Ève Salvail on modeling in the 90s: "They took me as I was, head shaved and tattooed"

·4-min read
'Sois toi et t'es belle' [Be Yourself and You're Beautiful] by the former model, Ève Salvail, is out February 18, published by Editions de l'Homme.

With her shaved head revealing a dragon tattoo and her generally androgynous look, Ève Salvail didn't exactly meet the classic beauty standards of fashion catwalks in the 1990s. But that didn't stop her treading the runway and posing in shoots for some of the industry's biggest names, from Jean-Paul Gaultier to Versace to Karl Lagerfeld. Now, the former model looks back on her career in a memoir entitled "Sois toi et t'es belle" -- or "Be Yourself and You're Beautiful" -- remembering the highs and lows of her singular professional and personal journey.

In your book you talk about your different 'identities'. Who is the 'real' Ève Salvail today?

I think that I managed to get rid of these numerous masks. Maybe I am a bit spiritual and a bit [like] the little Ève? Sometimes we carry on using masks, or characters, as a defense mechanism, even when we no longer need them. Today, I try to just be ME.

Your androgynous look helped you stand out in the 1990s -- how do you explain that?

This look I had in 1992 was pretty "normal" for me. That's how I was, and I didn't see myself at all as being different from others. Today, I can see that I was the black sheep. It was a different time. I was young and a "punkette" and it is, in fact, to my great surprise that I found myself walking [the runway] for some of the biggest names in fashion.

Did that also earn you criticism?

Not really. In fact, right after getting the tattoo and before my first Jean-Paul Gaultier show, my agencies dropped me. Nothing else negative, I was lucky!

Did some people try to get you to fit the mold and conform to the standards of the day ?

Not really either. As I often say, fate maybe have given me a big helping hand, but my difference probably came at the right time. They took me as I was, head shaved and tattooed.

You mention a pivotal moment in a fitting with Karl Lagerfeld, where you decided to never again show your emotions. Is that essential for going the distance in this industry?

I would say about 80% of the time, yes. There are obviously some exceptions, like Jean-Paul Gaultier and Christian Lacroix, but very often, to last in this job -- which is essentially quite short-lived -- it is very important to keep your emotions to yourself.

What role does Jean-Paul Gaultier have in your career?

Without Jean-Paul, there wouldn't even be a career! He determined its starting point and its course. I owe him a lot and I have immeasurable respect for that man.

You also talk about some of your traumas and addictions. Are they linked to your career?

Yes, because I would never have "survived" my modeling career without those drugs. But also because this substance abuse took me to rock bottom. The addiction won and I was able to stand down and learn once again to love, to laugh, to live in a healthy way.

The words "inclusivity," "diversity," and "self-empowerment" are everywhere today. Do you think that the fashion industry has really changed ?

I didn't keep up with the fashion world after my career, so I can't really be a judge of its changes. The little that I see going by on my Instagram feed seems to show curvier women, women from all around the world, and men in high heels. But, in the end, that's just my Instagram feed!

What was the best moment of your career?

It's much too difficult to choose! You know, when I was at the height of my career, I was incapable of appreciating the scale of what was happening. It was only afterwards, when remembering these moments, that I was able to start to see the impact that these years and this world had on me. Today, I am very grateful, and even a little melancholic for these magical years.

And the worst?

The barriers that I imposed on myself, that I created. The worst wasn't what people said to me, but my own internal discourse. The worst never came from the outside.

Would you change anything, almost 30 years since your modeling debut ?

No. As turbulent as it was, my career made me the person I am today, happy and fulfilled. With hindsight, I can tell you that I wouldn't change a thing.

What would you say to people who are forever striving to conform to the fashion world's diktats ?

Precisely that they should stop trying!