On the original supermodel’s 57th birthday, we look back on the iconic photos and glorious runway feats that defined her success and reshaped fashion forever.

Linda Evangelista wears a blue jacket shirt over matching pants for Ralph Lauren, Spring 1996. Photo by JON LEVY/AFP/Getty Images.

“We don’t get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day.” 

It was the quote that sent shockwaves through the industry and beyond. The ‘let them eat cake’ of the twentieth century. Linda Evangelista’s unapologetic utterance epitomised – nay, encapsulated – the era of the supermodels, a never-before-seen troupe of women who were as outspoken as they were stunning. Her comment was one in a series of droll punchlines designed to silence prying journalists, which included the equally infamous “we don’t vogue – we are vogue”. Evangelista was, of course, referring to the dance style popular at the time, named after the magazine on which she would appear as many as 83 times throughout her illustrious career.

Like other glamazons known by their first names – Naomi, Claudia, Christy, and Cindy – Linda was a woman of Olympian beauty: an unforgivably sleek physique marked by stratospheric legs and feline features. Though her aquamarine eyes and radiant smile were enough to set her apart from even her most beautiful peers, what really made her stand out was her professionalism and sartorial nous. At the peak of her runway and editorial dominance, she was not only a media darling, but an industry treasure. Fashion stylist Paul Cavaco called her “the greatest collaborator,” while the late makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin claimed that he had “yet to meet another model was more involved in every aspect of her work”: “Her specialties were knowing what was best for her hair, makeup, styling, and lighting – and Linda was always right,” he wrote. Aucoin credits Evangelista with actualising her own success as an editorial goddess: “Many of the unforgettable images of this haunting beauty were, in great degree, due to her involvement.”

Christy Turlington, Aly Dunne, Kevyn Aucoin, Karen Alexander and Linda Evangelista (1990)

Aucoin’s account taps into Evangelista’s wider legacy as the model who made the job, well, super.  A shy girl from a working-class neighbourhood in Ontario, Canada, she pushed the envelope for what a model could do and should be, flexing her chameleonic physique to reinvent her image for the myriad designers who made her the centrepiece of runway shows and the face of their campaigns. Her first reinvention came in 1988, when she took the advice of photographer Peter Lindbergh, and had hairstylist Julien d’Ys cut her long, luscious locks into a gamine coif. Though immediately cancelled from nineteen shows, her risk-taking would pay off. The haircut became an international sensation and caught the attention of a man to whom she would become the muse: Steven Meisel.

The Meisel-Evangelista partnership remains one of the most enduring and fruitful, not just in fashion, but in photography more widely, recalling that between actress Marlene Dietrich and master of the moving image Josef von Sternberg. Together, they created some of the most memorable and provocative pictures of the 90s and 00s, feeding each other’s renown in their respective fields. 

The other significant partnership in Evangelista’s career is that with models themselves. Under her tutelage, they went from handsome canvases to fully fledged businesswomen. The oldest of her crop, she was like a big sister to Naomi Campbell (younger by five years) and Christy Turlington (younger by four), with whom she formed a triumvirate known in the industry as ‘The Trinity’. They were the most recognisable and sought-after models of their generation, commanding unprecedented fees to match the unprecedented sales which they helped to generate. 

Closing the Anna Sui SS 1994 show in babydoll dresses and marabou trim crowns, the Trinity brought down the house to rapturous applause. Source: Tumblr

A favourite of all the biggest names in fashion, from designers Karl Lagerfeld and Gianni Versace to editors Franca Sozzani and André Leon Talley, Evangelista did not just embody the supermodel mantra: she invented it. Confirming her legend three decades on, Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour recently told People magazine: “There was no model more super than Linda.”

In September 2021, after prolonged absence from the public eye and fashion scene, Evangelista bravely confessed to having been disfigured by a supposedly non-invasive cosmetic procedure known as CoolSculpting. As she sues the parent company, Zeltiq, and reclaims her life as well as autonomy over her image, we look back on the moments that made her into a household name and consecrated her status as the ruling queen of the supers.

 

[1]
The haircut that started it all

Though Evangelista was already a well-respected model by the end of the 1980s, with campaigns for Saint Laurent and runway appearances for Chanel and Calvin Klein under her belt, it wasn’t until she changed her look from feminine to androgynous that her legacy was sealed. This picture was taken in the Bahamas in 1989 by Peter Lindbergh, the very photographer who convinced her to cut her hair short. Source: ‘Ten Women’ by Peter Lindbergh.

 

[2]
Steven’s muse

Supermodel Svengali Steven Meisel can be credited with propelling the careers of many girls. But at the end of the day, he would always return to his favourite: Linda. This editorial for the August 1989 issue of Italian Vogue is one of their first together, styled by another longtime collaborator: Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele. Source: @chanel_archives on Instagram.

 

[3]
Pop culture crossover

Evangelista’s fame reached stratospheric levels when she debuted her peroxide hair in the music video for George Michael’s Freedom ‘90. The British singer was inspired by the January 1990 cover of British Vogue, casting its five models to lip sync in his place. Source: studiodaily

 

[4]
Supermodels gone viral

A history-making moment: Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington walk the Versace AW 1991 runway singing George Michael’s Freedom ‘90, after appearing in the music video for the hit single. Photo by Paul Massey/Shutterstock (198544b)

 

[5]
Chanel girls

Evangelista scored her first ever high fashion job in 1985, walking the Chanel runway for Karl Lagerfeld. Six years down the line, he would cast her and Christy Turlington in the Chanel SS 1991 campaign. Source: Pinterest

 

[6]
Made for the camera

Linda was nicknamed “the chameleon” due to her unparalleled capacity for visual metamorphosis. One of the photographers who exploited this shape-shifting talent best is British national treasure, Nick Knight, whose experimental film photography caught the attention of designer Jil Sander. The German minimalist tapped Knight and Evangelista for her AW 1991 campaign, pictured above. Source: Pinterest

 

[7]
Red is the warmest colour

Evangelista stunned the audience with her technicolour red hair for Valentino, SS 1992. The same dress was worn by Zendaya at the red carpet premiere of Euphoria, Season 2, in early 2022. Source: popsugar.co.uk

 

[8]
Linda in love

Steven Meisel started out his career as a fashion illustrator: a background that has continuously informed his approach to photography. His editorials are often highly stylised affairs, with fashion taking centre stage. But his relationship with Linda went beyond business, and their friendship pushed Meisel into new photographic territory. This 1993 editorial for American Vogue pairs things back and presents Linda not as a character, but as herself. At the time, she was dating American actor Kyle MacLachlan, and Meisel lensed the beautiful couple in grunge clothing, out and about in a field. This is Meisel and Evangelista at their most naturalistic. Source: Pinterest

 

[9]
Blonde ambition

“A big, fabulous canary,” was how fashion journalist Tim Blanks described Evangelista as she closed for John Galliano’s Spring 1995 show, pictured above (© Niall McInerney). Ambling through a vintage car showroom in Paris, Evangelista lived up to her regal reputation. She told Blanks this was her favourite dress ever to model, and that she kept it in her room so that it was the first thing she saw when she woke up in the morning.

 

[10]
The Wintour bob

Evangelista’s hair had a life of its own: from brown to platinum to scarlet to hazelnut, it achieved canonical status both within the world of high fashion and beyond. A wall fixture of every hair salon, her chameleonic physique popularised hairstyling at a time when bleaching or colouring was not yet mainstream. One style she herself would favour over the years is the bob. She debuted her first bob as a brunette in 1993 for Chanel, sporting a 60s-inspired mod look. She later embraced more patently feminine bobs, as pictured above for Christian Lacroix, at his Haute Couture show in Autumn 1996. Before Anna Wintour coloured her own jet black bob to a lighter brown, Evangelista set the template on the Parisian runway. Source: Tumblr

 

[11]
Solidifying her reign

In the new millenium, the original wave of supermodels began to retire or diversify into other ventures. Not so for Evangelista, whose love of fashion pushed her to continue modelling among girls often half her age. She scored the prestigious role of the Chanel Haute Couture bride in 2003, as pictured above. Source: Tumblr

 

[12]
Provocateur, provocatrice

The Meisel-Evangelista partnership is at its most exciting when his lens and her face pair to provoke. In this 2005 editorial for Italian Vogue, the photographer and his muse teamed up to satirise the increasingly pervasive culture of plastic surgery. For a fashion magazine to address such an issue is particularly poignant, and Meisel’s mock-horror aesthetic feels eerily relevant. Source: SHOW Studio

 

[13]
Hand in glove

Closing yet another Galliano show, this time for Dior Haute Couture in 2008, Evangelista looked resplendent as ever with best friend Naomi Campbell and naughties supermodel, Gisele Bündchen. This is her last runway appearance to date. Source: Pinterest

 

[14]
Staying power

It’s a testament to Evangelista’s professionalism that the same people want to work with her over and over again. Besides Steven Meisel, her relationship with Karl Lagerfeld was one of the closest in the industry. Before the Kaiser died in 2019, they shot an editorial together for German Vogue in 2013, which paired the Canadian muse with Lagerfeld’s Birman cat, Choupette. Source: designscene.net