The Invincible Era of Fashion

Lou Lesko

One day in the mid 2000s I got an ambitious notion to co-write an article with Christy Turlington about how photographers could safely and respectfully approach young women who had the potential to be a model. My magazine editor at the time thought my chances of connecting with the supermodel were zero. Indeed when I contacted Christy's agent the answer was a kind decline. Nevertheless, I asked the agent if she would pass on an email to try to change the model's mind. In the short email I mentioned that Christy and I started under the same agent in San Francisco at about the same time. The response came back a very enthusiastic yes.

This industry for all its chaotic ruthlessness also has a unique camaraderie especially among those who started as teenagers—I was eighteen when the agent Christy and I shared gave me the break that launched my photography career. It's like the bond you feel with your high school graduating class. For us, starting as young as we did, our actual high school was a little superfluous; the industry consumed the majority of our lives and thus was much more of our educator.

Christy Turlington (second from the right) was one of the five faces in the 1989 Peter Lindbergh photo below that launched the 90's supermodel era. To the right of Christy (as you look at the image) is Cindy Crawford. To the left; Tatjana Patitz, Linda Evangelista, and Naomi Campbell.

Peter Linbergh photo of super models.
Photo: Peter Lindbergh

This photo led to all five models getting to play in George Michael's Freedom music video. The superstar singer was burnt out and refused to appear in front of the camera. He saw the Lindbergh image and decided the video would feature the models mouthing the words to his song. The piece was directed by a then up-and-coming David Fincher. The coalescing of all these elements resulted in an iconic work that truly captures the zeitgeist of the era. An era that seemed as if it would never disappear as much as it would fade into the background of the future.

Fashion from the 90s had a unique joie de vivre that has been more revisited in subsequent decades by contemporary generations than any other period in history. No one could have predicted the era's staying power. Part of the reason it is so unique is because the fashion industry changed radically in the early 2000s. Movie celebrities began to adorn the covers of magazines like Vogue. Then soon after that online ate the magazine industry. And yet the 90s remains iconic. It is the ultimate confluence at a time when the public's access to fashion came through a limited number of channels.

This past January Tatjana Patitz passed away from breast cancer. I never met Tatjana, but her death really affected me. She was one of ours, from our class. The seemingly invincible era we were all a part of now seems utterly vulnerable, meaning we are all vulnerable. Time is relentless that way.

Admittedly I'm shamelessly proud to have been part of the industry at such a unique time. I'm also thankful for the alumni status which gives me a sort of high school class to connect with. To see any of them go crushes my soul.