Byline: Eileen Daspin
Publisher William Morrow’s legal department must have worked overtime vetting “Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women,” Michael Gross’s wild and not-so-pretty portrait of the modeling industry.
Wild because of the allegations Gross makes about the bad behavior that plagues the industry. And not-so-pretty because he names names.
Gross has stories, good and bad, about everyone, from Naomi Campbell to Irving Penn. Fortunately, there’s also a 13-page index. That’ll eliminate a lot of page flipping to get the goods on Linda Evangelista’s income or Christie Brinkley’s alleged affairs.
If you can wean yourself from the index and actually read a few chapters, you’ll come across plenty of salacious exploits. Because, according to Gross, that’s what the modeling industry is made of.
“When I finished the book and couldn’t talk about it yet, I went to Mortimer’s,” remembers Gross, a senior writer for Esquire. “Bill Blass was there with Ellin Saltzman. He looked up and said, ‘Tell me about your book.’ I said, ‘Let me tell you my fake advertising line: You’ll feel like washing your hands.”‘
Dirty is how one might feel having read “Model,” to be published April 19, especially when reading about agents like John Casablancas, who before he allegedly started an affair with 16-year old Stephanie Seymour, admits he was interested in her mother. Or like model-turned-agent Dorian Leigh, charged in the book by model Shelley Smith with bringing her along on dates with rich men when Smith didn’t have money to pay the rent or grocery bills.
“In the late Seventies and early Eighties, the agents abused their position,” says Gross. “They went from something that vaguely resembled pimps into being pimps.”
As Gross paints the picture, models often participate in their own ruin. One, still a household name, is portrayed as having lost both her marriage and career to cocaine. An unnamed photographer remembers photo sessions where, if he was out of coke, Janice Dickinson wouldn’t do the shot; where another famous face got so high, she couldn’t get into a pair of pull-on pants.
“Let’s get it straight,” responds Dickinson in the book. “I did my share of drugs. What’s the big deal? There were times when it was appropriate, like after work, sometimes even during work. I mean it was the disco era.”
“You can’t say the models are victims,” says Gross. “Some of them are victims, but some of them put themselves in the middle of nasty trouble and obviously want to be there.”
The “supermodels,” for example, hurt themselves by demanding too many perks — Concorde tickets, drivers and cars and personal chefs — and making tactless comments about their earning power. After one particularly egregious remark to the press, Christy Turlington told Gross she dreamed she was on the “Arsenio Hall Show,” covering the mouths of Linda Evangelista and Naomi Campbell with her hands.
What amazes Gross is how little today’s generation has learned from its sisters.
“Lisa Fonssagrives went with Horst to look at paintings in the Louvre to learn how to pose,” he says. “Dorian Leigh had a degree in engineering. In the past, you had women whose horizons went beyond the pages of Vogue. I’m sorry, after 10 years of access to anything in our culture she wants, I don’t think you could have a five-minute conversation with Naomi about Kierkegaard.”