You said it happened very fast. It happened all at once. Everything happened at the same time. You didn’t make anything of yourself. You simply became.
Here you are, barely twenty and smoldering in Paris. She poses as a man. You – as yourself. You are Gia Carangi, the world’s first supermodel. Your brother thinks you might have been better off had he gone with you – says you could have used a friend. Could you? It’s March of 1979. It’s been exactly one year since you met your lover; you have one year before you lose your mother. Here you are in the throes of stardom, you diva, parrying her lust with just one hand. She may light her Nat Sherman in the ashes of yours. You offer nothing more. You don’t have to.
You know the effect you have on people. You can see it. You saw it on vacation in Saint Barthelemy: you pulled your white rental Jeep to a stop in the middle of the street to ask a man for directions. He was doing yard work in his underwear. He was not expecting a supermodel. He was visibly shocked and aroused.
You’ve never asked for anything. You were sixteen on a dancefloor in Philadelphia when a photographer spotted you. Your brown curls glittered under pulsing lights before dripping walls. You looked unworldly in that sea of bodies, swaying, twirling. You posed; she captured.
Is this what makes you so bold? You exist, attention seeks you. By March of 1979, you’ve landed the covers of Cosmopolitan and Vogue. Now you pose with Robin Osler for Helmut Newton’s camera. Newton plays with dominance and submission. You pop your hip, bend your knee, point your toe. She leans to, you lean fro. You are submission: you don’t submit. You square your shoulders, raise your chin. Your jawline cuts. You blow smoke.
Do you know by now that you’re a supermodel? You must. Behind the scenes of a high-art fashion shoot, you eat barbeque chicken – feet kicked up on the counter, legs escaping through a thigh-high slit, skirt pooling around your hips. A beautician fusses over your lipstick – the primer, the liner, the filler, the gloss. The sauce. The designer fusses over the garment. Your black two-piece Saint Laurent gown cost five thousand dollars in 1979.
Does attention find you because you’re bold? Behind the scenes of photographer Chris von Wangenheim’s shoot, you had Sandy Linter’s attention before she’d even laid eyes on you. In her peripheral, the artist saw a model throw her feet on the makeup table, don a stranger's sunglasses, and light a cigarette. Linter knew you would be trouble. You were going to be trouble.
You were trouble. You arrived in New York City, alone and unafraid, at the age of seventeen. You walked into Wilhelmina Models, a brunette in an era of golden blonde, and told Wilhelmina Cooper herself of your modeling aspirations. She signed you.
You are trouble. You give the camera your look – no smile, all eyes. You drop the shoulder of your dress, expose your breast. If they understand you, photographer’s love you. You earn 100K. You earn your title. Supermodel.
Cooper loves you like a daughter. You love her like a mother.
You were nineteen, and the first American model to pose naked. In March 1978, Wangenheim captured you, bare skin behind a chain link fence. Now you’ve never been so famous. Did you ask that Wangenheim invite Linter? She’d never modeled before. She wore her boots on set – nothing else. Did you love her then? You paid her no mind. But you rung her, the next day, and invited her out for a drive. You were a teenager in a bright red convertible on the streets of NYC. You stopped to run an errand, Linter waited in the car. You returned with a new piercing, Linter fell in love.
You say modeling is a short gig. Do you sense doom now? It’s March 1979, and you wait until after work to get high. These days, you are bold, beautiful, beloved. You flirt with women, you bring your teddy bear to work. You are the highest paid model in the world. You are the highest paid model ever. You drink, you smoke, you snort. It’s the seventies – everyone is pushing everything up their nose. Cocaine is a party drug. Sometimes heroin comes in disguise. Linter doesn’t love heroin, doesn’t love the headache it induces. You don’t mind, you love the high. You are known for your habits. You have a reputation. Wild. You are iconic. You are veiled in glamor.
It happens suddenly, and all at once. In March of 1980, Cooper dies. Lung cancer. The veil drops. Your career unravels quicker than it wound up. You leave photoshoots early – you climb out through the windows. You go from high fashion photoshoots to shooting galleries. You spend fewer nights in bed with Linter. She calls you, she begs you to quit your habits. She’s read an article in the New York Times – “Medical detectives are calling it the century's most virulent epidemic. It is as relentless as leukemia, as contagious as hepatitis, and its cause has eluded researchers for more than two years. Acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS, was first seen in homosexual men - particularly those who were promiscuous - but it has now struck so many different groups that its course cannot be predicted.” Among the groups affected are drug users, and partners of drug users.
You do get sick, eventually. In 1983, you arrive at Linter's apartment. You wore that sweater that she likes. You pull her to the couch, cry on her shoulder, soak her sleeve. 30 minutes pass, then you leave. You do not explain. She never sees you again.
Before all that, you are twenty. It’s March of 1979, and you are the subject of Newton’s Vogue spread. Your dress has no sleeves; you’re hiding no tracks. You love and you are loved. In your thigh-highs and your jewels, you light a cigarette. And then you light another.
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America's First Supermodel.” All That's Interesting, All That's Interesting, 7 Feb. 2021.
“Helmut Newton's Retro Verseau: A Study in Erotic Ambiguity.” The Guardian, Guardian News
and Media, 20 Mar. 2020.
Henig, Robin Marantz. “AIDS a New Disease's Deadly Odyssey.” The New York Times, The
New York Times, 6 Feb. 1983.
Linter, Sandy. As told to Chris Gardner. “Makeup Artist Sandy Linter Recalls Gia Carangi
Romance: ‘We Did Love Each Other.’” The Hollywood Reporter, The Hollywood
Reporter, 9 June 2020.
Rocha, Coco. “Five Myths about Modeling.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 6 Feb. 2015.
Turner, Christopher. “A Look Back at Gia Carangi's 5 Cosmopolitan Covers.” 29Secrets, 27 July
Vasquez, Dominique. “The Dark Story of Supermodel Gia Carangi, America's First
Supermodel.” Madame Blue, 26 Feb. 2022.
My brother makes the starving artist thing look good. With an Ivy League degree in film studies and no source of steady income, he’s got that grungy devil-may-care vibe kids these days vie for. He rescued his Timbs from a dumpster and is the only person I know who could find a $400 jacket in a thrift store
In the plains, eagles build their nests atop telephone poles. And if there’s one tree in a prairie, all of the cattle find its shade. From the highway, I can see nothing for miles, but the crop fields look so fullI imagine walking across the tops of fuzzy tipped wheat stocks and feeling something soft on my aching feet