A Bookish NYFW: The Best Model Memoirs

I’m giving a side eye glance to NYFW while preparing as Hurricane Irma directs her winds my way.  Obviously, I have an issue. I’m a fashion fiend and a magazine maniac and can’t wait to see the designer visions and trends.  But a dress, no matter how beautiful on the hanger, only comes to life on the woman.  And not just any woman.  The best model is aspirational and relatable.  I am so glad the time of the magnetic model is back, replacing that zombified, indistinct, stomping creature that dominated the runways for a while. The models I love are distinctive, in both looks and personality.   

The power of personality, evident on the runway, translates stylishly to the printed page.  There are plenty model memoirs to choose from, but to cut through the dross, I decided to make a few rules.  It had to be a true memoir, not just a collection of their most famous photographs and editorials.  It had to be in English (really, Marisa Berenson, Italian?), it couldn’t be cost-prohibitive (Veruschka, Naomi), and it couldn’t be a beauty guide (Christie Brinkley, Cheryl Tiegs, Heidi Klum).  It had to be about her life and her journey, written in her own voice, although a contributor was allowed.  The list that resulted are some of my favorite model memoirs.  It’s easy to stereotype women that make a business of their beauty, but their life stories are as varied and extraordinary as their world-famous visages.  I hope you check them out and enjoy. 


Alek Wek Pretty Page Turner The Best Model Memoirs NYFW


Alek:  My Life from Sudanese Refugee to International Supermodel 
I remember when Alek Wek began appearing in my mother’s Vogue.  Her dark black girl magic was an amazing contrast from the dernier cri and I was fascinated.  As the story of her life was revealed, she became the face that not only represented a change in the standards of beauty:  she became the symbol of a world crisis.  This story of how her middle-class life was shattered due to civil war is inspiring. Her face on magazines actually offered a platform and a flashlight to shine on the horrors transpiring in her homeland.  No run of the mill model memoir, it’s an international education of the effects of war in the world. 




A New Model: What Confidence, Beauty, and Power Really Look Like Pretty Page Turner The Best Model Memoirs NYFW
When Sports Illustrated, the historic paragon of perfect beach-bodies, featured Ashley Graham on the cover, she shook up the world.  Finally, it looked as if the fashion and magazine world was finally waking up to what the rest of us already knew:  a little junk in the trunk is a good thing.  As NYFW  designers begin monitoring the health of runway models and curvy Instagram stars design and front major clothing lines, Ashley remains a guiding force in the curvy girl era.  Her wonderfully written book shares her path to self-acceptance and breaking stereotypes.  The plus-size woman is considered a niche market, but Ms. Graham’s message is universal. 





Becoming Cindy Becoming Cindy Pretty Page Turner NYFW the Best Model Memoirs
This beautiful Rizzoli-published book was close to not making the list.  I knew it would be full of photographs of this mega model from the glamazon-loving 80’s, so I thought it was simply a pictorial.  I’m glad I was mistaken.  There are beautiful photographs, but Becoming Cindy is a richly photograph-annotated collection of essays through the journey that made Cindy from Illinois the leader of the supermodels.  As you read the essays you gain greater insight into the Midwest value and work ethic that allowed a model to outlive the era that made her famous, extending the proverbial 15 minutes of fame into decades. 



 Fabulosity: What It Is & How to Get It Fabulosity The Best Model Memoirs NYFW Pretty Page Turner
When Kimora Lee Simmons wrote this book, the term “Fabulous” was not a catch-phrase, but she was the perfect author for this tome to the fabulous life as she was known for pre-Instagrammable lifestyle.  I distinctly remember reading this and thinking ‘this lady is bringing the heat.  Ms. Simmons delivered the kind of substance one would not suspect from her stylish lifestyle.  This was no real housewife of New Jersey, she was a legit business woman, and just as savvy as her mogul husband.  No side piece, she showed that she knew how to hustle.  Raised by a single mother, her biracial looks and gangly limbs made her a target for bullies, giving her mental toughness.  She parlayed her discovery as a model to become the toast of Europe and the muse of the Kaiser himself.  Although very young, she was disciplined, handling her paperwork like a pro and managing her time for the best effect.   A girlboss before the term was originated, she was not happy to simply be taken care of, although she married extremely well.  This princess put on her pumps and built her own empire.   What could have been a trophy wife treatise, “Fabulosity” is really an amazing book for aspiring businesswomen.  It remains one of my favorite lifestyle and business books, and having read this book, I understand the mindset and hustle that keeps Ms. Simmons relevant in the business and fashion community.  This is OG territory. 


Grace:  A Memoir Grace A Memoir NYFW The Best Model Memoirs Pretty Page Turner
Most of us watched The September Issue for the chance to see Anna Wintour at work and hopefully say a few catty comments.  Instead, the sideline character Grace Coddington emerged as the star.  I didn’t really know Grace Coddington, but I had been witnessing the creative and visual scope of her work in Vogue for years. Once the documentary aligned the titan-haired genius with the name in the lower paragraph of my favorite editorials, I joined the company of Grace fanatics. The time was ripe for her memoir, feeding our frenzy for the one-time model that parlayed her connections into becoming the creative visual force at Vogue for decades.  This memoir is an introspective on her journey and the creative process it took her a lifetime to mature. The resulting library of books by Grace is required reading for every fashionista, but this is the book that started it all.   



I’ll Never Write My Memoirs Ill Never Write My memoirs PRetty Page Turner NYFW The Best Model Memoirs
Speaking of the Great Graces, this look at the life of the legendary Grace Jones is my favorite title, simply because it’s extraordinarily cheeky.  Nothing less than the extraordinary should be expected from Ms. Jones as basic is not a part of her vernacular.  More than the typical triple threat, she excelled as a model, actress, provocateur, singer, disco queen, gay icon and best remaining time capsule of the Studio 54 era.  From her religious island upbringing to the streets of Paris and New York, her success was never a straight line, but a lesson in the road less traveled may result in a life worth living. 






Hungry: A Young Model’s Story of Appetite, Ambition, and the Ultimate Embrace of Curves Hungry NYFW The Best Model Memoirs Pretty Page Turner
Today, we celebrate Ashley Graham.  Crystal Renn’s memoir shows us life before the Age of Curvy Enlightenment with this cautionary tale of Would You Rather.  Would you Rather have a life as a normal teenager or live the life of high fashion, money and fame, but need to lose the weight equivalent of the average fifth-grader?  When you choose the latter, the rabbit hole leads to anorexia, bulimia, self-hatred and confusion.  Thank goodness Crystal saw the light and began a journey to self-discovery and self-love, eventually, emerging as a top full-size model.  The before to Ashley’s after, Hungry could have been a lopsided look at the ugly side of the beauty business.  Fortunately, our heroine emerges triumphant. 





The Face that Changed it All:  A Memoir The Face that Changed it All NYFW The Best Model Memoirs
Just released in paperback in August, I read the first release and enjoyed it immensely.  The publication, I’m sure not intentional, coincided with Beverly Johnson revealing that she, with 57ish (and still counting) other women, was assaulted by Bill Cosby.  She does broach the subject in the book, but it is a respectable side note, and not the main event.  Beverly’s life story is well-written and a lovely remembrance of how a respectable middle-class African-American girl shatters the white ceiling of the modeling industry, as the first woman of color to appear on the cover of American Vogue.  Along the way, she learns to navigate the urban jungle, makes tons of mistakes, dates the wrong men, gains and loses her fortune, yet continues to persevere, remain relevant and work.  There’s a lot of name dropping, not in a gratuitous manner, but most interesting to me was she dated Chris Noth, pre-Mr. Big persona.  It’s a fun nugget in a singularly spectacular life story.  


Walking with the MusesWalking with the muses Pretty Page Turner NYFW The best Model Memoirs 
Still quite the blithe spirit, Pat Cleveland is one of the few remainders of the old modeling system, traversing the mannequin days of the European model to the new style of active and personality modeling favored by new guard names like Halston.  Raised in Harlem with aspirations of being a designer, she became a designer’s muse instead. She ruled the emerging Studio 54 scene and held court with the designers that were as celebrated as the celebrities they dressed.  She lived within the artistic and bohemian community when many of today’s legends, were just beginning. The tales from New York are gritty and glamorous fun, with Nicholson, Beatty and Jagger showing up at the dance party.  Ms. Cleveland’s story is one of loving well, living globally and often unknowingly witnessing and making history.  Her life is the absolute blueprint for an international Cinderella story.  Hers was a really grand life, and a wonderfully grand read. 

 Honorable mention: 

As I was planning these books, I thought about all the other stories I wanted to know.  Where’s Linda Evangelista, Tyra Banks, Naomi Sims, Kim Alexis, Paulina Porizkova.  When is Kate Moss really going to let us in on her story in her voice?  What about Avedon’s angels Dovina and Suzy Parker? What about living legend Lauren Hutton?  Just as I was planning this post, I got a hit that Claudia Schiffer, yes, the Claudia Schiffer was releasing a book this fall.  Released September 5, Rizzoli published a 272-page homage to one of the most photographed faces of our time.  Noted as ‘being curated’ by Claudia herself, I think this is more of a full pictorial history of her career, and not the ‘true memoir’ guidelines I used for this post.   I’m mentioning because I’m sure it’s awesome (you know my Rizzoli obsession) and it came around just as I was thinking of this subject.  No one said you are restricted by my guidelines, so swipe your credit card accordingly. 

Claudia Schiffer NYFW The Best Model Memoirs Pretty Page Turner

Buy it Now