How Cindy Crawford Built the Supermodel Brand
She may have announced her retirement, but in her skill at brand-building and boundary-crossing, Cindy Crawford is a stellar example to other models looking to break out from the runway.
The phenomenon of models branding themselves on social media and other platforms is so ubiquitous now that it’s become a cliché. But becoming a brand wasn’t always as easy as doing your own PR on Instagram.
Indeed, long before the followers-amassing, multi-platform traversing Cara, Kendall, and Kylie there was Cindy Crawford, who cannily showed how a model could do much more—and make much more—than just model.
One of the original “supermodels,” whom Rolling Stone once called “the purest embodiment of human perfection in our evolutionary continuum,” she was the also the first model to parlay her career into a major brand and business empire.
Crawford, who turns 50 this month, announced that her modeling days are behind her in a new interview with United Airline’s in-flight magazine, Rhapsody: “I’ve done it. I’ve worked with all these incredible photographers. What else do I need to do? I can’t keep reinventing myself. I shouldn’t have to keep proving myself. I don’t want to.”
And she certainly doesn’t need to, with all that she’s accomplished since she moved to New York City to pursue modeling 30 years ago, after she was discovered in small-town Illinois while shucking corn.
Crawford’s rise was stratospheric: She covered 200 magazines during her first three years in the industry and became the All-American model of her generation, as famous for her curves as for the million-dollar mole nestled above her lip.
Crawford became the face of Revlon, the poster girl for Pepsi, an ambassador for Omega watches (a partnership that lasted 20 years), and the host of MTV’s House of Style, where she was able to reveal some of her personality—a rare opportunity for models back then.
She quickly developed an entrepreneurial edge, launching her own swimsuit calendar and her own exercise video, Cindy Crawford: Shape Your Body Workout. Then came the Fashion Café in 1995, a restaurant that she opened with a few other supermodels in Rockefeller Center (that same year she was named the highest-paid model in the world).
In 2005, she launched a wildly successful mass-market furniture line, “Cindy Crawford Home Collection,” partnering with brands like Raymour & Flanigan. The collection still brings in more than $250 million annually. Four years later, she launched a lifestyle line with JC Penney.
There was also her relationship and marriage to Richard Gere, whom she met through photographer Herb Ritts—a mutual friend—in 1987. They married in 1991 and divorced four years later in 1995, when Crawford was at the peak of her career.
A year before the split, the couple famously ran a full-page advertisement in the London Times to dispel tabloid rumors that Gere was gay and their relationship was on the rocks. “We are heterosexual and monogamous and take our commitment to each other very seriously,” the ad declared. “There are no plans, nor have there ever been any plans for divorce. We remain very married. We both look forward to having a family.”
Soon after she divorced, Crawford hooked up with Rande Gerber, a businessman whom she’s been married to for 17 years. The couple has two children, 14-year-old Presley and Kaia, Crawford’s doppelgänger who signed with IMG models in June.
Announcing her retirement in an airline magazine seems an odd choice for Crawford. (“I’m sure I’ll have my picture taken for 10 more years,” she told Rhapsody, “but not as a model anymore.”) But she’s dropped plenty of hints about it over the past year.
She spent the last few months promoting her new book, Becoming, part retrospective of her career and part memoir (she writes about her own body image issues and weighs in on the industry’s ongoing obsession).
She’s also starring in Balmain’s buzzed-about Spring 2016 ad campaign alongside supermodel OGs Claudia Schiffer and Naomi Campbell (a departure for the Parisian fashion house, which has recently favored celebrity models like Kendall and Kanye). What better way for Crawford to to go out than in an arresting black-and-white Balmain campaign, flanked by two other ’90s Supers?
Indeed, together with her book, the campaign seems like Crawford’s swan song. She looks as sexy as ever, with all her signature features on display: beauty mark, pillowy lips, distinguished eyebrows, hourglass body, and legs for days.
One shot shows her leaning toward the camera in a suede bustier jacket, her eyelids heavy, mouth parted suggestively, and right hand pressed up against her cleavage.
Her advice to younger models? “Trust that no one knows your brand better than you.”