Gia Carangi Stephen Fried

The Bookshelf , 18 July 2015

Thing of Beauty: The Tragedy of Supermodel Gia / Stephen Fried

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Do you recognise this face? Does she look vaguely familiar? If it’s the first time you’ve clapped eyes on her you would be forgiven for mistaking her for a younger Cindy Crawford. Their resemblance is more than passing and, in fact, Cindy was ushered into the modelling limelight because of this woman*. Her name? Gia Carangi, though she was known as Gia among her peers.

Gia Carangi Book

Gia was a big deal in modelling in the late seventies and early eighties, appearing on the cover of Vogue four times, working for the likes of Dior, Armani and Yves Saint Laurent. Looking through photos of Gia to use for this post I was struck by how many took my breath away – Gia’s preternaturally beautiful face captivates as much now as it did over thirty years ago and her meteoric rise in the fashion world is retrospectively unsurprising.

Gia Carangi Vogue 1983

Gia was famed as much for her attitude as for her beauty. Photographer Francesco Scavullo said of Gia: “There was something she had . . . no other girl has got it. I’ve never met a girl who had it,” Scavullo said. “She had the perfect body for modeling: perfect eyes, mouth, hair. And, to me, the perfect attitude: ‘I don’t give a damn.’ ”

Gia Carangi

Some other Gia facts? She was a gay and had a string of affairs with fashion figures, aggressively pursuing the objects of her affection (further evidence of Gia’s unique attitude). When off duty, Gia would cast off all her glossy perfection, wearing old t-shirts, leather jackets and generally adopt an androgynous appearance long before doing so was fashionable.

Gia Carangi

Gia was also a drug addict, graduating from quaaludes and other minor drugs to heroin in her early twenties (remarkably, she continued modelling despite her body being ravaged by drugs). She was the first prominent female to contract and die of AIDS aged just 26.

After all that, doesn’t it seem odd to you that Gia all but vanished from collective consciousness until Stephen Fried wrote this book? Reading that Gia’s short, extraordinary and tragic life was all but forgotten following her death made me glad that this book prompted HBO to revive interest in the model by making a film about Gia’s life starring Angelina Jolie.

Gia Carangi Vogue 1979

As is often the case, however, films by necessity deviate from reality, leaving an impression without real substance. If you’d really like an insight, get this book – it is unflinching, chartering Gia’s life from her troubled youth to height of fame as a model and, finally, her steep decline thanks to the iron grip of her drug addiction and contraction of AIDS.

As much a book about the modelling industry, druggy underbelly of New York and the superstitions and ludicrous beliefs that plagued those suffering from AIDs, it captures an era in all its imperfection perfectly.

*Cindy on her rise to fame: “My agents took me to all the photographers who liked Gia: Albert Watson, Francesco Scavullo, Bill King. Everyone loved her look so much that they gladly saw me.”

Thing of Beauty by Stephen Fried, £4.41 at foyles.co.uk.

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