Fashion: Super power: The Christy Turlington story: great face, nice manners, head for figures, body to die for, dollars 3m a year, still going strong

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The Independent Culture
CHRISTY TURLINGTON is fortunate in the geometry of her cheekbones, the fullness of her mouth and the tilt of her huge hazel eyes. She is fortunate in her Californian father and Salvadorian mother, who bred her tall and thin with a natural ability to look either exotic or all-American to order. She is lucky in being one of the world's most famous and most rewarded models, with around dollars 3m a year to put in her bank account. And more than any of this, she is lucky to be able to feel comfortable in her skin.

With that much going for her, she would be, wouldn't she? Well, not necessarily. Models often behave as if they are less than happy with their lot. Girl-women, they speak in sugary little voices, behave like children, and have about the same value systems. Sometimes they go beyond naughty to become nasty; there are stories of thieving and of squabbling to the point of physical attack over who gets the best dresses in a show.

Christy, who would look good in the worst dress, behaves impeccably. Where you might (wearily) read gossip about Cindy Crawford and Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell or Linda Evangelista, there are no nasty Christy stories in circulation. She is not allegedly dating a prince or married to a movie star. She isn't chased by paparazzi with quite the enthusiasm they have for Naomi, who rewards them with high-profile escorts such as Robert De Niro. Prince hasn't written a song for her ('Cindy C'), nor has she come home from a trip to find that a fan has been living in her apartment and sleeping in her bed, both of which have happened to Cindy Crawford. She hasn't drawn attention to her relationship as Linda Evangelista did (she successfully sued a newspaper for saying her marriage was on the rocks). Christy is sort of married (a private, Buddhist ceremony in Thailand), to Roger Wilson, her partner of six years, who is a screenwriter yet to find Hollywood fame. 'But I can't say we are really married. We don't know how things will be when I am home all the time,' she said. 'We won't know until this is over.' Meanwhile, she is perfectly happy to cover his initials, tattooed on her ankle, with matt foundation.

It might have been more entertaining to turn up on this, her first weekend off for ages, and find a millionairess aged 24, haughty, horrid and stupid for good measure. Better if she'd read comics, chewed gum and said dumb things, like the beautiful 1950s Avedon model, Dovima (dubbed the 'dollar-a- minute' girl by Diana Vreeland), who, when told she was going to Africa, opened her mouth and replied in her thick Queens accent that no, she was going to Egypt. But Christy's father was a pilot, her mother an air hostess. She knew about glamour and travel before she started working at 15.

More important, she is not Mr and Mrs Turlington's only daughter. 'I have two beautiful sisters. The elder is dark and not so tall - well, she's 5ft 6in like my mother - and my younger sister is tall and blonde. She tried modelling but she hated it. It's hard to enter a business where a sibling is already recognised.' Rather than living up to another cliche, and arriving kitted out in excessive amounts of Versace, minimal amounts of Alaa, or the off-duty uniform of Gap T-shirt and jeans, she is dressed like a smart sixth-former at a college interview, in a plain navy sweater and a demure long skirt that is revealed to be Chanel only when she stands up and reveals the give-away gilt zip all the way up to her bottom. Her boots are black and medium-platformed. 'They are my effort this season. I'm really very conservative and I feel silly going out on the runway, pretending I have attitude.'

And though it might have been more reassuring to catch her eating only the filling out of a sandwich after going on about being starving, I have seen Christy Turlington eat chips. 'Sometimes,' she says, 'the food ordered in is too healthy, so I have a Kentucky Fried or a McDonald's. Oh, I put on weight, on my hips and breasts. Designers of course sometimes forget that we are biologically female and our bodies can't be relied upon to stay the same. But there are ways to make yourself look narrow in front of the camera.'

She looks pretty narrow in real life. Over tea (milk, two sugars, one Marlboro after another) Christy Turlington emerges as a bright woman who knows she's been dealt a good hand. Not for her an uphill struggle of sweaty photographers trying to lure an ingenue out of her undergarments. Instead, a photographer took her picture at a local gymkhana and sent it to the mighty Ford Models in New York, which signed her up. She finished school, 'where it was definitely not cool to be a model', went to live in Eileen Ford's New York brownstone 'which was like boarding school and I loved it' and soon saw her face on the cover of Vogue. She lived her adolescence vicariously through her little sister: unable to mutilate what was already a million-dollar look, she shaved her sister's scalp and regretted that she couldn't pierce her ears five times. What she missed in the way of education she plans to make up for now. Her mother is back at college, and she is going to follow suit. 'Lots of people go to college to think about their career. I'll do it the other way round and then I'll have another career. I would like to be a writer.' Don't hold your breath for The Naked Truth About Modelling, though. She means something more ambitious, even if she knows that any attempt at serious work might encourage a demolition job from the critics. 'Maybe by then I'll just be someone people vaguely remember.'

That's unlikely. When the curators of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art wanted a mannequin with a face that would suit boy's clothes from the 18th century, men's clothes from the 19th , a Chanel suit from the 1920s and radical fashion from the 1990s, they had thought an abstract representation of chin, eyes and hair would best bridge the gap between the ancient and the modern. But what they finally decided on was the simplified face of Christy Turlington, a boyish, clean, timeless face that would serve for all. They cast it 120 times in three dimensions for posterity. She is, she says 'extremely flattered. Although it's weird to see myself in 3D - especially bald. But I think most people are curious about what it would be like to be able to meet yourself - it's eerie.'

She is accustomed to the various comparisons frequently made between herself and other beauties: to Audrey Hepburn ('our long, skinny necks'); to Leslie Caron ('our full mouths'); to Faye Dunaway ('perhaps when my hair was centre-parted like in Bonnie and Clyde'); and to Capucine, another famous Fifties beauty ('whom I am not so familiar with'). And she is fortunate that American Vogue, while sounding the death-knell of the Supermodels, predicted that they would be overtaken by 'the Gamines' - and Christy would still be among them.

All of which should please her accountant and further aggravate the modelling agency that lost her. Last year, though she is still with Ford for her work in America, she was represented in Paris by Elite, the company headed by Gerard Marie, the husband of her best friend Linda Evangelista. Rumours abounded in the fashion industry that she left Elite because she was fed up with Evangelista creaming off the top jobs. The truth is that it was business: 'Linda tried not to get involved. It was awkward for her and for me and for Gerard, but I wasn't getting paid on time and I sat down with my computer to do my accounts and then faxed Paris saying how things could be better organised. But in the end I left.'

She's good with money. Aged 20, she had an exclusive, three- year dollars 1.2m contract with Calvin Klein. She was forbidden to leave town without prior warning. She was forbidden from working with any photographer other than Bruce Weber in any clothes other than Calvin's. In spite of the cash, she soon realised she might slip off the track. 'I was losing my creativity and living my life vicariously through Linda when she came to visit.' One day, Christy arrived at a downtown fashion show in several thousand dollars of Calvin Klein cashmere to watch her friends skipping down the catwalk in sweaters, thigh-high suede boots and beanie hats, having fun. She decided enough was enough, and severed her contract after 18 months - which could have sunk her. Instead she walked away with an annual fee of around dollars 500,000 for promoting Klein's perfume, Eternity, worldwide, and has just re-signed for four years.

Cindy Crawford and Claudia Schiffer have high profile contracts with Revlon. Naomi Campbell is launching a music career, Linda Evangelista doesn't have an individual deal. But Christy has four. Last year she signed the highest contract price ever for a model - alleged to be worth more than dollars 2m, for 12 days' work over two years for the mass-market cosmetics giant Maybelline (which markets no perfume, so there's no clash with Klein). The company's catchline, 'Maybe she's born with it. Maybe it's Maybelline,' is clearly unconvincing, as no amount of 'Expert Eyes complete brow collection' will make you look like Christy Turlington. But that's not her concern.

Two earlier contracts are still intact - for Shalimar perfume, which has already run for seven years in Europe, and for Camay. Her face has the capacity to represent both ends of the advertising spectrum - from the most sophisticated products to the most ordinary. Christy Turlington is America's 'Special K' girl (research has shown that British women don't respond well to slimming promises when they see famous faces).

That's before she's walked down a Versace catwalk for something like dollars 25,000 (to be exclusively his in Milan), a figure her agent won't confirm except to say it was more. She took it, then hoofed up and down every catwalk in Paris and New York.

It was Linda Evangelista who flung out the quote that got the supermodels into trouble. 'We don't get out of bed for less that dollars 10,000 a day,' she said one day to an interviewer. 'She said it in defence,' explains Christy now. 'She was just saying, 'I do what I do and I'm not abusing any one', and she just threw it out and it got stuck and we can't take it back. So I'm not going to. Those on the top level in any profession earn big money and people aren't bothered about executives and newscasters and sportsmen. People just have a major problem with beauty.'

Later, in the hotel bar, after they've stopped staring, three men send over champagne. Her refusal was a lesson in good grace. But you could see how exposed she felt. She had been describing the thing she hates most: 'When the dressers backstage are so frantic they get your ribs caught in the zipper. You know how that hurts.' Well, no. But it's nice of her to think that I might.

She has collected all the work she has ever done - the 'Freedom' video for George Michael, her Special K commercial, and all her pictures with the world's most famous fashion photographers. 'My whole growing up has been publicly recorded and it will be amusing later on.'

Later on, you think, Christy Turlington will be OK - rich, controlled, rather self-effacing despite it all.

'I once met Dovima,' she is saying. (Dovima of the gum and Egypt and Richard Avedon's most famous fashion photograph which shows her poised between two elephants). 'She was working in a pizza parlour and she said to me 'Keep everything. I have nothing'. And I've taken her advice.'-

(Photograph omitted)