Back in 1988, New York Fashion Week was the last stop on the international ready-to-wear collections circuit. By the time the traveling caravan of editors, buyers, stylists, and photographers reached their final destination, they had seen it all and were already over it. The hot ticket that year was the Dutch-born designer Ronaldus Shamask, who had landed the coveted opening slot, but the biggest rumor circulating was that modeling’s next big thing, Linda Evangelista, had gotten a career-killing haircut in Paris. Mon dieu!
Shamask was to be her first show, and I had an invite.
When we took our seats, the electricity in the room could power a Thierry Mugler extravaganza. Would Linda wilt before the front row or thrive like a latter-day Dovima? The stage lights came on, the first few notes of Basia’s “New Day for You” played, and Linda entered sporting a double-breasted plaid suit and the most beautiful tomboy coif that ever walked. The audience roared. This was a reveal for the ages, the sort of transformation reserved for Madonna, not runway models. Then again, it proved that Linda was no mere model but something not yet fully formed in the popular imagination: a supermodel.
In the decades that followed, her chameleon-like abilities put Linda in a category singularly her own. No model has given more of herself in service of the perfect picture, and no photographer has played a bigger role in her reinventions than Steven Meisel. He is the Josef von Sternberg to her Marlene Dietrich, the Jean-Luc Godard to her Anna Karina, and this month they come together once more for a magnum opus, a book titled Linda Evangelista Photographed by Steven Meisel that chronicles a collaboration that dates back to 1987.
Fittingly, every time Linda channeled a screen goddess, from Marilyn Monroe to Sophia Loren, is recorded here, alongside the myriad ’50s housewives, grunge goddesses, surgery addicts, and bombshells she and Meisel conjured for their pantheon of characters.
The secret to her longevity, this 232-page leviathan makes clear, is her talent for keeping us guessing. Who will she be next, and when? Until recently Linda was followed by rumors of retirement after a cosmetic procedure gone wrong. Then, a year ago, she made another grand entrance in New York City as the closer of the 25th anniversary show for Fendi’s Baguette.
The audience, which this time included peers Kate Moss, Christy Turlington, Shalom Harlow, and Amber Valletta, swelled again, giving her a standing ovation worthy of a royal appearance. Queen Elizabeth II had died earlier that week, but here was living proof that the reigning monarch of models was going nowhere. Resist the temptation to call her return to the spotlight a comeback. Linda has never left us.
This story appears in the September 2023 issue of Town & Country under the headline Venus de Meisel. SUBSCRIBE NOW