The first shot in The Super Models (Apple TV+) is of Naomi Campbell holding a mobile phone. We all know where that can lead (to a spell of community service at the NYC Sanitation Department, for one thing, after pleading guilty to assaulting her maid in 2007). Is this a sign that the makers of this four-part documentary are going to have sneaky fun with their subject?
Alas, no. This is not a fly-on-the-wall show, but an authorised biography of Campbell and her fellow supers Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington and Linda Evangelista. They are executive producers on the project, and no dirt is dished. It is an elegant, polished product.
You didn’t have to be a fashion aficionado to be aware of this quartet in the 1990s. There were others – Helena Christensen, the late Tatjana Patitz, Claudia Schiffer arriving a little later – but these four were superstars. Everyone had their favourite; Turlington was mine.
The series traces their rise chronologically. They discuss their backgrounds and their routes into modelling, then their experiences of global fame, taking us up to the present day. They were close friends. When reunited for a photoshoot in the last episode, the old magic is still there.
It functions well as a history documentary because, as British Vogue editor Edward Enninful points out, these days models are booked based on their Instagram follower count. Back then, models came up the traditional way, doing catalogue shoots and entering competitions. Before the supermodels, catwalk shows were for fashion journalists and buyers, and the media didn’t care about them. The supermodels changed the game. Their runway appearance for Versace, to the soundtrack of George Michael’s Freedom ‘90, was a sensation.
Turlington and Crawford speak intelligently about the fashion business – they are the ones who diversified their careers early, Crawford with her workout videos and deal for Pepsi (posing for Playboy, against her agent’s advice, was a shrewd move that widened her fanbase) and Turlington by going to university and working with charities. When fashion changed and Kate Moss ushered in the era of the waif, they were best-placed to navigate a different path.
They are all still beautiful. Watching this series, you find yourself scanning their faces for signs of ageing. Campbell and Crawford, by whatever means, look almost the same. Turlington has lines and remains gorgeous. Evangelista, as ever, is the most striking. But she is the sad story – after getting through treatment for breast cancer (she is seen here having chemotherapy), she had fat reduction surgery which went horribly wrong and left her disfigured. She is shaky and tearful. And Campbell? She still reigns over the fashion world and has undoubtedly faced down racism in her career. But she is allowed to gloss over her notoriously bad behaviour.
A more probing documentary would have asked more questions about this and about the darker side of the industry, and supplied more gossipy fun. This is the official, glossy history.
On Apple TV+ now