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Gia Carangi, often referred to as one of the world’s first supermodels, is perhaps best known simply as Gia. She burst onto the scene in the late 1970s, traveled the world, posed for famous photographers, landed on the covers of Vogue and Cosmopolitan, and fronted campaigns for Dior, Versace and Yves Saint Laurent. While her life had all the elements one would expect of a fashion darling in New York, how it ended serves as the most cautionary of tales. Carangi died of AIDS in 1986 at the age of 26 after battling a heroin addiction that derailed her once white-hot career. Her story — told in HBO’s Gia starring Angelina Jolie — continues to inspire headlines and an Instagram account with 11,500 followers. In honor of Pride month and in a year that would’ve marked Carangi’s 60th birthday, legendary makeup artist Sandy Linter opens up to The Hollywood Reporter about their surprise romance, a St. Barts getaway and the final time she saw her.
I got booked for a photo shoot for Harper’s Bazaar Italia in 1978 with one of the coolest photographers ever — Chris von Wangenheim — at the Citicorp Building, a new building at the time, which worked very well for Chris, who was into modern design. A few models walked in and there was Gia Carangi.
She sat down in the chair and immediately put her feet up on the makeup table. She picked up my punk sunglasses, put them on and lit up a cigarette. I could see all this out of the corner of my eye and I remember thinking, Oh, she’s trouble. She’s going to be trouble. That was the first time I saw her.
When it came time to do Gia’s makeup, I walked over to look at her face. She already had foundation on but it was applied very badly. I said, “What’s this? I’ll have to take this off.” She told me her agency said to come makeup ready because there would be a few girls on the shoot. It was a nice gesture but looked horrible. I’ve actually heard over the years that she could do her own makeup and the truth is, no. Gia introduced herself and I couldn’t pronounce her name at first. She laughed. I respected her charm and her edge.
I stood behind Chris as I watched them both work. At one point, he gives Gia a nod and she drops the side of her dress from one shoulder to expose one of her breasts. He took the shot and it’s fabulous. You could just see that she’s a star. She had power. This was 1978 and that was not a move fashion models were doing back then. Nudity was allowed in European magazines but not in America, really. Still, Gia and Chris obviously had worked something out and she was going for it. She had a saying that she was always ready to go for the “gusto.”
I was booked to do a shoot for American Vogue with Chris and with Gia and another model named Lisa Vale. Chris was married to a drop-dead gorgeous model named Regine Jaffry. When I approached the building of CVW’s studio, Regine was outside. She asked me a weird question: “How much do you weigh?” I told her 99 lbs. and went inside, not thinking much of it. I did Gia and Lisa Vales’ makeup. It was a nice shoot. Chris photographed them against a wire fence, similar to one you would see in a playground.
After the shoot, I was packing up my makeup, ready to leave and Chris came back into the room. He said, “I’m doing a personal photo, will you do it?” I agreed and he came back and said, “With Gia?” I said OK again, he left the room only to come right back with another question: “Nude?” I was freaking out a bit. What did I get myself into? I had just come back from a summer at Fire Island Pines, where we were all mostly nude or topless. It was 1978!
I just told him I would keep my boots on because I was so short and that would make me feel better. When I walked on set, the stylist yelled, “She has her boots on!” Chris didn’t care. I figured I would just be a prop — someone in the shadows, never really seen and only there so Gia would have someone to respond to. When Gia walked out on set, she climbed the fence and was doing some very punk rock moves. I had a vision in my mind of the very glamour photos that Helmut Newton would do featuring two women. That’s what I started doing and Gia followed my lead.
#sandylintermakeup my interview with @theselectsgallery recently. #chrisvonwangenheim 1978. I remember a lot about that day. Grateful to finally, after 40 plus years to see the entire contact sheet….. a shoot that changed my life orchestrated by Chris and Gia. ??? “I’ll say this on camera, this is the only time I ever say this on camera. I had done a shoot for Vogue magazine one day, and I don’t think I have the photos here of the exact shoot; it was with the model Lisa Vale and Gia. It was a very lovely shoot. Chris had gotten a playground fence. You know a fence that we all see on the playgrounds, those wire fences. He had gotten that into his studio and set it up, and he positioned the two models against the fence, and the lovely pictures were taken, and they were printed for Vogue. After the shoot, as I was packing my makeup, he said to me: “I would like to do some personal photos of you and Gia,” and he walked out of the room. I said, “ok, fine.” Then he came back into the room and he said, “nude.” And the rest #fashionhistory @ritahazan @bryanbantryagency
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I have a feeling that Regine was supposed to do the shoot but backed out last minute, so they asked me. These are just my thoughts after so many years. These photos that can never be duplicated, not in movies or photos, and I am proud to be a part of history as, unfortunately, I am the only one now living. Chris died in a car crash in 1981. Before his death, he gave me two autographed prints that I treasure.
The day after the shoot, late in the afternoon, my phone rang and it was Gia. She had a very different tone of voice. She sounded like she was coming on to me. I can’t imitate it now but it was sexy. She said she was driving around in this hot red car and asked if I wanted to go for a ride. I mean what do you say? Who drives a car in Manhattan? She picked me up and we drove around, stopping in front of Fiorucci. She ran inside and got one ear pierced and I was just along for the ride.
One thing I quickly discovered about Gia is that she did not want to be alone. There’s a lot of people out there who think they know her better than I did and so they say she was a loner. They are wrong. During the day, she worked with the best people in the business, but let’s face it, at the end of the day, everybody went their separate ways. At night she did not want to be alone and she was just 19 years old alone in New York. She had her own apartment but she ended up staying with me a lot because she liked me and because she wanted the closeness of having a girlfriend. She would bring me flowers and she phoned me often. It was never a torrid sexual affair but we did love each other. This never happened again with a woman in my lifetime. So it’s a difficult relationship to label. We spent a lot of time together, going to clubs, restaurants, just out all the time. We had chemistry. I got her. I didn’t pry. I got her moods, and she felt safe with me.
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I was just as shocked as anybody that she became an addict. She thought she was stronger than the drugs. One morning, as she was getting dressed to leave my apartment she asked, “What happened to my natural energy?” She didn’t have the energy to get dressed at 20 years old. The drugs took everything. She thought she could go home to her mother’s house on weekends to clean up and then come back to the city but that never worked.
I want all the guys and girls out there, her fans, to know that Gia finally knew that drugs are not the answer. But it was too late. I’m not saying that I avoided drugs completely, but there was something unappealing about shooting up. It was the ’80’s and people were always offering me something to snort and it was like, “OK, fine.” They were party drugs back then. We partied, we snorted, we went to the Mudd Club and Hurrah. I always thought I was given cocaine and a couple of times it wasn’t — it was heroin. That was a different high and I liked it but it wasn’t worth the headache I had the next morning.
One morning after going out to a club, I heard Gia on the phone in the kitchen. I was surprised that she was up because she didn’t like to get up in the morning. She asked me if she should go to work that day. I said, “Not if you feel the way I do!” It wasn’t until years later that I learned she had stood up a TV crew with Richard Avedon as director. What a stupid thing to tell her. Gia was a supermodel and it was not a rational thing to say to her because she had a job to do. The job paid $5,000 and beautiful model Rosie Vela took her place. That’s what happens when you do drugs, bad things. They happened so often for Gia; soon she had fewer and fewer bookings.
We had good times, too. We went to St. Barts together, which was not yet the place to be, like it is today. I mean, she was adorable. She took a teddy bear on the flight, flirting with the female flight attendants. When we landed, I wasn’t feeling well. I was “on the rag” with severe cramps. She immediately sprung into action, renting a Jeep and driving us over the hilly terrain of the small island. We stopped once to ask for directions from a guy in his backyard. He was visibly moved when he saw Gia, who was wearing men’s shorts and an undershirt. She had that effect on everyone. I’m sure he never forgot her.
#giacarangi & @sandylinter in St Barts, 1979. • • • • • #gia #vogue #fashion #supermodel #model #gay #lesbian #sexy #1980s #1970s #cosmopolitan #gorgeous #beauty #tragedy #beautiful #pretty #supermodel80s #supermodels #janicedickinson #thingofbeauty #stephenfried #chrisvonwangenheim #denispiel #vogue #americanvogue #arthurelgort #scavullo #photography
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It must’ve been like that all her life. No makeup, just a natural beauty. It didn’t matter what she wore. The fact that she loved women was just a part of that. Thinking about where she would be in her life today with the LGBTQ community, her pride would have evolved. Gia was always proud. She never apologized to anyone for who she loved or who she had sex with. I think back to how she died of AIDS and how, at that time, there was such a stigma to it. I didn’t know her when she was sick or dying. I didn’t even know she was sick.
Sometime around 1983 or ’84, my doorbell rang. It was Gia, just standing there and smiling. She had on a yellow cashmere sweater — her favorite. She sat down on my couch with me, put her head on my shoulder and cried. My shirt was dripping wet with tears. I kept telling her how well she looked and wondered why she was crying. It was the end of our “romance.” I knew it and she knew it. Because she looked so good, I had been tricked into thinking that she was on the road to recovery. I never knew she had AIDS until later. After maybe 30 minutes, she looked out the window, nodded to someone in the street and left. I would never see her again.
Towards the end, I connected with her on the phone a few times because we had drifted apart. Once I read an article in the New York Times and I tried to tell her to be careful because it said that IV drug users, including women, were getting sick. She was very quiet. “You’ve got to stop this. This is real. This is a plague,” I told her. She only wanted to talk about lively things, but I was taking a tough-love stance. I had to let her know that I had terms and I was worried that AIDS was going to kill her. Maybe a part of her felt it was already too late. I don’t know. There is so much I will never know.
The most important thing now is that she left a legacy. Millions of people are captivated by her and I understand that. She was a one-of-kind. Just a proud kid I will always remember for sitting down at my makeup table, putting her feet up and grabbing my sunglasses. She was that kind of girl — so secure and confident.
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