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

Marie Claire (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - @tabitha­lasley


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.’

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