Twenty four years at the top … Gail Elliot is still rolling. She talked to The Ö.
GAIL, how are you today?
I’m well … busy, as usual. I’ve just spent the morning with a blogger from Singapore working on a Little Joe Woman by Gail Elliott collaboration; I have emails to get through; will eat lunch at my desk; have pre-production fittings this afternoon for our next collection and am in the middle of designing Resort 2015. Looking forward to the weekend!
Many will know you as one of the biggest supermodels of your era and that you’re good friends with Cindy Crawford, Yasmin Le Bon and Helena Christensen. What was that time like for you?
I was extremely fortunate to enjoy a successful 24-year career as a model, based in New York in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Our lives were so full, fun and crazy but we worked very hard. It was so normal to us to be walking the runway for Chanel in Paris one day and jumping on the Concorde to be shooting in New York for Vogue the next. We’d hang out with stylists, photographers, actors and rock stars flying around the world to exotic islands to work or to play. I’m still very good friends with Cindy, Yasmin and Helena and they were all my bridesmaids when my husband and business partner, Joe Coffey, and I were married 17 years ago in the Hamptons, New York.
The list of photographers you’ve worked with over the years must be to die for. Who was the best for you?
I worked with everyone over the years: Steven Meisel, Irving Penn, Patrick Demarchelier, Arthur Elgort, Helmet Newton, Bill King, Peter Lindberg, Albert Watson, Max Vadukul, Mario Testino, Bruce Weber, Andrew Macpherson, Michel Comte, Paolo Roversi, Eddy Kohli and so many more.
They were all amazing to work with in their own way. Irving Penn’s studio was very quiet – no music, no loud laughing and everyone called him Mr Penn. He shot me for American Vogue many times and his images were always stunning. Albert Watson was always fun to work with; him being Scottish and me being British, we had a similar sense of humour. Steven Meisel was shy and his “dream team” of hair and makeup were legends – Oribe Canales and Francois Nars – who would make you look incredible in Steve’s images. I worked with Helmet Newton, just once, for a Valentino campaign at Lake Como, Italy and he would call me “child”. Bruce Weber’s shoots were always fun with lots of people around – boys, kids, animals. Bruce loved to be surrounded by people. I shot a great Versace campaign with him, and Vogue’s inimitable Grace Coddington as stylist. I could go on and on …
What do you think about the modeling industry these days?
Obviously, it’s all very different now. Back then, there were about 25 of us who worked consistently every day for 15 years or more, and people knew who we were. Now there are thousands of models and it’s hard to keep up with them because they change from season to season. Back then at fashion shows, we’d be doing five to seven looks per designer for their runway show, now models are booked to walk in one look only. I imagine it would be a very difficult industry for a model to be in these days because of the huge amount of competition.
How long have you been living in Bali? How do you compare this chapter of your life to say New York, The Hamptons, England or Sydney?
We’ve been in Bali for almost seven months and it’s been a delight. Every chapter of my life – from living in the middle of New York City, then the Hamptons, London for stints and more recently, Sydney – has been very different. Each of those places has been an enriching experience. This new chapter is just as exciting.
And now you’re a designer and businesswoman who runs stores in Australia, Bali, online and wholesales to the likes of Myer department store. How was the transition from model to maven?
It was actually a lot more challenging and more involved than people think. It’s easy to just turn it into a sound-bite and say “model turned designer”, as if one minute I was striding down a runway and the next minute we had a fully fledged fashion business with multiple boutiques, but the reality of it couldn’t have been more further from that.
Tell us about your label Little Joe Woman. How did the name come about?
During my career as a model and working with all the most talented designers, stylists, photographers, magazine editors and models, I began to feel a need to express my understandings and fashion thoughts and feelings creatively. My first designs were simple slip dresses and camisoles. Pieces I needed for myself and couldn’t seem to find in stores at the time, and that worked with my hectic travel schedule. They were easy to pack and great to wear. The brand was started by myself and husband Joe when we were living in The Hamptons. It started as a fun project which we saw as “our baby” so named it Little Joe.
How do you feel about the changing face of fashion with online sales compared to how it uses to be back in the day?
The fashion landscape has totally changed in every sense – from the modeling world to the way brands are marketed and how customers find and buy what they’re looking for. For a fashion business, the traditional paradigm of having stand-alone boutiques can be quite a luxury in some ways, because so many people now prefer to buy their entire wardrobes without leaving the house. Brands are now global in every way, no matter where you’re based, and that’s both an opportunity and a challenge when you have your own label.
How did you meet your husband?
We met on New Year’s Eve, at four o’clock in the morning at Kinsella’s – a nightclub he used to own in Sydney. Helena Christensen was dating (INXS lead singer) Michael Hutchence and we had come to spend Christmas on the Gold Coast with Michael’s family. For New Year we drove to Sydney stopping in Byron Bay on the way and ended up at Kinsella’s. Michael knew Joe and introduced us.
What does a typical day for Gail and Joe entail?
When we’re in Bali a typical day for us starts with Joe waking at 6am. If he surfs I’ll either sleep a little longer or take a beach walk. We have a semi-private Pilates class at 7.30am twice a week. We also have a private Bahasa Indonesia class at 8am twice a week at our villa. I make breakfast at the villa or we’ll eat out, then we head to our office for the day where we have a mixture of phone calls, fittings, design meetings, accountant/ business meetings, staff updates and answer emails. Lunch is either at our desk or at a restaurant and we head home around 6pm for me to cook dinner, which I love to do.
If I wasn’t in fashion I would be …
I think I would have taken up fashion portrait photography. I also love interior design so I could have gone in that direction too.
What makes you smile?
Seeing Joe walking towards me and locking eyes with each other across a crowded place, like at the airport.
What advice would you give your young self?
I wouldn’t change anything so far, so my advice would be to simply enjoy your life, work hard and be thoughtful and respectful of others.