In the early 1990s, supermodels like Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell skyrocketed to fame — but they soon became notorious for their attitudes.
For a brief period in the 1990s, supermodels ruled the world. These women — models like Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, and Linda Evangelista — posed on the cover of glossy magazines like Vogue, strutted runways, and earned eye-watering salaries.
So how did the obsession with ’90s supermodels begin? Emerging at the beginning of the 1990s, this era of supermodels burned bright and hot across the decade. Models became bona fide celebrities, and fans eagerly tracked their ever-changing hairstyles (and ever-changing romantic partners).
But as time went on, the supermodel obsession waned. Actresses began appearing on magazine covers instead, and supermodels, with their high fees and alleged bad attitudes, became a relic of the ’90s. Still, there’s no question as to why these women commanded such attention.
Strut through the era of the 1990s supermodel in the gallery below, and read on to learn more about the pinnacle of supermodel stardom.
The Rise Of The 1990s Supermodel
By 1990, famous models had been around for decades. Women like Twiggy had stood at the center of the zeitgeist in the 1960s and inspired beauty trends for millions of women around the world. But the era of the '90s supermodel was something else entirely.
The era of '90s supermodels arguably kicked off in January 1990, when British Vogue published an issue with models Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, and Tatjana Patitz on the cover.
The women were young and beautiful, and they seemed to symbolize a new era in fashion. Some, like Campbell and Turlington, had been discovered by agents or photographers. Others, like Crawford and Evangelista, had actively pursued a modeling career, according to Harper's Bazaar.
Soon afterward, George Michael's "Freedom! '90" music video debuted. Featuring the same group of models — Evangelista, Turlington, Campbell, Crawford, and Patitz — it became an iconic hit and established the women as the "Big Five" of the nascent '90s supermodel era.
The Glamorous Lives Of The 'Big Five' Supermodels
Before long, Evangelista, Turlington, Campbell, Crawford, and Patitz became known by the public on a first-name basis. They were beloved — and their lives were obsessively followed — for a variety of reasons.
Evangelista was known as "the chameleon" for her frequent, dramatic haircuts, while Turlington was famous for her stunning beauty and, according to French Vogue, her more demure personality among models who liked to party. Campbell made history as the first woman of color to appear on the covers of TIME, French Vogue, British Vogue, and the September issue of American Vogue. Crawford stood out with her almond-shaped eyes and business sense, and Patitz's quiet intensity set her apart.
Evangelista, Campbell, and Turlington were especially well-known. They were also friends, which led the fashion world to dub the three women "the Trinity."
"We were shooting an ad campaign with Steven Meisel and Christy [Turlington]," Michael Kors recounted to ELLE. "The next thing we knew, Linda [Evangelista] and Naomi [Campbell] stopped by the studio. I kept saying, 'Are you sure you don't ALL want to be in the picture?' Christy was like, 'No! It's just me! They're just here to hang out.'"
As time went on, things changed. German model Claudia Schiffer eventually replaced Patitz as one of the "Big Five." Schiffer, who was discovered in a Düsseldorf nightclub, according to Harper's Bazaar, currently holds the record for appearing on the most magazine covers — over 1,000 throughout her career.
Then, grunge made its appearance, and with it, the over-the-top glamour of early '90s supermodels became passé. The new era of 1990s supermodels was led by Kate Moss, whose strikingly thin body ushered in the trend of "heroin chic." According to French Vogue, models like her were dubbed "les belles moches," or ugly beauties, by Karl Lagerfeld.
Moss's look was a rebellion against the "healthy" and "polished" look of earlier '90s supermodels. Instead, heroin chic and "les belles moches" models were angular and androgynous.
"Kate [Moss] is the '90s girl," photographer Thierry Le Gouès, whose new book 90's documents the 1990s supermodel era, told CNN. "No one was, or is, quite as emblematic."
How '90s Supermodels Went Out Of Fashion
Despite new energy that models like Kate Moss injected into the fashion world, the era of the supermodel began to fade by the late 1990s. Eventually, fashion magazines like Vogue — which had previously printed only models on its cover — started to feature actresses and pop stars as well.
What's more, many of the '90s supermodels had begun to develop difficult reputations. Naomi Campbell was accused of attacking her personal assistant in 1998. And though no one had batted an eye when Linda Evangelista reportedly said that she and other top models "don't wake up for less than $10,000 a day" in 1990, this sort of expensive, demanding behavior was tolerated less and less.
By the end of the decade, the era of the '90s supermodel was over. Today, models take on different forms and are easily discovered — and booked by companies — through the internet and social media. But the women of the "Big Five" and the "Trinity" continue to fascinate.
In the gallery above, take a walk through the height of the supermodel era with 33 stunning photos of the women who defined the 1990s.
After reading about the rise and fall of the '90s supermodel, look through these photos of Claudia Cardinale, the beautiful actress known as the Italian Brigitte Bardot. Or, peruse these images of 1960s sex symbol Raquel Welch.