‘The Super Models’ Is a Glossy, Mostly Feel-Good Trip Back in Time

The four-part AppleTV+ docuseries is more interested in seducing than challenging but is, at minimum, highly watchable.

‘The Super Models’ Is a Glossy, Mostly Feel-Good Trip Back in Time

There’s something very safe space about Roger Ross and Williams Larissa Bills’ new AppleTV+ docuseries The Super Models. It’s a place for the crown jewels of 80s and 90s supermodeldom—Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, and Cindy Crawford—to be seen, heard, and worshiped. They tell the interconnected stories of their rises to fame on seemingly their own terms, without much pressure or discomfort. All of the models are credited as executive producers, and the doc has that “fully authorized” feel. This isn’t really the place for hard questions or bombshell revelations, though. And it’s not much of a reassessment of an institution that seemed to regard the self-image of non-models (i.e. most of the population) as collateral damage. It’s easy to watch, breezy in its approach, and often quite beautiful. It comes with a certain assumption that the viewer already cares about these women and what they have to say although, using their trajectories and eventual influence, it does roughly tell the story of fashion during the titular supermodels’ peak years. For those who come in not caring, the copious footage of them dominating various runways may be enough to win them over—watching Linda, Naomi, Christy, and Cindy float down the catwalk as if they control gravity is all you need to understand their greatness.

“You have to imagine, the boutique was my whole closet. What girl of 16 years old has an Alaïa shop as her closet?” asks Campbell, referencing her time as the young muse of designer Azzedine Alaïa while maintaining her mythic status. These people are not like us, and that’s exactly why we’re watching them. There’s a looseness in The Super Models that harkens back to the 1995 doc Unzipped and the 80s-90s MTV series hosted by Crawford, House of Style, both of which are excerpted in the series. The Super Models gives substance to superficiality, and as a result, it’s never dry and has high rewatch potential. It’s a mostly talking head/archival affair—and for an outside perspective, the models are joined by opining designers and journalists like Donatella Versace, John Galliano, Robin Givhan, and Michael Gross. Candid moments of the four profiled models abound—both separately and together. It’s the epitome of, as they said in the 80s, infotainment. We watch a modern-day Campbell zip through Kenya on a Wolverine ATV and dock in coastal Nigeria. Upon de-boating, someone asks Campbell for a picture with her and she responds, “I’m on a private visit, thank you so much,” as she walks by. And then, over her shoulder: “Where are you from?” When her admirer answers, “Syria,” she turns around and says, “OK, give me,” only to critique the way her hair looks as she tries to get the right shot. She later explains to the camera that such an encounter hasn’t happened in “months and months” and that her knee-jerk rejection came from her experience with paparazzi. She almost scolds herself for seeing fans and paps as one and the same: “And they’re not, they’re nice people.”

Despite its nearly four-hour run time, information still seems crammed into The Super Models. It’s enough to make a viewer, at last, relate to Campbell who interviews that she and her peers “didn’t have time” to know the impact of George Michael’s “Freedom! ’90” video, in which they all appeared, because “we were just jumping from one country to the next.” Major moments in fashion and culture are tethered to their trajectories. “Print girls” getting into runway marked “a shift,” according to Evangelista. Crawford’s posing for Playboy only heightened her profile (for it, she was photographed by the legendary Herb Ritts, who simultaneously captured her for a French Vogue spread). Campbell’s famous tumble on the runway while wearing platforms prompted other designers to ask her if she’d fall for them too—they wanted the same attention.

The hunger for a piece of all of them found photographers pouring backstage, threatening to capture the women in various states of undress. It got to the point where Evangelista hired bodyguards and carried spray paint around which she’d threaten to use on their lenses. For a while, the 90s were overtaken by grunge (antithetical to supermodel glamor, though they showed a high-fashion version of the aesthetic in at least one fashion show whose footage we see), and then a change in the industry via cheaper, more anonymous, and waifish Eastern European models. “It wasn’t about race—it was about eradicating anything that distracted from the clothing,” explains model/activist Bethann Hardison on the change. The doc also touches on the ill-fated Fashion Cafe (fashion’s answer to the Hard Rock Cafe and Planet Hollywood), which Campbell and Turlington (alongside Elle Macpherson and Claudia Schiffer) were the faces of for a period. Its failure is explained dryly by Michael Musto: “Fashion’s not known, sadly enough, for encouraging a lot of eating.”


The quips here can be endearingly over the top—former Vogue creative director Grace Coddington describes Turlington’s decision to cut her hair in the middle of her Calvin Klein contract as “kind of a disaster.” Evangelista self-flagellates over her infamous assertion of her worth (“I will not get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day”) by saying, “That quote makes me crazy.” Overall the feel is that of calculated candor, a kind of pose of openness that keeps things compelling while light and nimble, like an involved conversation at a party with someone whom you will never speak to again.

Evangelista does recount abuse at the hands of her husband-agent Gérald Marie (“He knew not to touch my face, not to touch the money-maker, you know?”) and the horror she felt when some 16 women (according to the doc’s figures) made sexual assault and rape allegations against him. (A criminal investigation was closed this year as a result of the expired statute of limitations.) Turlington recalls being made to stay in the apartment of Jean-Luc Brunel, her French agent running Karin Models in Paris at the time. Brunel was also accused of rape. (He was eventually charged and found dead in his jail cell from an apparent suicide.) On an episode of Oprah Winfrey’s show from 1986, the host asked Crawford to stand up and show off her body, which the model describes as “so not OK, especially from Oprah.” Campbell discusses her experiences with racism in the industry, how at one point she just wasn’t getting bookings that her peers were—Evangelista and Turlington told designers that they wouldn’t accept bookings if they weren’t extended to Campbell as well. “Linda and Christy absolutely put themselves on the line,” says Campbell, who attributes her friends’ support as “what kept me going.”


The Super Models is so glossy that many of the ideas posed slip right off the screen as it hurtles to the next. As a result, certain quotes play like missed opportunities. Crawford mentions that shooting the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue was “not a good experience for me” because she expressed an opinion “that was not well received.” What she’s talking about is left vague. Similarly rushed through is Campbell’s reputation for being “difficult,” which she attributes to a feud with her former agent John Casablancas over her refusal to sign on for a Revlon campaign that she determined she’d be underpaid for. (There’s even less said about her reputation for lashing out violently at underlings.) “I was so in demand because I could move a product,” says Evangelista. At that point, I wished for more on what it meant to be an agent of capitalism and the daily wear and tear of self-commodification, but no, not really.

Worse, Crawford at one point discusses how she and her peers created a beauty standard and what that meant for those who didn’t measure up. “The implication is that some people don’t fit that and then they’re made to feel less beautiful,” she says…and that’s about it. There’s then archival footage of Naomi Wolf discussing her book The Beauty Myth (watching her lucidly discuss, well, anything is a wild thing to behold in light of the turns her public profile has taken) and Camille Paglia grousing about the “ridiculous rhetoric that the fashion magazines are there to give women low self-esteem.” The brief segment ends with an interview filmed for the doc featuring Isaac Mizrahi, who postulates that supermodels “took tropes about women and rather than be victims about them, they made them icons.” Beauty, he says, is empowerment. “High heels are power,” he adds. And that’s how the brief discussion that gestures towards reckoning with the potential damage done by this group of women goes: with the words of a man.

Evangelista, who’s gone through so much, including the aforementioned abuse, cancer, and botched CoolSculpting, says “I wish we could just really see ourselves in the mirror non-distorted without ever having seen ourselves with a filter or retouched. That is what has thrown me into this deep depression that I’m in. It’s like a trap, you’re trapped with yourself that you hate.” And while these words start to excavate the toll such a line of work takes on a body, they are ultimately left hanging in the air.


The Super Models is too cuddly to do much challenging, which certainly adds to the ease of viewing—this is not a thing that is meant to disturb. The entire doc culminates with a group shot for photographer Steven Meisel, the first time they’ve all appeared in a picture together since 2008. It dovetails with the overarching theme is one of unity. “Those girls defined power for women,” Donatella Versace claims, pointing out how they’ve supported each other. The Super Models is seductive enough to have you leave believing that’s all that really matters in the end.

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