Supermodel Cindy Crawford and her daughter, Kaia Gerber, have strikingly similar faces. In fact, visually, the 18-year-old Gerber with her exquisite bone structure and wide eyes seems almost like a carbon copy of her iconic mother, who first graced the pages of Vogue in 1985 when she was 19. And yet, the two women entered the modeling industry in two completely different eras. Today, at Forces of Fashion, during a talk moderated by Vogue’s Tonne Goodman, the mother and daughter discussed how those differences molded their careers.
The Illinois-born Crawford started modeling in Chicago at the age of 16, long before Vogue’s 18+ policy. According to Crawford, she knew nothing about modeling and New York. “I didn’t even know how to hail a cab,” she said. Gerber also started modeling at 16, under the guidance of her model mother, and has since amassed over 4.7 million Instagram followers. Her runway résumé, like her mother’s, is impressive. Gerber has walked for Chanel, Saint Laurent, and Prada. In fact, Crawford and her daughter walked together in the Spring 2018 Versace show, a particularly emotional experience for Gerber: “Never in my life did I think I would have our professional lives collide like that,” she says.
On modeling with Richard Avedon:
Cindy Crawford: The thing that I loved about those Avedon covers is that they were just all about the face. It was that old format camera, like the slow camera, and Avedon had this way of teaching you how to bring expression to your face, which was very different when you’re using a fast camera. When you’re using the slow cameras, you have to find that moment. I remember one of the things that he taught me, which I have shared with Kaia, is to have a thought. Every time you look at that camera lens, make sure you have a thought. He said, “I don’t need to know what, but don’t have, like, a blank expression.” You want to invite people in.
When you were shooting with film and there was no monitor, all the attention was on the set, on the model. So there was an aspect that you were performing in front of the hair[stylists], the makeup [artists], the stylist. Everyone’s eyes were on you, and when you’re receiving that [attention], you perform. All of a sudden, everyone was hovered around the monitor, and I’d be standing on set like, “God, I feel alone.” That was a big shift for me. Now, for Kaia, she grew up with digital, and it is rare that she would have done film.
Kaia Gerber: I will say that there’s such a disconnect with the digital age. I feel at least when I have shot on film, when there’s no focus around on what the images look like [in real time], it’s like capturing that moment, and then, everything else that happens after, happens after. Now, you already see the cover laid out on set in front of you; they’ll be retouching in front of you. But it is cool to have that immediate [image], like you can see it and you’re doing it and you can build off of that. But, yeah, I definitely think that with film that there is a more personal connection and a performance that you’re putting on in some aspect.
Crawford’s influence on Gerber:
Gerber: Talk about a point of reference! If anyone had a point of reference, I definitely did and one of the best ones. For me [modeling] wasn’t a foreign world to go into and I felt like I understood it. I knew what I was kind of getting into. I’d been around it a lot. I definitely think there are some things that no matter how much somebody can tell you about, there were a lot of things you do have to learn firsthand. So for me it was, it was definitely less scary to go into. I have so much appreciation for women like my mom and for the other girls who come who don’t know anything. A lot of the times, English isn’t even their first language. I had a unique experience going into the industry.
A Crawford philosophy? “Do your homework.”:
Crawford: One of the things that I did and Kaia certainly has done . . . is, when you go to work with a photographer or designer, it is like, do your homework. I want to have a language. If I know this photographer shoots this way, when I get to set, I kind of already know what language we might be speaking that day as opposed to just walking in and not knowing anything about the editor or the designer or photographer. By the time Kaia has started in the fashion industry, she was pretty well versed.
The effect of social media on Gerber’s career:
Gerber: [Social media] was something that my mom couldn’t really teach me. We were learning it together, especially starting in an industry that was so heavily influenced by social media, when that didn’t exist when she was doing it. I think it has benefited models and the industry as a whole. I feel like we’ve become a lot more accessible. But when I see images of my mom from when she was modeling, it was very selective, like seeing her on the cover of Vogue and that’s it. It allowed for people to have this kind of fantasy or fascination with models at the time because you weren’t seeing them every single day. You were seeing them shot by these incredible photographers, with the whole team of people. Now as models, you see us from the second we wake up until we go to sleep and you’re not just seeing us all done up. I think that is really nice to realize that you’re not always looking like you look on the cover of Vogue, but it also takes away a bit of that kind of magic and almost suspense.
Even if you’re not a model in the traditional sense, everyone’s a model. Being a 16-year-old girl is not what it was before. Your pictures are still out for the world every single day. It is something that I think is very new and difficult to navigate. It definitely was for me. So I’ve realized, Well, if these pictures are going to be out for the world, it’s nice to have a say in it and to be part of a cool creative process.
Crawford: I don’t think my generation grew up wanting to be models. You didn’t even really think that it was a real job. Then it was the supermodel moment. Then when I really look back on it, it was like America’s Next Top Model. Tyra Banks made everyone believe, like, all of a sudden you too can be a model, and then social media happened right after that.
Then everyone not only could be a model, but they were a model in their everyday life. There isn’t a 12-year-old that doesn’t know how to take a great selfie and how to retouch it perfectly. So when people would say, “Well, how could you let Kaia start modeling?” I’m like, every young person is modeling in their own life. Now, they might only have 300 followers, and I do think having more followers and more eyes on you has sometimes felt like a lot of pressure for Kaia, because sometimes she’ll want to just post something silly or funny and then all of a sudden you’re like, “Okay, does this fit my image?” As you were saying, it’s been a great tool, but it also sometimes feels like pressure.
On what Vogue’s 18+ policy means for Crawford and Gerber:
Gerber: Between my first and second season doing shows was when the rules came into effect. It was in the midst of #MeToo, Time’s Up. Speaking of, I think it’s difficult to be the one to first speak up, but again, that’s where social media I think played such a huge role. Suddenly it was like, “Okay, she’s been through this, too, and this person’s been through this, too.” It gave us the opportunity to feel heard, and not only heard, but supported and encouraged to talk about these issues. I definitely saw a lot of positive changes, just making sure everybody felt more comfortable. I had been modeling for a couple of years and I remember the first time I really noticed someone asked me on set, “Oh, can I tuck your shirt in?” For me as a model, I never thought about that. But suddenly when they asked me, I was like, “You know what? That makes sense, right? Like it is appropriate to ask, ‘Can I tuck your shirt in?’” Something clicked in my head where I realized that now everyone was really making an effort to make sure everyone felt comfortable. We definitely felt more encouraged to speak up. It felt like more of a collaborative process.
Crawford: I always felt respected and part of the team. I fortunately don’t have those kind of stories that we hear about. Those are the exceptions rather than the rule, and I do want to say that it’s like, yes, we’re focused on that now. But I think most of the time people had great experiences in this business. I’ve done a ton of nudes throughout my career with Herb Ritts and Helmut maybe, but I never ever felt bad about [it,] except for one time. And it was because it wasn’t supposed to be a nude, and I kind of felt, like, a little pressured into it. No, I wasn’t under 18. And so that’s why even these 18-year-old rules, as Kaia said, it’s not like, “Okay, well now you’re 18, so we’re not going to worry about you.” I, even as a woman of 53, want to feel respected and protected in any work environment I’m in. But that one time with that guy [photographer], it just felt not right. Those are the only ones I regret. They actually are not even full nudes; they were from the back, sort of. But I didn’t vote myself in. I think that the idea of voting yourself in is very important in any. Sometimes they don’t like when you say no, but now I think models feel more empowered to say no.
On saying no:
Gerber: I think that there is a positive change that we feel, like there is more space for us to speak up, because at the end of the day, we are the ones who have to take responsibility for the images as well as everyone else on the shoot. Whatever decision is made that day, I want to know that when I’m falling asleep, I feel confident with my decisions because it is your face and your body and your life, and I don’t think anyone should feel pressure.
The challenges of being Crawford’s child in the modeling industry:
Gerber: It is definitely easy to have a judgement about somebody when you already know their family. For me that was the biggest disadvantage. It is easier to start with a clean slate and make a name for yourself and you can dictate who you want to be. I came from an already known family, so it was easy for people to have preconceived ideas about me. The biggest struggle was proving people wrong. I almost had to go backward before I went forward.
Crawford: It was easier for Kaia to get a meeting or an appointment, but in the fashion industry, if you don’t have the right look, Vogue is not going to use you. It doesn’t matter. It bothers me more than it bothers Kaia when people say, “Oh, her mom bought her a career.” Even if I wanted to, it would not be possible; there is no way that Karl Lagerfeld or Anna Wintour or Vogue...that is not how the industry works. Kaia, as you said, Tonne, she is a model, she knows what she is doing, she is comfortable in front of a camera, she works hard, and for that to be dismissed riles me up. Time will tell the truth. She hasn’t done just one season and disappeared. I always say that you can tell your success as a model when people come back to you a second time.
Gerber’s thoughts on being compared to her mother:
Gerber: At first, I think any child being compared to their parents is a bit iffy. But if I had to be compared to anyone in the whole world, it is the biggest compliment [to be compared to Crawford], especially when people tell me that I act like her. That, to me, is the biggest compliment to receive because she carries herself with the most poise, kindness, and grace.
Go Behind the Scenes at the 2019 Forces of Fashion Conference:
Go Behind the Scenes at the 2019 Forces of Fashion Conference
Originally Appeared on Vogue