Among thinkers and aesthetes who monitor culture, Cindy scholars are a breed apart. Their insatiability knows no limit. At random moments, day or night, they can be found hotly debating Crawfordian nuance (topics may range from the Melanoma Question to the always loaded Hats: Pro or Con?). Certainly, theirs is a ceaseless but important pursuit. And here’s why: The object of scrutiny — Cynthia Ann Crawford, born amid the cornstalks of Sycamore, Ill. — may well be the purest embodiment of human perfection in our evolutionary continuum. Even Darwin, were he alive today, could not have ignored the evidence at hand, most notably the swimwear calendars and fun new exercise video, Cindy Crawford: The Next Challenge.
Supermodel, MTV hostess, Revlon Girl, celebrity wife and winsome social critic, Crawford is no different from you or me. She wakes in the morning and sleeps at night. She sunbathes topless and regularly flies the Concorde. She is afraid of Madonna and snakes but not of horses and being alone. She has bad hair days and homes in Malibu, Calif., Bel Air, Calif., Westchester, N.Y., and New York City. She rents movies at the neighborhood Blockbuster and shares her bed with a movie star (Actor-Husband Richard Gere). She eats corn typewriter style and charges $10,000 a day to pose for photographs. “It’s kind of amazing that someone like me is as famous as I am,” she says, genuinely incredulous to find herself where she is today. Here is how she interprets her unique sinecure of fame: “I am fast food. I am. But it suits me really well right now.”
Without the mole, she does not exist. Without the mole, she is someone else. “Without it, my face is really not symmetrical,” she says, speaking aesthetically. “It provides, I don’t know, a balance. British Vogue once retouched it off, and it looked really weird.” Chocolate brown, some 88 degrees directly above the mouth’s left vertex, it both declares and defines her. “My little friend,” she has called it. “I hated it when I was a kid,” she says. “My sisters used to call me Mole Face. I’d go, It’s a beauty mark!’ And they said, ‘No, if it’s on the right side, it’s a beauty mark; if it’s on the left side, it’s an ugly mark.'” She withstood much derision, yes, but not in vain; today, moles are enjoying widespread popularity among young and old alike. “Girls come up to me and show me theirs!” says the one who has made it all possible. At such times, she feels her power.
Curiously, nowhere in Crawfordian text has there been mention of the second mole. But it is there, nonetheless, cleaving gently to the sternum. “My mom had one there, too, but she had it removed,” Crawford reveals, somewhat ominously. “It was changing shape or something.”
Inside a leather shop on Melrose Avenue, in Los Angeles, the musician Lenny Kravitz hands Cindy a hat, floppy and unkempt. She is repulsed. “Isn’t grunge over?” she asks him in her official capacity as doyenne of MTV’s House of Style program. She places the hat on her head and looks foolish. A camera crew records all. “No grunge!” she says. “It’s over!” Then she says, “I am not a waif!” By this, she refers to the bedraggled, emaciated look now prevalent among younger models. (If waifs are skin and bone, then she is flesh and blood, exultantly so.) Next, she asks Kravitz about his tattoos and says: “I like the stick-on kind better. Some girls get tattoos that look great now, but how will they look at 50? How would I look once my body drops two inches?” Kravitz, alarmed at the prospect, sputters: “You’re not gonna drop! You’re not gonna drop!” Fear and disbelief register in his eyes. “Gravity gets all of us,” she says, blithe but resigned.
She will be 28 in February. Her voice is small, sometimes inaudible and generally incongruous with the magnitude of her appearance. (This is perhaps her way of apologizing.) On her first House of Style broadcast four years ago, she seemed unaccustomed to talking altogether. “Oh, my God!” she says, reliving the memory. “It was very bad. I’m nearsighted, and I couldn’t read the cue cards.” To simplify matters, she learned to conjure and memorize all of her on-camera introductions, for which she receives the show’s sole writer’s credit. Also early on, the man whom she would later marry offered wisdom gleaned from the movie trade. “He was trying to tell me not to talk into the camera,” she recalls. “Because he is someone I respect immensely, I actually thought about it. Then I said: ‘No! You know nothing about television, Richard!’ “
There’s something mysterious and unknowable about that relationship,” asserts Camille Paglia, renegade feminist author of the cult manifesto Sexual Personae. She speaks of the Crawford-Gere union, a topic of great national concern. “I find all of these rumors about his sex life and her sex life really peculiar,” she continues. “Yet they keep surviving all of it.” Indeed, they are impervious to speculation. “It doesn’t bother them,” observes House of Style producer and Crawford confidante Alisa Bellettini-Sirulnick. “She knows what she’s got, he knows what he’s got — and if you know what you’ve got, then screw everybody else.”
They got what they have thusly: They were introduced in 1988 by the mother of photographer Herb Ritts at a barbecue for Elton John. (“My mom kind of pushed them together,” says Ritts, slyly.) Courtship ensued and escalated. Smote down by the nubile beauty, the rogue film star — famed for frontal nudity and Buddhist bent — hedged until he could hedge no longer. (“I was a holdout at age 42,” he has said.) “We talked about it a lot, he wasn’t ready,” she says now. “Finally, it was one of those days where I was like ‘Are we doing this or not?’ And he finally believed that I was serious, and he said, ‘OK, we’re doing it.’ But I didn’t know we would do it that night.” Hours later, on Dec. 12, 1991, they flew with friends to Las Vegas to exchange vows and Reynolds Wrap rings (made by the bride) at the Little Church of the West. Celebration followed suit at a nearby Denny’s, and it was there that the groom promised to serve his wife breakfast in bed for the next six months. (“I’ve never had breakfast in bed,” she says two years hence.) At once, they returned to Los Angeles, where he was back on a film set by dawn. Her memory of a wedding night consummation: “I don’t think it happened. We fell asleep on the plane, we fell asleep in the car, we probably just went right to sleep at home. All I know is that the next morning I was sitting at the carwash, and I was married.”
Afternoon sun beats on her big hair. Today it is big because it must be. She has been working outside the Universal Amphitheater, interviewing arrivals at the MTV Video Music Awards while plumped snugly into a black beaded gown. “No matter how big a star you are,” she says, “it’s still fun to watch other people arrive.” She is, of course, the star here who incites the most fuss. (Madonna comes to and departs from the event surreptitiously.) Already, Crawford has debriefed the transvestite RuPaul on his slinky frock. She has slow-danced along the red carpet with Sharon Stone, so as to thrill photographers. (“It’s a new kind of lesbian wear!” says Stone, teasing.) Yet she has lost no perspective. “Guess what happened at rehearsal yesterday,” she says suddenly during a break. “A bird shit on my leg! I’m serious. I was sitting here in sweat pants, which, thank God, I’d pulled up. Then all of a sudden, I felt plop right on my leg. I was on the phone and just screamed. My friend is like ‘What happened?’ I say, ‘A bird just shit on me!’ He said, ‘That’s really good luck!’ I thought, ‘That’s a very good attitude.’ “
Of Breasts and Things: Before her, there were others, and she knows who they were. Now in her MTV makeup trailer being re-coifed, she invokes the legend of sex bomb Chesty Morgan. “I saw a documentary on her like a week ago,” she reports. “Big boobs on that one!” At which point, producer Bellettini-Sirulnick announces to all present: I’m actually wearing Cindy’s bra tonight. I forgot my bra, and she was nice enough to give me one of hers, then help me stuff it with Kleenex.” Says Crawford, sucking a Tic-Tac, “It’s true — for you, I suffered without.” The things she does.
Much later that night, Crawford enters her Malibu home, still dressed in long, black formal wear, still ashimmer. The Actor-Husband looks up, drinks in the spectacle and laughs aloud. “Don’t laugh!” she says to him. “My God, I feel pretty good about this, about how I look!” Still, he laughs. Days afterward, she explains, a bit sadly, “He’s just very amused by the icon, that’s all.”
The Importance of Being Cindy, Part I: “I was approached this year by Mattel,” she says, “because they had done a lot of research on who could be the next Barbie. And they’re smart, because they came to the meeting with the Cindy doll already made. The packaging was very cool. She had a little MTV mike and clothes that had been ripped off from clothes I’d really worn, like the dress I wore in the Pepsi commercial. They’d done their homework. I was flattered. I mean, I’d played with Barbies, so I know how important it is to little girls. But being made into a doll, right now, just isn’t part of the bigger picture. I want women to be impressed with me.”
She is an approachable icon, married to an unapproachable one. Hers is not a fragile or cold beauty. Her sex is sex by Disney. “I don’t want to be something that looks good from afar, but you can’t touch,” Crawford has said. Long ago, she posed for Playboy because men don’t look at Vogue. Television made her even more accessible, just as film has distanced her husband. “On television, you are basically who you are,” she says. So, when the Geres move among the masses, she is the opening. “People come up to me and go, ‘Do you think he’ll give me his autograph?’ ” she says. “And I’ll do it for them! I’ll go, ‘Richard, could you just sign this?’ ” Meanwhile, she signs so many, she has been told that her signature has lost value on the open market. “What other way could you be?” she says. “Your mother would kill you, right?”
Now Cindy makes lunch. “As a model, you don’t really make anything,” she says. “Like I can work hard all week, and I don’t have anything tangible to show for it.” So for lunch she has made fresh Italian foccacia and a lovely caprese platter and served it on the deck of the Gere-Crawford beach house. (She furnished the simply appointed home in two days upon its acquisition; several private Herb Ritts portraits hanging in the foyer are all that give the occupants away.) Instantly, large gnats descend on the repast. She grabs at the air, full of blood lust. “Richard doesn’t really like me to kill bugs,” she confides, “but sometimes I can’t help it.” She crushes one. “Yesterday I was sitting out in the sun, trying to finish this book, and there were three of those suckers biting me. What I normally do is put a glass over ’em, then they just die.” Her eyes dance mischievously. “That way it’s not like I killed them.”
Crawfordia, a Sampler: She makes her own airline reservations. “Otherwise,” she says, “I don’t believe that it’s been done.” Always she takes sushi aboard flights. She travels with her own blanket. Unlike her husband, she is never late for anything. “I’m anal about it,” she says. “To me, late is late.” She reads voraciously, especially smart, contemporary fiction. “The lowest I’ll stoop is John Le Carré,” she says. She forces herself to finish every book she begins — even those she instantly dislikes. She loves Latin writers because, she says, “they’re not afraid to be magical.” She can recite poems by Shel Silverstein on request. She prefers movies to be in color. “I am of that generation,” she says, defensively. She does not understand Beavis and Butt-head. “I can’t say I get that huh-huh-huh thing,” she says. Nor does she understand the lyrics to “Cindy C,” Prince’s bootlegged paean to her. “Indecipherable,” she says. She studied chemical engineering for one semester at Northwestern University. “That was only because I could go to school for free; they needed girls in science.” Tears come to her easily. “I’m a big crier,” she says. She can run in high heels and parallel park better than most mortals. She has her own toolbox. When choosing poisons, she opts for margaritas or wine. When bored on long photo shoots, she tabulates in her head how much money she is making per minute. “It gives me something to do,” she says.
She first modeled in Chicago, at age 19. She has since worked roughly 200 days per year. (“That’s a pretty low estimate,” she says.) On each of those days, she has spent roughly four hours being dressed, primped and made up. “That’s like 72,000 hours!” she says, multiplying figures. “That’s pretty sick.” Those who know and love her best prefer her without makeup, wearing jeans, hair up in a ponytail. “She has a glow,” attests Herb Ritts, who has photographed her in every variety. “There’s an inner kind of beauty there that isn’t about Revlon Red.”
Should we do the fucked-up blonde or should we do the bombshell?” she is asking Ritts as they walk along Zuma Beach, in California, one brisk Saturday afternoon. She has come to work, to play characters, for a pictorial portfolio evidenced herewith. “We also have to do Cindy as Cindy,” she urges, concerned. Already, she has been an angry young man, stalking about in a dark suit, bulge protruding from the crotch. A white crew sock had been crammed there for effect. (“Just let me pin the dick in,” she said, trying to prevent slippage.) Now she becomes the Fucked-Up Blonde — “I should look like I slept in my makeup”— wearing only a wan smile, a teased wig, ruffled panties and mule slippers. Waiting for Ritts, she strolls around the porch of the beach-house location, cupping her bare breasts with her palms. Photo assistants and stylists busily hover about her. “All right, everybody — so I don’t have to worry about hiding all day — these are my tits!” All present comport themselves with a studied lack of interest. And pictures are produced until night falls.
The Importance of Being Cindy, Part 2: Madcap intellectual Camille Paglia, who once spoke on a feminist panel at Princeton University with Crawford, interprets the phenomenon: “My theory is that there’s something in Cindy Crawford that’s both soft and hard, that’s sexually ambiguous,” Paglia says. “Even when she looks soft, there’s an implied toughness. She can either look like the girl next door, or she can look very slutty and trampy, which I think is great. Even her name is this weird fusion: You feel the winsome femininity of Cindy and then the power and assertion of Crawford. That’s the part she’s used to take control of her career. As she said at Princeton, ‘I’m the head of a company called Cindy Crawford.’
“Also, pictures make her look much more light skinned than she is,” Paglia continues. “When I saw her in person, she was kind of mysterious and misty. She has a wonderful dusky quality, a multicultural quality that I feel the mass audience must be identifying with. Under the surface, there’s something that’s non-Caucasian. I’m thinking that what’s under there might be Native American. She looks like, whatever, maybe an Apache princess? Ask her.”
White trash is what I am!” says Crawford in response. Then she laughs lightly. “Well, Richard calls me white trash, and I say, ‘You’re not allowed to call me white trash — I’m allowed!'” Her heritage, she contends, is “mostly German-English, but I think there is a lot of other stuff mixed in along the way that I don’t know about.” Thus, whenever in Italy or Greece or Spain, she is regularly taken for one of their own. But she is, of course, pure domestic property, bred on and of the Plains, the middle daughter of an electrician and wife who divorced messily, a girl of forged mettle who lost a baby brother to leukemia, who knew struggle and would not forget it. Without apology, she learned to exploit a culture that was only going to exploit her. “I don’t have a big hang-up about commercialism,” she says, shrugging. Nowadays, she makes money because she can, not because she must. “It’s very hard for me to say no, coming from a family where you never had enough,” she says, even though she is altogether weary of supermodeldom and its velvet grind. “Richard’s been great in that sense, because he says, ‘You don’t have to do anything for money!’ But sometimes I still don’t believe any of this is real.”
Because they are who they are, they are simply not supposed to be. On the cover of People, they are called “The Sexiest Couple Alive!” (“Not very original,” she says, dismissively.) They are called many things, largely out of awe or envy or denial. In a leery age, they contemporize Gable and Lombard, who were ultimately doomed in their day. Living now, Gere and Crawford incite rumors of all colors, then ignore them. “Richard’s obviously been accused of being gay,” says the missus, tarrying briefly in the muck. “Why? Because he has a lot of gay friends? It’s amazing to me, considering the number of women he’s associated with. Like when does he have time to be gay? Plus, we won’t ever say he’s not gay, because he doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with being gay.” (A gent of great reticence, Gere abstains from being quoted in any text devoted to his wife.) For her part, Crawford has drawn similar murmurings — especially after having been seen shaving k.d. lang on a recent Vanity Fair cover, which she did as a favor to Ritts, who took the picture. Of lesbianism, she soberly states: “Particularly for a young woman in a world of AIDS, I’ve said that it seems to be a safer way to explore your sexuality, rather than screwing around with a lot of boys. I mean, if you’re not into it, you’re not into it. For me, though, it’s like Sharon Stone has said, ‘It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that schwing!’ ”
If anything, theirs is a marriage of inconvenience. To spend a night together in any of their houses, they must regularly fly back and forth across the map, chasing each other, which is exactly what they do. Large careers do not bend or coincide easily. So there must be infinite patience, although such a thing has yet to be found in actual Homo sapiens. “Richard always says that he wishes that I’d been through a few more relationships,” she says, a bit sheepishly. “Because I’m still very, very idealistic. And unrealistic. I hadn’t even been through bad relationships — only kid stuff. Richard is really my first big one. I mean, big relationship, you know?”
Final thoughts: Certain realities must be faced. Sooner than we may imagine, she will cease to model. But she will not disappear. If she has her way, genetically gifted Crawfordian offspring will one day enter the human race, bringing with them biological hope for future generations. Also, she vows to turn up in public as often as possible, if only to bolster morale. “When is my life ever going to not involve taking pictures?” she says, reassuringly. “Not for a long time! I mean, look at Lauren Hutton. Or even people who aren’t models, who are actresses or TV people. They still get their pictures taken, right?” Lately, however, she has heard about a disturbing new trend among actresses, especially those who fancy themselves serious. “Apparently, when they’re posing for photographers, so many of them are saying, ‘Don’t make me look like a model!’ — like that’s such a terrible thing,” she says, taking full umbrage. “When I hear that, I always want to tell them: ‘Don’t worry about it! You couldn’t if you tried.'”