The shock of the old: Fashion discovers the fortysomethings

Suddenly, an industry renowned for its love of the new trades in the younger faces for some older models. By Jonathan Owen and Andrew Johnson
Click to follow

Famous for being fickle, the neurotic world of fashion has come full circle. More than a decade after being ditched in favour of younger rivals, the original supermodels - Christy, Linda, Cindy et al - are sashaying elegantly back into the spotlight.

In a stinging rebuff to the current stars of the catwalk, the "mature" models are making a comeback as fashion houses, magazine editors and top photographers clamour for their services to inject some "class and timeless beauty" back into the business.

Linda Evangelista, 41, who once famously said she did not get out of bed for less than $10,000, is leading the charge, gracing the cover of this month's American Vogue, while Christy Turlington, 37, has just signed a multimillion-dollar deal with Maybelline cosmetics aimed at women over 35.

Turlington will feature in Versace's new campaign, which will launch in fashion magazines next week. Evangelista has also returned to the catwalk. She opened the up-and-coming designer Giles Deacon's spring/ summer show this year, which received universal acclaim.

Claudia Schiffer, at 36 the youngest of the returning stars, will appear on the cover of Italian Vogue in the autumn and has just signed a £6m deal with L'Oreal. She is also on the cover of this month's i-D magazine, the youth style bible.

Elle Macpherson, 42, another big name from the same era, may be rejecting the catwalk - "I'm too old for that" - but has signed up as the face of Erase Those Fine Lines, an anti-ageing cream aimed at the over-30s. The campaign will roll out globally next year. She also has her own lingerie range, worth around £40m.

The return of the supermodels has been applauded by leading photographers and fashion experts. Terry O'Neill, whose photographs helped elevate them to movie-star status in the 1980s and 1990s, said: "They'll bring some class back."

He added: "They had everything, personality, looks, a reputation, and were the best at what they did. These girls are women. They are not skinny beanpoles; that extreme look has gone way too far. People like Cindy Crawford and Christy Turlington were the best models of all time. Thank God they're coming back."

Russell Marsh, a casting director for Prada, said: "They are not only incredibly beautiful but they have a presence and ability to become characters. They are like actors. These days girls don't have the same longevity they used to. Two or three seasons and you are considered to have had your moment."

Olga Liriano, a New York-based casting agent who has worked with Calvin Klein, Vanity Fair and Polo Jeans, also took a swipe at the current generation of models. "The girls now are interchangeable," she said. "They have no character or personality. We can barely remember their names."

The models don't need the money: Evangelista, Schiffer and Turlington, known as the Trinity, are reputed to be worth between £15m and £20m each. They are returning because they can, and they are open about how they keep looking good. Talking about her current work with Vogue, Evangelista, who is pregnant, said: "I don't look like I do in the pages of Vogue. I think it's OK to say I'm 41 and it's work being me. It's a lot of upkeep. I'm pro cosmetic procedure. I use a little Botox and I'm not afraid to say it. Although I do like to keep some movement in my face."

Turlington, a mother of two, disagreed with that. "I'm not afraid of ageing," she said. "I would absolutely not do Botox. I really don't see much difference in my face now. In a way I feel I've grown into it. It actually makes me feel happier about my face when I look at people my age - which is too young - who've had it done. It's just not healthy and not pretty."

But, she added, returning to modelling was a lot of fun. "I started my career working with the Versaces and it had been years since I had seen Donatella," she said. "Shooting the campaign was much more fun than work."

The boom in their fortunes may be partly pragmatic: women of a similar age have more spending power than their younger sisters. "A 35-year-old cannot aspire to a 16-year-old Russian model all the time," said Tori Edwards, director of ICM Models, whose clients include Schiffer and Helena Christensen. "Nobody does it better than a Claudia Schiffer or Linda Evangelista. They could go on being these incredible aesthetic beauties for ever. They are iconic beauties of our time."

Cindy Crawford

AGE: 40

BIG BREAK: Pictured in her local paper, aged 16

THEN: 600 magazine covers, face of Revlon for 11 years, six years on MTV

NOW: 'Maxim' cover, has her own skin care range

Claudia Schiffer

AGE: 36

BIG BREAK: Spotted in a Dusseldorf club, aged 17

THEN: 1,000 magazine covers, modelled Guess jeans

NOW: £6m deal with L'Oreal, cover of style magazine 'i-D'

Linda Evangelista

AGE: 41

BIG BREAK: 1978 Miss Teen Niagara contest

THEN: Modelled for Chloe, YSL and Dior. Known as 'the Chameleon'. Appeared in George Michael video

NOW: Cover of US 'Vogue'

Christy Turlington

AGE: 37

BIG BREAK: The cover of Italian 'Vogue' in 1987

THEN: Numerous multimillion-dollar contracts, 500 magazine covers

NOW: Working for Maybelline and Versace

Additional reporting by Claire O'Boyle