While the ravages of time can be merciless, one positive gift of aging is becoming truly comfortable in one’s skin. And that’s a blessing that hasn’t been lost on Cindy Crawford, the iconic supermodel who splashed on the scene in the mid ‘80s and gave new meaning to bold beauty throughout fashion’s heyday in the ‘90s. I first met Cindy Crawford shortly after she’d launched her stellar career, and was immediately impressed by her down-to-earth attitude and inherent business savvy: This was one model who really seemed to have her head screwed on right. These days, on the verge of turning 50, the native of DeKalb, Illinois is the mother of two teenagers and happily married to former model and nightlife entrepreneur Rande Gerber. Residing in California—with a summer home in Muskoka—and juggling duties with her skincare and furniture lines, Crawford still enjoys some modeling assignments and has just come out with an impressive and spirited coffee table book entitled ‘Becoming’. It features a lush collection of photographs of some of Crawford’s most memorable work, as well as a refreshingly candid narrative of growing up in fashion’s fast lane, and what that world taught her about herself. Saks Fifth Avenue brought the statuesque beauty to Toronto recently to share her stories with an exclusive crowd, and I had the chance to talk with Cindy Crawford about how she got so grounded, her cherished Muskoka cottage, and her trademark mole.
JEANNE: You’ve conducted your career in such a wonderful way, with one foot planted firmly in the business world. Has it played out for you the way that you would have liked it to, according the dreams that you had from a young age?
CINDY: I think in so many ways it’s far surpassed any dreams that I could have even had for myself. Certainly there have been some twists and turns along the way, some good, some that were more ‘learning experiences’ shall we say? But I think that what I always hoped for was just to be able to transition from being a model, where you just put on the clothes they hand you or the lipstick they hand you, to getting to a place where you have a voice in the businesses. And in that way, it has manifested.
J: You really impacted the world in a profound way, primarily because you were just about the first model that we looked at as a true glamorous beauty who was bigger and bolder than some of the waifish girls that were on the scene at the time. You an amazing presence from the get go and really were the personification of glamour. Did you see it that way or were you so caught up in the eye of the storm that you were a little oblivious to the impact you were having on people?
C: I think we just got up and went to work everyday, and we were just lucky to catch that wave… It was a time in fashion where there was a lot of focus on the models, much like there is again today. I think that the things that made us different were celebrated. We all were allowed to have our own persona and the designers and the magazines wanted to help make us stars…
J: You also weren’t one who subscribed to a lot of the mannerisms in the scene…. the style that a lot of those ‘fashion people subscribed to . You say in your book that you weren’t into the ‘kissy kissy’ thing: There was never anything phony about you. Was that something that was hard to be during those days—to be a real person in a very unreal kind of world?
C: I don’t think it was hard because for me, it would be harder to be different than who I am. Like I say in my book, modeling’s what I do—it’s not who I am. So my whole world and identity was not caught up in being seen at the right parties and wearing the right designers. I mean I love fashion. And I made great friends and I traveled the world and I made money. I’ve had so many great experiences, but it’s that’s just one aspect of my life.
J: You always had your head screwed on right from such a young age. The candor with which you speak about your life in the book is almost disarming because I don’t think most people would expect you to be that open and honest. It wasn’t easy for you, growing up. There was a lot of love in your family. But you suffered hardships, like the death of your young brother and your parents getting divorced when you were fairly young. How would you say that those kinds of things shaped who you would later become?
C: Certainly having coming from a place of feeling loved as a kid is like your backbone, because that helps you get through all the other stuff. We did have some tragedy, like my brother dying. And I think from that, I learned two things: One is philanthropy, and two is that you can’t take life for granted. Especially when you’re a young teenager or young adult, you think you’re invincible. But when you experience death so close up, you realize no one’s invincible. I think that is good, because you’re not taking anything for granted. And then with my parents divorce… well, those were harder lessons. I guess in some ways, it made me want to be able to take care of myself, which was a good thing in a way. But you don’t want to close yourself off so much that you can’t have a healthy relationship either. But it made me want to be financially independent.
J: You have turned into this figure that women look up to—someone who seems to have it all, at a time when so many of us wonder if that’s possible. You’ve got a great marriage, gorgeous kids, the dream lifestyle and the security of a career that has been nourished and cultivated over the years, and that remains quite strong. What do you say to people that look at you and go, ‘Yeah Cindy… you’ve got it all!’?
C: Well something’s got to give usually, and when my kids were little, I applied myself less to my work. I always say I think that women can have it all, but it’s very hard to have it all at the same time. I don’t travel as much because I want to be home with my kids. It’s not a hardship, it’s a choice that I make and everything’s a choice. Every choice that you make with something that you do, you’re not doing something else. And that’s how we create our own lives, by making those choices that are priorities for us. So I’m very blessed. And yes, I have a career. But I’m an almost fifty-year-old model! That’s not a super rock solid job, you know. There are a lot of question marks about what’s next. But that’s exciting too.
J: You said in your book that writing it was a was a gift to yourself—It allowed you to reflect on your career.
C: It really was. We’re always measuring ourselves against other people and sometimes all you see are other people’s highlights reels. So many times we forget to just stop and pat ourselves on the back for what we’ve accomplished or what we’ve gotten through, or how we’ve grown. I think maybe some people think, ‘Oh Cindy Crawford’s book is going to be about modeling, or makeup tips, or whatever.’ But it’s really about lessons that I learned in the world of modeling but that really are universal.
J: How much your Muskoka home grounded you over the years?
C: Oh we love it! After Christmas , we start counting the days til it’s time to go to the cottage. That’s what my husband and I both really responded to. We both grew up going to lakes as kids and I don’t think it gets any prettier than up there. But it’s the time that you spend on the dock with your family, when no one’s looking at their cell phones, no one’s rushing. It’s just great quality time with family and friends and that’s what we love about it.
J: You say in the book that one thing you wish you could have told your younger self was to have been a little more fearless, although you were pretty brave when it came to career moves and your personal life. So what did you mean by that?
C: I was from a very small town and very unsophisticated. And I think sometimes I felt like, “Oh what if I say the wrong thing, or I don’t know what fork to use?” But one of the blessings of getting older is you get to the point that you realize everyone at that table probably has some version of that in their head. So it’s just like. ‘Get over yourself! You can use the wrong fork, you can not know what a word means, you can not know if they’re referring to some famous painter or artist. It’s okay to ask questions or admit that you’ve never heard of someone. I kind of felt like The Emperor’s New Clothes. Do I really belong here? And maybe no one thought I was feeling that way, but sometimes I would not do things if I wasn’t sure… thinking that I wouldn’t know what to talk about, or what to wear, so I’ll just stay home.
J: You were afraid to admit your vulnerability. But that’s what endears you to people now. It’s even sweet the way you talk about your trademark mole, and how an agent pressured you to have it removed….
C: As a kid, you’re self-conscious about anything that makes you different. And my sisters didn’t make it any easier by teasing me. I had talked to my mom about removing it, but we never really got serious about it. And then I went to my very first modeling agency and they said I might want to think about removing my mole. And I was like, ‘See mom… I told you we should remove it!’ And my mom just was really smart, and instead of saying no, which I think a lot of parents would do, she just said, ‘Well okay. But just remember what your mole looks like. You don’t know what a scar would look like’. So she really let it be my choice instead of telling me no. Then as I started working as a model sometimes people would try to cover it up with makeup or retouch it out of the picture. But eventually, that became the thing that people remembered about me. ‘Oh, it’s the model with the beauty mark!’ Even the other day, I met someone at the airport who had a mole and she’s like, ‘I just want to thank you because you made this okay…’ The message I try to teach young girls is that something you could thins was weird as a teenager could end up becoming your calling card when you’re older.
J: What do you find to be the most daunting thing about getting older?
C: Well it’s not really daunting, but getting older does keep your vanity in check…. let’s put it that way. You have to rise to your higher self. It’s very easy in your twenties, when your skin and hair are beautiful, to say that beauty is on the inside. But when you start seeing the signs of aging, you really have to put your money where your mouth is and be kind to yourself, just like you would be to a girlfriend.