Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington and Tatjana Patitz talk to “Freedom! ’90” co-star John Pearson for his new website’s debut
Words by ANDREW BARKER
The first supermodels were arguably anointed, not by a trendsetting designer or all-powerful editor, but by a musician — George Michael — who, in 1990, cast five willowy catwalk and campaign favorites (Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington Burns, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell and Tatjana Patitz), and an impossibly handsome man in his “Freedom! ’90” music video, which, more than any single collection or trend, encapsulated the era.
That man nonchalantly peeling an orange as he mimed to Michael’s lyrics was John Pearson, now a 15-plus-year resident of Los Angeles with three decades at the top of his game. During the pandemic, with his international modeling commitments on hold, Pearson ploughed his energy into a new venture — an online magazine combining health advice and wellness tips alongside style guides and culture news.
NAOMI CAMPBELL, LINDA EVANGELISTA, TATJANA PATITZ, CHRISTY TURLINGTON BURNS and CINDY CRAWFORD in New York, 1990. Photo by Peter Lindbergh.
“During this lockdown period, I realized more than at any other time how necessary it is to be able to talk, reach out and truly connect — this for men, especially,” Pearson says. “Whether it be for my generation or my sons’ friends, I wanted a comfortable place to talk about what’s really important today, from serious matters like mental health or climate change, to looser subjects around style and culture. My [business] partner, Pete Samson, and I created Mr Feelgood to truly aim to make people in our community feel good, support and encourage. Plus, as a model, I haven’t spoken out in 30 years, so at last, an outlet! I have a lot to say!”
And for its launch last week, he achieved something of a publishing coup — he got the five original “supers” together over the phone and via email for an interview in honor of the 30th anniversary of the release of “Freedom! ’90”.
“It was probably the most spoken-about job of my career,” he says. “I remember being in a bar in Miami doing a shoot when the premiere came on MTV. I was excited to see the final cut and wondering if I’d been edited out. But then it came on, and I was ‘singing’ the first line. … All the crew around me went crazy. Since then I have never heard a negative thing about it — it seems universally loved.”
Here, Pearson talks to his three fellow “Californians” from the David Fincher-directed music video: Malibu resident Cindy Crawford, NorCal-to-New York transplant Christy Turlington Burns, and Santa Barbara’s Tatjana Patitz. Read the full interview at Mr Feelgood.
JOHN PEARSON. Photo by Beau Grealy.
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John Pearson: Why do you think this video, more than any other, has had such a lasting impact and has become so iconic? And what effect did it have on your life and career?
Cindy Crawford: I think this video struck a chord for so many reasons. First and foremost was the song itself and the message and declaration of “freedom” for George himself. It also coincided with the “birth” of the supermodel and brought music and fashion together in an exciting way. At the time, I’m not sure I realized the longevity and impact of this video, but obviously, it’s still a favorite.
Stills from the music video for “Freedom! ’90” by performing artist GEORGE MICHAEL.
Christy Turlington Burns: I think the video captures everyone involved at critical junctures in our lives and careers, which none of us could have possibly grasped in the moment, except for George maybe. David Fincher had worked on other iconic videos but this was probably one of the last before his movie making career really took off. The song was an instant classic. Whenever it gets played in a room I am in, I feel eyes turn on me.
Tatjana Patitz: It represents an era in pop culture, and it was at the height of the early 90’s when the fashion, film and music industries blended together. MTV was huge at the time with all the incredible music videos. I became more recognizable in a different way I think.
CHRISTY TURLINGTON BURNS, October 2018 issue, C Magazine. Photos by Pamela Hanson.
JP: I remember going through the song with George in his trailer before the shoot and him forgetting some of the words, which had us laughing. I think we’d all had a little wine by then! What is your favorite memory of the shoot? And of George in particular?
CC: My favorite memory was sitting on a plane on my way to shoot it, listening to the song over and over on my Walkman, trying to learn the words. I instantly loved the song and was excited to be included. My favorite memory with George was when we presented together at the MTV VMAs in 1991. It was fun to reconnect in a public setting after the success of the video and have fun with that and each other.
CTB: Linda and I were the only ones who overlapped shooting the video because we had a scene together. It was pretty controversial in retrospect as we were pricking our fingers to be blood sisters at a time when HIV AIDS was rampant. I remember George being incredibly focused and in control of everything, but also fun in the moments when we got to just hang out.
TATJANA PATITZ, May 2019 issue, C Magazine. Photo by Amanda Demme.
TP: I loved how creative it was. David Fincher was amazing to work with, and I loved all of it! It was a day that I will always remember.
JP: As the first “supers,” what examples do you think our era of models set for the next generation?
CC: I think the group of us paved the way for this broader ideal of beauty. We all looked different, but looked good together and demonstrated that sometimes 1 plus 1 plus 1 equals 1,000!
CTB: That’s hard for me to answer objectively. We were certainly not the first grouping of models, nor the last. I think we were somewhat symbolic with a change in the industry and culture in the world generally. I am sure you will be able to look back at this period and some models will be symbolic of this period too.
TP: It’s so different today with social media and technology. There is more inclusivity today which I think is fantastic, so there are more opportunities for future generations.
“I remember going through the song with George before the shoot and him forgetting some of the words, which had us laughing”
JP: I was a little embarrassed by the supermodel tag at first. I always thought of Richard Burton saying he was embarrassed at being an actor and he would rather have been known for playing rugby for Wales. Do you like being referred to as a “supermodel”?
CC: At first I found it silly — as if we wore capes and changed in phonebooths (which I have done, by the way), but now the term is used so frequently that I’ve gotten used to it.
CTB: I do not. I always change the word to model whenever I can.
JP: What changes do you see in our industry over the last 30 years? Positive and negative?
CINDY CRAWFORD, Winter 2018/2019 issue, C Magazine. Photo by Kurt Markus.
CC: The positive changes are all about inclusivity and broadening the idea of what is beautiful. I also think having social media can be a powerful tool, but can also feel like a lot of pressure.
CT: It’s hard to say since it’s been so long since I was as immersed. I went back to school at 25 and haven’t worked full time as a model since. When I do shoot these days it’s usually with old friends who will remark at how different it is now. From my perspective, things have gotten less intimate and fun. There’s less time to be playful and just create. There was always a commercial side to the industry, but it feels that that side kind of took over through the years.
TP: The fashion industry has become much bigger, faster and parts of that are positive, but also negative. There was more time before, days of shooting rather than packing everything into one day. Careers were built and had longevity and now it’s a much faster turnaround, for models at least. I look back at the ’90s with such fondness and it was sort of a “golden era.” Magic happened and felt more artistic, less corporate like today.
Feature image: Portrait of JOHN PEARSON by Eric Gabriel.
Aug. 24, 2020
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