Triumphal 90's: supermodels, star designers and great magazines that made history

Historically, the 1990s are considered a decade of relative peace and prosperity, two adjectives that are not inconsiderable, given the human condition.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
31 March 2024 Sunday 10:31
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Triumphal 90's: supermodels, star designers and great magazines that made history

Historically, the 1990s are considered a decade of relative peace and prosperity, two adjectives that are not inconsiderable, given the human condition. In this period the Berlin Wall was reduced to rubble, the Cold War ended and Bill Clinton governed the United States. Spain, with celebrations such as the Barcelona Olympics, was consolidating itself as a modern and democratic country, in parallel with the acceleration of European construction. A new means of communication was emerging on the horizon: the Internet, which promised to make our lives better.

This boom scenario was also reflected in fashion, an industry that is much more symbiotic with society than is believed. And those years, as the French photographer Thierry Le Gouès explains, were ones of splendor. He knows what he's talking about: not in vain has he worked for the main international magazines — such as Vogue, Marie Claire, Elle, Harper's Bazaar and Interview — and has photographed all the supermodels and dozens of celebrities.

Author of several books, the last of which has a brief title: 90'S (powerHouse Books) and is dedicated to a unique decade in fashion that he helped build. A few years that, as he explains to Magazine, were even too good to be true: “To begin with, it was the era of the supermodels, which had a great impact: those superstars, like Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, Claudia Schiffer and Cindy Crawford, emblematic of that period.

There were also those great designers, like Gianni Versace and Karl Lagerfeld—who, in a way, created them—and a new, very brilliant generation of authors, like John Galliano and Alexander McQueen. It was also a period of big parades in which photographers were also very important. And, of course, there were the magazines, which were essential.” The entire industry, summarizes Le Gouès: “It was super creative and free. “It was an unrepeatable moment.”

And there he was, in Paris, twenty years old and recently arrived from his native Brittany. “I started out as a disc jockey, but I had always loved photography, so I went to work as an assistant at a studio called Pin-up, which was then the mecca of the industry.” He remembers how, already in that first year, he helped Patrick Demarchellier and Peter Lindbergh and every week other great photographers came, such as Steven Meisel and Oliviero Toscani: “I was very lucky to be in the right place at the right time.” However, his great opportunity came to him in Italy, with Franca Sozzani, the legendary director of Italian Vogue. “She gave me the first of many commissions and that opened the door to French Glamor and, later, to Condé Nast magazines, all over the world. This book is about this period, which for me was the golden age of fashion: there was a lot of money, a lot of magazines and a lot of creativity. There was travel, there was freedom… It was incredible!”

One of the trips he remembers was to India, with a very young and then unknown Kate Moss. “I saw her for the first time in London, through Alexander White, a very important stylist. I remember she told me: 'I want you to meet this new girl, she's going to be a superstar.'” Moss, he adds, represented a change in trends: “Because, towards the end of the nineties, there came a point where designers were fed up with the supermodel system: the girls were complicated, they asked for a lot of money and, also, the “Designers realized that they were more important than their clothes, so they started to get scared, even though they had created them.”

Things, Le Gouès continues, began to change, giving way to grunge: “With some very authentic, natural and cool girls, like Moss. And the industry, which was already a little fed up with tops, with so much glamor and makeup, embraced them.” However, the reign of supermodels did not collapse. In fact, many followed an upward trajectory, which still persists. Even Carla Bruni—author of the prologue to Le Gouès's book—became the first lady of France.

“When I found out on the radio that Carla was dating Nicolas Sarkozy, I was very surprised, because, to begin with, she liked artists, musicians, like Mick Jagger,” says the photographer, still somewhat amazed. “But she is an incredible woman, very intelligent and with a great sense of humor. She comes from a very good family and it was very easy for her to get into this world, because she knew all the codes. I took her first photos of her and we became friends. Her designers adored her, especially Yves Saint Laurent. “I think being a supermodel is a matter of having personality, like she has.”

In this tribute to a golden era, Le Gouès does not want to miss the role that the magazine directors of that time had. “Like Franca Sozzani, who passed away in 2016 and is an icon, she was someone very important to me. Then came—albeit on another continent—Anna Wintour, at Condé Nast.” He also remembers with admiration the missing Liz Tilberis, a friend of Diana of Wales and editor of Harper's Bazaar, in the United States: “All of them trusted photographers and were passionate professionals: they not only thought about the business, but also about the image. and in creation.”

But this approach, laments Le Gouès, has changed radically: “Before the market was important, of course, but not like now: now everything is the market. “I think advertisers and brands have too much power.” And this power, he adds, has had an impact on the creative aspect: “In the nineties we worked to create: we had ideas, concepts, we went and did it… Now this no longer happens: everyone copies each other. You work with moodboards [collages] to inspire you: 'What if one moodboard for the location, another for the model, another for the hairstyle...' I don't work with a collage to inspire me, but with my mind! Everything began to be so constricted, so controlled, that I got fed up.” For this reason, he says, he created his own magazine, French Magazine.

“Today the only publications that are interesting are the independent ones, like AnOther Magazine, Ten Magazine, Self-service... I love them, because they are increasingly interesting publications and they don't care if they look like the classic magazines, because all the brands They want to go out in them. For me, the big magazines are finished, they increasingly resemble catalogs,” she says.

However, he emphasizes, not all times in the past were better. The photographer praises the changes in beauty standards that are taking place in this century. For him, who has always sought diversity in his work (in 1998 he published Soul, a book in which exclusively models of color appeared), they are a real advance. “Today there is everything in the media: beautiful people, ugly people, fat people, thin people, transgender people… It's all there! Today there are more different expressions of beauty. Before, it was about pretty girls and that's it and now there is more diversity, and I find that as interesting as it is necessary.”