-mindedly through a magazine in front of him.
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We are at Silhouette’s recent Icon for an Icon campaign launch in Paris; a beautiful black and white film of his shoot with Cate Blanchett is projected onto the wall behind him. I ask him to elaborate: “They were more than a group of models, they were carrying a message and represented a lot of things at the same time. It was extraordinary.”
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Credited with launching the Supermodel phenomenon of the nineties and hailed as a visionary by designers Karl Lagerfeld and Calvin Klein and US Vogue editor Anna Wintour amongst others, Peter Lindbergh certainly knows a thing or two about the fashion industry. His black and white photographs are famed for their honest depiction of the world’s most iconic models in simple clothing and with minimal make-up. From Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington, to Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell, it’s safe to say that his is the camera that launched a thousand faces.
Cate Blanchett captured by Peter Lindbergh for Silhouette
But, for Lindbergh, the women have always been the focus. “For me every photograph is a portrait,” he explains, “the clothes are just a vehicle for what I want to say. You’re photographing a relationship with the person you’re shooting, there’s an exchange and that’s what that picture is”.
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His most recent campaign for Silhouette is no exception. The brand, whose rimless glasses have always championed simplicity, paired Lindbergh’s minimalist style with the natural beauty of Hollywood A-lister Cate Blanchett to great effect.
“The most important part of fashion photography, for me, is not the models, it’s not the clothes,” he continues, defending the increasing use of actresses in fashion campaigns. “It’s that you are responsible for defining what a woman today is. That, I think, is my job.”
The man behind the camera, Peter Lindbergh
Lindbergh attributes the rise of the supermodel to Anna Wintour’s arrival at American Vogue. “In 1988 everything was beautiful and glamorous, but there were these other women, they had balls, they had brains, they put their hair back and wore no make up, that was it. That was the change.”
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He goes on, “then, Anna Wintour came to US Vogue, saw my pictures and said that that was exactly what she wanted to do. She gave me the cover and that was the switch, in a matter of months, from waste paper bin to cover.”
So what became of the era of the supermodels? “In the beginning those women were a revolution,” he explains, “there were ten faces ruling the world, but those ten faces were eventually corrupted by the beauty and fashion industries. They lost all of that freshness, all of the independence and simply became what the women in magazines had been before.”
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According to Lindbergh those days are over; “since then the image of a woman has been turned totally upside down. Today, you could easily put a group of models in a room: Lara Stone, Gisele, you could have them together in five minutes, but they represent nothing new, they are already there.”
So, although it appears that the era of the supermodel, as defined in the nineties, may never return, is there not even a little glimmer of hope? I put this to Lindbergh. “Maybe now if the industry had had enough of all the current models,” he muses, “and you could find the five most romantic new faces out there, that totally change our perspective of beauty, then maybe it could happen. Just maybe”.