Supermodel to ‘permanently deformed’ — the life of Linda Evangelista

Over the last few years the legendary supermodel Linda Evangelista has revealed shocking, secret health battles. First in 2021, where she disclosed that she had been “permanently deformed” after undergoing a popular fat-freezing procedure called cryolipolysis between 2015 and 2016. Now, she has divulged in an interview with WWD, that she’s fought breast cancer twice since 2018.

“It’s always been a charity dear to my heart — and ironically, I ended up with breast cancer myself. A little over three ago I was diagnosed,” she revealed. “The margins were not good, and due to other health factors, without hesitation, because I wanted to put everything behind me and not to have to deal with this, I opted for a bilateral mastectomy. Thinking I was good and set for life," she continued. "Breast cancer was not going to kill me."

Unfortunately in December 2022 she found out that the cancer had returned, this time in her pectoral muscle. “Dig a hole in my chest," she said she told her doctor. "I don’t want it to look pretty. I want you to excavate. I want to see a hole in my chest when you’re done. Do you understand me? I’m not dying from this."

Linda Evangelista for Vogue’s 2022 September Issue (Steven Meisel/Vogue)
Linda Evangelista for Vogue’s 2022 September Issue (Steven Meisel/Vogue)

In the upcoming Apple TV+ documentary “The Super Models”, out September 20, which will reunite her with iconic 90s-era legends Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford, Linda unpacks both health scares. “I can celebrate a — but to be disfigured is not a trophy. I can’t see how anyone would want to dress me,” she says, while also revealing what drew her to the CoolsSculpting treatment in the first place.

“Being in the vain world I was working in and living in, there were all these tools that we’re presented with. And I used some of those tools. Because I wanted to like what I saw in the mirror, and the commercial said I would like myself better. But what happened to my body after CoolSculpting became my nightmare.”

CoolSculpting is a FDA-cleared "fat-freezing" procedure that’s promoted as a non-invasive alternative to liposuction. However within three months she noticed strange bulges on her chin, thighs and bra area, which a doctor diagnosed as paradoxical adipose hyperplasia condition. Although it has only been reported in 0.0051 per cent of the 1.5 million CoolScultping procedures performed worldwide, the rare condition causes the treated area to become larger, rather than smaller, leaving a “painless, visibly enlarged, firm, well-demarcated mass” underneath the skin.

According to Evangelista the experience “destroyed” her livelihood, and sent her “into a cycle of deep depression, profound sadness, and the lowest depths of self-loathing”. “In the process, I have become a recluse,” she wrote in an Instagram post. She has now settled her $50million lawsuit against CoolSculpting’s parent company, Zeltiq Aesthetics Inc, for an undisclosed amount. The model wrote on Instagram: “I look forward to the next chapter of my life with friends and family, and am happy to put this matter behind me.”

Since then she has fronted a major fashion campaign for Fendi and appeared on the cover of British Vogue, not once — but twice, with American Vogue editor-in-chief declaring: “There was no model more super than Linda”.

She’s right. Throughout the Nineties, Evangelista was one of the biggest models in the industry, alongside the likes of Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington and Naomi Campbell. Her exquisite face has appeared on over 600 covers, including Elle, French Vogue, W and Harper’s Bazaar, and she’s walked for an enviably long list of high profile fashion houses, including Chanel, Versace, Christian Dior, Valentino, Hermès and Dolce & Gabbana. In fact, the late George Michael was so enamoured he even featured Evangelista in two of his music videos, Freedom and Too Funky.

Linda Evangelista walking for Anna Sui in 1996 (AFP via Getty Images)
Linda Evangelista walking for Anna Sui in 1996 (AFP via Getty Images)

From the infamous haircut that started it all, to being part of “The Trinity” alongside Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington, here’s how Linda Evangelista defined an era of supermodels.

How Evangelista got her big break

Evangelista was raised in a traditional Catholic family and by the time she was 12, knew she wanted to pursue a modelling career. An agent from Elite Model Management discovered her when she entered the 1988 Miss Teen Niagara beauty pageant and, although she didn’t win the pageant, it turned out to be the vital step towards her hugely successful career.

But she almost decided against modelling after a harrowing experience in Japan where a creepy photographer tried to force her to pose nude, which led her to contacting the Canadian embassy to be flown home. Luckily, after finishing high school, Linda’s mum persuaded her to give modelling a second chance, leading the young Canadian to sign with New York agency Elite. In 1984 she relocated to Paris, but good jobs were slow to come by and it was three years before she landed her first assignment for Vogue.

In fact, it was a haircut that gave Evangelista her big break. The Canadian beauty had been modelling for several years - picking up around $600 per shoot for "mediocre" work - until she swapped her long, light brown hair for a gleaming copper bob. British Vogue picked up the shots of her new look and Linda’s career went stellar. "It was the day she was born," said Chanel maestro Karl Lagerfeld of the model’s transformation.

The career hey-days: “I don’t get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day”

Her fees soon skyrocketed, which led Evangelista to famously comment that she didn’t get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day — a quote which became part of fashion history and has been described as the “let them eat cake” of the twentieth century. Evangelista’s unapologetic utterance epitomised the era of the 90s supermodels, a never-before-seen troupe of women who were as outspoken as they were stunning.

Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington in 1991 (Rex Features)
Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington in 1991 (Rex Features)

“If a man said it, it’s acceptable. To be proud of what you command,” she says in the upcoming Apple+ four part documentary. “I’m not the same person I was 30 years ago. But I just don’t want to be known for that — I don’t want to be known as the model that said that quote.”

This particular comment was only one in a series of punchlines designed to silence prying journalists, which included the equally infamous “we don’t vogue – we are vogue”. Here, Evangelista was referring to the dance style popular at the time, named after the magazine on which she would appear as many as 83 times throughout her illustrious career.

A favourite of all the biggest names in fashion, from designers Karl Lagerfeld and Gianni Versace to editors Franca Sozzani and André Leon Talley, Evangelista did not just embody the supermodel mantra: she invented it. The oldest of her crop, she was like a big sister to Naomi Campbell (younger by five years) and Christy Turlington (younger by four), with whom she formed a triumvirate known in the industry as ‘The Trinity’.

Gerald Marie and the fashion world’s #metoo

In 1987, aged 22, Linda married her first husband, Elite model agency boss Gerald Marie, then 37. “I liked how assertive he was. He really pushed me to work so much,” she said of meeting the CEO in the upcoming “The Super Models” Apple TV+ series.

During that time, Marie allegedly raped at least 13 Elite models — reportedly targeting younger women because he thought that “virgins were not photogenic”, a former staffer said. Accusers also say the Frenchman would ply his victims with a daily stipend of cocaine to keep them thin while engaging in the abuse — with one alleged victim saying she was ‘prescribed’ a vial of the drug a day to keep her weight down.

​​Dubbed “the Harvey Weinstein of the fashion industry”, Marie, who is now 72 and lives in Ibiza, allegedly ‘trafficked’ Sutton and other women  “to other wealthy men around Europe”. He denies all allegations made against him and the lawsuits have now been closed due to the French statute of limitations.

Gerald Marie poses with models during the Elite Agency fashion show at The Palace as part of Paris Fashion Week on March 14, 1996 (Corbis Via Getty Images)
Gerald Marie poses with models during the Elite Agency fashion show at The Palace as part of Paris Fashion Week on March 14, 1996 (Corbis Via Getty Images)

One victim, Carré Sutton, claimed that several of the assaults took place in the Paris apartment the mogul shared with the model. Ahead of last year’s Scouting For Girls: Fashion’s Darkest Secret documentary which detailed the harrowing accusations, Carré — along with two other survivors, fellow American models Jill Dodd and Marianne Shine — recounted to The Sun the alleged abuse.

“Being as naive and as vulnerable as I was, I thought going to stay in this apartment of the boss was a good thing. I thought it meant that I was the chosen one,” Sutton said. “I thought it meant that something good was finally going to happen, so I really had no idea what I was walking into.”

She added: “I was in a particularly vulnerable situation... he held all the power and I was not in the position to fight back metaphorically and realistically.” She cited how she was still just 17 when the alleged abuse occurred, and that she was ‘dependent on him for food, money, shelter, he held my passport.”

Speaking to the Guardian’s Weekend magazine in 2022, Evangelista said she believed the women’s accounts of their experiences with Marie, who for over three decades was among the most powerful figures in the fashion industry. “During my relationship with Gérald Marie, I knew nothing of these sexual allegations against him, so I was unable to help these women,” said Evangelista, who was married to Marie between 1987 and 1993.

“Hearing them now, and based on my own experiences, I believe that they are telling the truth. It breaks my heart because these are wounds that may never heal, and I admire their courage and strength for speaking up today.”

Linda Evangelista leaves Manhattan Family Court Thursday, May 3, 2012, in New York. Evangelista is demanding that ex-boyfriend Francois-Henri Pinault pay child support for their 5-year-old son.
Linda Evangelista leaves Manhattan Family Court Thursday, May 3, 2012, in New York. Evangelista is demanding that ex-boyfriend Francois-Henri Pinault pay child support for their 5-year-old son.

The secretive paternity case

In 1998, a year after she had announced her retirement from modelling, Evangelista began stepping out with French footballer Fabien Barthez. The couple went on to announce they were expecting a baby, but the supermodel sadly suffered a miscarriage at six months. It was a difficult time for the model who described the loss of her baby as "the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through." Three years later, however, the original supermodel was back. Thirty six-years-old, and as in-demand as ever, she was soon back shooting covers with star photographers like Mario Testino.

Motherhood remained a priority, and in 2006, the runway star, then 41, announced she was expecting again, while keeping mum about the identity of the child’s father. It wasn’t until Evangelista took business tycoon François-Henri Pinault to court over unpaid requests for child support that it became public knowledge in June 2011. Initially she asked the then-CEO of luxury brands firm PPR, which owns Gucci and YSL and is now known as Kering, for $46,000 a month. The staggering sum even shocked the judge, who said it would be ‘the largest support order in the history of the Family Court.’ In May 2012, a heavily publicized court battle ensued in which both parties revealed sordid details about their relationship.

Pinault said that he broke up with Evangelista upon learning she was pregnant and asserted that they had only spent seven days together during their short-lived romance. Her lawyer claimed the billionaire asked her to terminate the pregnancy. A few days into the trial, the two reached an out-of-court settlement for an undisclosed amount. At the time, they said in a statement: “We are happy that we were able to reach an agreement for the benefit and well-being of our son, Augie.” Pinault is now married to actress Salma Hayek.

Evangelista has also dated actor Kyle MacLachlan and Hard Rock Café founder Peter Morton.

With the iconic star back where she belongs – behind a camera and on billboards – here’s hoping we’ll see a lot more of the supermodel in the coming years.