When you see a model giving you ‘attitude’ in a photo, you are not just seeing the model and whatever designer threads on her back. You are seeing the legacy of one of the first supermodels. Gia.
Gia Marie Carangi was born into a materially comfort but emotionally lacking home on 29th January in Philadelphia, 1960. A needy child, who was extremely close to her mother and when she left home when Gia was a young girl; she was deeply traumatised and never recovered from being deserted. The obsessed David Bowie fan was snapped by local photographers but she moved to New York when she was 17 where Wilhemina Cooper signed Gia. Cooper, a former model herself, Cooper saw in Gia the antithesis of the usual Nordic blonde hair belles. She was on the the cover of Vogue, Cosmopolitan and starred in several campaigns including Dior and Armani. While she could be late and less then professional all agreed that when Gia was in front of the camera she brought a magic that few others were capable of. Gia’s most famous pictures were a series of nudes with future love Sandy Linter in front of a mesh fence, by Chris Von Waggenheim. Very erotic and beautiful.
Another facet of Gia’s life was her lesbianism. Today it would hardly worth noting, late 70’s and early 80’s on the other hand it was not so common. Gia did not fit the stereotype of the butch lesbian so I can imagine she would have encountered plenty of discrimination especially when she was back in Philadelphia. Just like her career, Gia was involved in a series of passionate but unstable relationships. As a side note, Gia’s preference was for blondes and her mother was blonde, coincident?
Unfortunately this level of success was short lived. With her growing addiction to heroin, Carangi became more and more of a challenge to work with so she slipped into obscurity and spent all of her earnings on drugs. After finally kicking her habit you would think that she would have remade herself and begin anew. This was not the case for Gia, doctors diagnosed her with full blown AIDS (most likely contracted from using dirty needle). Since this was 1986, there was nothing that could have been done to help Gia. Aged just 26 Gia Carangi became the the first American woman to die from AIDS. For obviously reasons few were told that she was dying. Ironically Gia never stopped longing for her mother’s unconditional time and with her impending death, she finally was being cared for the way she had wanted since she was a child.
Cindy Crawford was nicknamed ‘Baby Gia’ during the early part of her career due to her uncanny resemble to Gia. Now she is seen as an icon of the LGBT community. What makes Carangi’s story so unbearably sad is that if Gia had lived today, she would more than likely have lived a full and happy life, ultimately she was a victim of the times. She would not have been ignorant of the risks of HIV/AIDS, if she had been diagnosed sooner she could have been medicated to prolong her life. Although the battle against AIDS has yet to be won, now the chances of dying as young as Gia have been reduced thanks to education and advances in medicine.
A film was made in 1996 about Gia’s life and death, starring Angelina Jolie in one of her first major roles. It is incidentally one of my favourite films, Jolie is sensational and really captures her smouldering magnetism and her vulnerability. If you still want to find out more about Miss Carangi, I highly recommend ‘Thing of Beauty’ by Stephen Fried. Brilliantly written, unbiased and very well researched.