When the supermodels ruled the world
Carole White was the agent that launched the supermodels of the 90s. Two decades later, she wrote a tell-all book about her life behind the glamour. TABITHA LASLEY speaks to her about Naomi, Linda, Claudia and Christy – and the one model she didn’t sign
HE SUPERMODELS CRACKED on in the 90s. They made so much money.’ Carole White is recalling the moment she turned down Kate Moss. Every agent, she says, has a story like this; a momentary lapse in imagination that means a really good one gets away. But Kate Moss, though? She must feel like that record executive who turned down The Beatles. ‘Ha! Yes! I do a bit, yeah. I know Kate quite well and she’s so lovely. I met her years ago when she was just a struggling model. Fashion photographer Corinne Day brought her in to see me. I really liked her but we decided she was too short for us. Which was, obviously, a mistake!’
This is a very Carole answer: funny and frank. But her pain is probably assuaged when she looks at the other girls on her books. As the founder of Premier Model Management, widely regarded as the most successful model agent in the world, she has represented Naomi Campbell, Claudia Schier, Christy Turlington and Linda Evangelista. Her eye de ned the 90s fashion aesthetic. In 1990, George Michael came to her looking for models to cast in his ‘Freedom! ‘90’ music video, directed by David Fincher. The video featured Christy, Naomi, Linda, Cindy Crawford and Tatjana Patitz lip-synching to his vocals, and sparked a cultural phenomenon. The ‘supermodel’ was born – and Carole tells the sensational story in her new book, Have I Said Too Much? My Life In and Out of The Model Agency (R504, Cornerstone) (The book was met with a number of legal implications so there are a few topics Carole is not allowed to discuss.)
It was a time, says Carole, when the ‘ model was king’ and clients would vie to get ‘the girls’, o ering extras like Concorde jetliner tickets, on top of in ated fees. Linda’s era-de ning boast that they wouldn’t wake up for less than $10 000 (about R122 000) a day – which Carole maintains was facetious – was actually made to Carole’s brother and business partner, Chris. The reality was, the girls could command much more.
An ex-model herself (‘I was just hopeless at it! I gave up very quickly’), the 64-year-old trained as an agent at Lucie Clayton modelling agency in London. In 1981, she set up shop with Chris, ‘and the rest, as they say, is history’.
‘There weren’t that many models around in the 90s, so the models you had were special,’ Carole says. ‘Actresses couldn’t possibly be seen on the cover of a magazine, or doing an advert, that was too tacky. The supermodels came in and took over. They were these young, vibrant girls who were funny and naughty and doing everything, being seen everywhere, going out with rock stars. Suddenly models had character.’
Falling somewhere between a mother and a PA, Carole had to be on constant call. In her book, she relays some of the demands her young charges made: llama curry in Milan; green candles own in from Tibet. With the exception of Claudia Schiffer, they were always so late, Carole had to lie and say shoots were starting three hours earlier than scheduled. She tells the story of one model throwing a tantrum mid- ight, and demanding to see the pilot, because her softboiled egg was served fractionally overdone.
Carole says the party abruptly came to a halt when the market was suddenly ooded with beautiful Eastern bloc girls for a fraction of the price. ‘Nowadays, there are so many models. It’s so competitive, every country produces models. But prior to the Berlin Wall coming down, they weren’t. There were the girls that were The Girls, and they were what the clients wanted.’
Carole reckons Christy remains the most beautiful model she’s ever worked with, while Susie Bick and Naomi had the most raw talent. ‘Susie was a phenomenal model; and extraordinarily beautiful. Naomi was, and still is, an extraordinary model. She could just turn it on and knew her trade very well. She often didn’t turn up on time, but she could do the job in ve seconds.’ (Carole was also behind Naomi being the rst black cover model on French Vogue, in 1988.)
Naomi and Carole famously fell out after they both testified at the ‘blood diamond’ trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor, who was accused of supplying arms to rebel ghters in Sierra Leone in exchange for diamonds. Carole’s testimony contradicted Naomi’s, who claimed not to know that the diamonds she received at a banquet hosted by Nelson Mandela in 1997 came directly from Charles. Asked now about what must have been one of the biggest challenges of her career, Carole answers with typical candour.
‘I had to go to The Hague. I didn’t know much about it, so I took my eldest daughter with me. They were offering me a safe house and I thought, why would I need a safe house? I got to this hotel and they told me we weren’t allowed out of the room. I said, “That’s ridiculous, we’re going to go and have lunch on the beach.” They had to get permission for us to go out, we had to have a bodyguard, but it didn’t quite click that it was a bit of a hairy trial. I had no idea that I would be cross-examined. I read my statement and it was picked apart by an aggressive barrister. I can’t say it was a nice experience. But I went there to tell the truth, and I told the truth. In the judge’s summary, I was believed. And quite a nasty man was taken down. So I’m happy with that.’
Given Naomi’s ability to work at warp speed, does Carole think her reputation for being difficult is undeserved? She gives a shout of laughter. ‘Ha! I’m not going to comment on that. Leading question! I’m sure you know that answer.’