Supermodel Linda Evangelista's Most Iconic Career Photos

The supermodel had one of the most dazzling fashion careers of the 1990s, becoming synonymous with glamour and a jetsetting lifestyle. But a cosmetic procedure gone wrong caused her to become a virtual recluse. As she opens up to PEOPLE about her private pain, look back at her iconic life in photos

01 of 26

Linda Evangelista Opens Up

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The fashion industry icon and designer muse was a reigning catwalk queen in the '90s, walking runways around the world — alongside her fellow "Supers" Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell and Claudia Schiffer —and starring in major campaigns for Clairol, Chanel and more. But her life in the spotlight came to a halt five years ago, after she alleges a cosmetic procedure left her "permanently deformed." In the latest issue of PEOPLE, Evangelista, 56, opens up for the first time about her private pain — and why she's done hiding. Here, a look back at her legendary career moments.

02 of 26

A Star Is Born

Linda Evangelista Rollout

Growing up near Niagara Falls in Canada, Evangelista dreamed of becoming a model and taped magazine pages of iconic '70s faces like Joan Severance and Janice Dickinson to her walls.

"I loved fashion so much," she tells PEOPLE.

In 1977, a newspaper ad for a local modeling school caught her eye. That eventually led to the Miss Teen Niagara Pageant in 1981. She didn't win, but a scout from the prestigious Elite agency was in the audience. Evangelista landed her first job three years later, in an ad for hairstylist Jean Louis David.

"He cut my hair and photographed me," she recalls. "The cherry on top was that I got paid. I couldn't believe my big fortune."

03 of 26

The '80s Baby

Linda Evangelista
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Evangelista's career quickly skyrocketed, and in the mid '80s she found herself on the Paris Fashion Week circuit, seen here in bold hues and prints at the Yves Saint Laurent show in 1985.

"People told my mom, 'She's so tall, she should be a model," Evangelista shares.

04 of 26

The Model as Muse

Fashion Designer Karl Lagerfeld and Linda Evangelista
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Early on in her career, Evangelista formed close relationships with the industry's top designers, including Chanel's Karl Lagerfeld (here the duo is photographed backstage at one of Chanel's fashion shows in the early '90s).

"Karl really adored Linda," André Leon Talley told PEOPLE in his last interview before his death in January. "He made sure she got very special looks."

05 of 26

Chanel Crew

Paris Fashion Weeks In The 1990's
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Claudia Schiffer, Karl Lagerfeld, Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista and Kristen McMenamy look like a fashion fairytale at the Chanel Fashion Show during Paris Fashion Week in the 1990s.

06 of 26

Riding the Industry Wave

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Before long Evangelista was a runway favorite and became known as a chameleon. One season, long blonde hair. The next, short and red. Then a brown pixie. (That cut, in 1988, became known as "The Linda.")

"She could transfer herself into the personality that the particular designer or couturier wanted for that season," said Talley.

07 of 26

Team Player

Linda Evangelista Rollout

Evangelista says she welcomed the opportunity to change up her look for different jobs. "I agree with tattoos and piercings and hair color. I love when people express themselves," Evangelista (here in a 1991 Chanel ad with Turlington Burns) tells PEOPLE.

08 of 26

It Girl

Linda Evangelista
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"She wanted it," Talley told PEOPLE of Evangelista's mark on the modeling world. "She wanted it like any great actress wanted to be Katharine Hepburn or Bette Davis. She was this constant professional. She always showed up with a smile, stood for fittings. And she just, she just made the designers feel so comfortable with her about the way she would express their clothes on her body."

Here the model is photographed stepping out in New York City in 1990.

09 of 26

Top Models

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Evangelista with Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington Burns (at a gala in 1989) infamously said in 1990, "We don't wake up for less than $10,000 a day." Today she says, "I was realizing my dreams. But I shouldn't have been out there saying those silly things that may have hurt people."

10 of 26

Signature Strut

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Evangelista models a bandage dress at the Azzedine Alaïa spring show in Paris in 1989.

11 of 26

The Original Super Squad

Linda Evangelista Rollout
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Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington (seen here at the iconic Versace autumn/winter Fashion Show in Milan in 1991) hit runways across the globe together, forming a special bond.

Crawford and Turlington Burns opened up to PEOPLE about their friend and mentor. Crawford said Evangelista helped her navigate Paris shows: "She used to drive us around in her tiny red car she'd named Petunia." Turlington Burns remembered an Easter shoot with Evangelista: "Linda and I were raised Catholic. She advocated for us to leave to go to church; I probably wouldn't have done that on my own."

12 of 26

Versace, Versace, Versace

Gianni Versace lors d'un défilé de mode en 1991
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Gianni Versace surrounded by Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Claudia Schiffer and Carla Bruni at a show in Paris in 1991.

In September 2017, in a flashback to the '90s supermodel era, Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, Helena Christensen and Naomi Campbell suddenly reunited on the Versace runway. Evangelista was noticeably absent, retreating from the spotlight as she endured physical and emotional pain in the aftermath of her 2015 cosmetic surgery nightmare.

13 of 26

Hair Chameleon

Linda Evangelista
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The late great celebrity hairstylist Oribe Canales helps Evangelista prep for a show at the Louvre museum in Paris in the '90s.

14 of 26

Red-y for Anything

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Evangelista's bold (and ever-changing) hairstyles led to a $5 million contract with Clairol. Here she commands the runway at Prada's 1992 Milan fashion show.

15 of 26

The Musician and the Model

Linda Evangelista Rollout
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"I didn't want to do the 'Freedom' video. George wore me down," she says of collaborating with her close friend George Michael, adding that walking the Versace runway as the iconic song played in 1991 was a career highlight.

Here Michael and Evangelista are photographed together on his "Too Funky" video shoot circa 1992 in Paris.

16 of 26

Music Video Vixens

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Evangelista on set with George Michael and a bevy of beauties for the "Too Funky" video shoot in Paris in 1992.

17 of 26

Strike a Pose

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Evangelista seen wearing an Emilio Pucci tunic with matching purse, lycra leggings and headscarf paired with Christian Lacroix earrings in a May 1990 fashion editorial for Vogue.

18 of 26

Cover Queen

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Evangelista appeared on the cover of more than 700 magazines, including numerous issues of Harper's Bazaar and Vogue. Here she fronts Harper's Bazaar September 1992 issue photographed by famed photographer Patrick Demarchelier.

19 of 26

In Vogue

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The supermodel wears a plunging Bottega Veneta dress on the August 2006 cover of Vogue shot by industry powerhouse Steven Klein.

"The joy and privilege of working with her," Vogue editor in Chief Anna Wintour tells PEOPLE, "was that Linda was as vital and collaborative as any photographer or editor to creating memorable images. It showed every time she was in front of a camera or walked the runway. Linda really does stand as one of the greatest — if not the greatest — models of all time."

20 of 26

Dior Darling

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Evangelista and her platinum pixie command the catwalk during the Dior show at Paris Fashion Week in 1991.

21 of 26

Couture Dream

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"One of the things I admired about Linda [seen here at the Dior Haute Couture show in Paris in 1991] was her ability to transform herself," her peer and close pal Cindy Crawford told PEOPLE.

22 of 26

New York Minute

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Evangelista sporting yet another hairstyle — a chic bob — for the Donna Karan show at New York Fashion Week 1993.

23 of 26

Blue Crush

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Evangelista back on the Versace Haute-Couture runway, wearing a glittering blue sequin gown at the label's show in 1994.

24 of 26

Mugler Muse

PARIS, FRANCE - CIRCA 1995: Linda Evangelista at the Thierry Mugler Fall 1995 show circa 1995 in Paris, France
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After designer Thierry Mugler's death earlier this year, Evangelista paid tribute to the late industry icon by sharing a photo of herself on one of his Paris runways in 1995.

25 of 26

Met Gala Moment

"China: Through The Looking Glass" Costume Institute Benefit Gala
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One of Evangelista's last last public appearances was the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute Gala in 2015, the same year she began CoolSculpting treatments. She wore a red Moschino gown featuring an oversize bow to the event, the color red as an ode to the gala's theme, "China: Through the Looking Glass." Moschino's Creative Director Jeremy Scott cast Evangelista in two back-to-back campaigns for the brand, the first in 2014 and a second fragrance ad in 2015.

26 of 26

Reclaiming Her Self-Worth

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After the 2015 Met Gala, Evangelista largely stayed out of the spotlight, and on Sept. 23, 2021, she explained why in an emotional and vulnerable Instagram post.

The supermodel revealed that she underwent a CoolSculpting fat-reduction procedure five years ago that she says left her "permanently deformed" and "unrecognizable."

Now for the first time, Evangelista, 56, is opening up exclusively to PEOPLE about the emotional and physical anguish she's endured since retreating from the spotlight.

"I loved being up on the catwalk. Now I dread running into someone I know," she tells PEOPLE.

In a lawsuit filed in September, she alleges that CoolSculpting — popular, FDA-cleared "fat-freezing" procedure that's been promoted as a noninvasive alternative to liposuction — left her "permanently deformed" and "brutally disfigured" from the rare side effect paradoxical adipose hyperplasia, which affects less than 1 percent of CoolSculpting patients. According to her suit, she's been unable to work since undergoing treatments in 2015 and 2016, and she's suing CoolSculpting's parent company, Zeltiq Aesthetics Inc., for $50 million in damages. (CoolSculpting denies liability and says Evangelista knew the risks.)

"I hope I can shed myself of some of the shame and help other people who are in the same situation as me," she tells PEOPLE. "That's my goal."

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