There’s a reason we just can't quit the ’90s.
As a culture, we’re deeply nostalgic, especially when it comes to fashion. We live in a circular universe: What goes around comes around, and it will probably come around a second and third time, too. Some events, however, have a magic that can’t be replicated, and the kismet connection of the original supermodels—Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, and Christy Turlington—fits under that category.
Their simultaneous rise to fame and subsequent conquering of the fashion industry are documented in a glossy new documentary from directors Roger Ross Williams (Love to Love You, Donna Summer) and Larissa Bills (On Pointe), simply titled The Super Models. The four-part film (available to stream via AppleTV+ on September 20) details each model’s origin story (Crawford from Illinois, Campbell from London, Turlington from California, and Evangelista from Canada) and, perhaps more strikingly, delves into the close friendship they formed on their way to the top.
“I liken it to summer camp. They were teenagers when they started their careers and were thrust in such a unique environment, and they have this shared experience in the fashion world that nobody else will ever have,” Larissa Bills tells Harper’s Bazaar by way of London. “It’s incredible to see how long this relationship has lasted. You could also say it’s like high school. They were teenage girls together and their school was fashion. Their school was the greatest ateliers in the world—it was in Paris, London, Milan. That was their education and their school. So they had a very particular education that will always bond them together.”
According to the directors, getting the four women to open up for the cameras was easy—not to mention inherently glamorous. “We met with each of them without cameras in person when we first started this project,” Bills explains. “We flew out to L.A. and just hung out with Cindy in Malibu, and [her daughter] Kaia’s playing with the dog, and Randy [Gerber] is laying by the pool, and we’re just part of the family. Then Cindy is showing me around her office and pointing out her favorite [Richard] Avedon photos hanging on the wall. Imagine having all your family portraits on the walls, but they’re shot by Arthur Elgort and Patrick Demarchelier and Peter Lindbergh.”
Underneath the glamour, though, the models were surprisingly accessible.
“Weirdly, they are relatable as women,” Bills continues. “When they started to speak and when they started to tell their stories or just talk about their daily lives over the course of this production, they became so much more human to me, which was really enlightening.”
The series as a whole is a must-watch for any fashion fiend. Many of the stories are now certified pop culture lore, but this is the first time all four women have appeared on film reflecting on the decade that defined their careers. The documentary doubles as a study in what it took to become a global celebrity in an era before social media.
“They were the original influencers,” says Ross Williams. “It was before the internet! Before dial-up! They had to do it all analog. They accomplished what they did by being beautiful and being everywhere, and [a moment like that] will never happen again.
“This was a time where it was the merging of art and Hollywood and music and MTV. It was all coming together and they capitalized on that,” he continues. “They dated rock stars. They married movie stars. It was a time where they rose above fashion itself to become pop culture icons, and that was the first time that had happened. Now it’s all Instagram this and that, and everyone’s a supermodel now—but it all started with them.”
The docuseries covers it all, of course, including moments ironed into pop culture memory, like George Michael’s “Freedom! ’90” music video, the industrywide impact of the death of Gianni Versace, the infamous “I won’t get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day” sound bite, and the cult-favorite MTV show House of Style.
“Everything then was documented—up to the point where we essentially had too much material. A lot of times documentarians are like, ‘Oh God, we have no footage. What are we going to do—animation?’ But we didn’t have that problem, because it was all there,” says Ross Williams. “And we had to squeeze it into four hours.”
For some who witnessed their rise in real time, the supers served as a window into not only ’90s fashion, but also ’90s culture as a whole. “The exotic locations that they were shooting in and seeing them on red carpets—it was like they opened a world to all of us,” explains Bills. “They became the representatives of [culture] in some sense and transcended the fashion world and just became part of the orbit. They were our internet. They bought us the world through the pages of magazines. They bought us their lives and the world.”
Williams says that for him, Crawford, Campbell, Turlington, and Evangelista represented “excellence, beauty, and success”—the American dream if it wore haute couture.
“They would create art, and it would really be art,” he adds. “Everything is so fast and instant and Instagrammable now. But they bought us that glamour when we needed it most in our lives. They will forever be this global representation of power and glamour that we’ll always crave.”
Stream all four episodes of The Super Models on AppleTV+ on September 20.
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