|Born||Gia Marie Carangi
January 29, 1960
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Died||November 18, 1986
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Height||5 ft 8 in (1.73 m)|
|Dress size||(US) 6
|Shoe size||(US) 8
Elite Model Management
Gia Marie Carangi (January 29, 1960 – November 18, 1986) was an American fashion model during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Carangi is considered by some to be the first supermodel, although that title has been applied to others, including Janice Dickinson, Dorian Leigh, and Jean Shrimpton. Model Cindy Crawford was later referred to as "Baby Gia" due to her resemblance to Carangi.
Carangi was featured on the cover of fashion magazines, including the April 1979 edition of British Vogue, the April 1979 and August 1980 editions of Vogue Paris, the August 1980 edition of American Vogue, the February 1981 edition of Vogue Italia, and multiple issues of Cosmopolitan between 1979 and 1982. During these years, she also appeared in various promotional campaigns for high profile fashion houses, including Armani, Christian Dior, Versace and Yves Saint Laurent.
After she became addicted to heroin, Carangi's modeling career rapidly declined. She later contracted HIV, which claimed her life at the age of 26. Her death was not widely publicized at the time, and few people in the fashion industry knew of it. Carangi is thought to be one of the first famous women to die of AIDS. Gia, a biographical film starring Angelina Jolie, debuted on HBO in 1998.
Carangi was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was the third and youngest child of Joseph, a restaurant owner, and Kathleen (née Adams) Carangi, a homemaker. She had two older brothers. Her father is Italian, and her mother is of Irish and Welsh ancestry. Joseph and Kathleen had an unstable, violent marriage leading Kathleen to ultimately abandon the family when Carangi was eleven years old. Those who knew her blamed her "fractured childhood" for the instability and drug-dependence that plagued her adult life. She was described as "needy and manipulative" by relatives who recalled her as spoiled and shy as a child and a "mommy’s girl" who did not receive the motherly attention that she desired.
In her adolescent years, Carangi found the attention she sought from other teenage girls, befriending them by sending flowers. While attending Abraham Lincoln High School, Carangi bonded with "the Bowie kids", a group of obsessive David Bowie fans who emulated Bowie's "defiantly weird, high-glam" style. Carangi was drawn to Bowie for his fashion preferences and his ambiguous gender play and outspoken bisexuality. One of Carangi's friends spoke of her "tomboy persona," describing her relaxed openness about her sexuality as reminiscent of the character Cay in the 1985 film Desert Hearts. Carangi and her "bi-try Bowie-mad" friends hung out in Philadelphia’s gay clubs and bars. Though she associated with the lesbian community, she did not want to take up "the accepted lesbian style".
Carangi was most known in modeling circles by only her first name. After being featured in Philadelphia newspaper ads, Carangi moved to New York City at the age of 17, where she quickly rose to prominence. She was a favorite model of various fashion photographers, including Francesco Scavullo, Arthur Elgort, Joseph Petrellis, Richard Avedon, Denis Piel, Marco Glaviano, and Chris von Wangenheim.
Well-integrated within the fashion world, Carangi had the selection of several photographers, most notably Scavullo. By the end of 1978, Carangi was already a well-established model. In an interview with 20/20, Carangi noted that, "I started working with very good people...I mean all the time, very fast. I didn’t build into a model, I just sort of became one."
In October 1978, Carangi did her first major shoot with top fashion photographer Chris von Wangenheim. Wangenheim had her pose nude behind a chain-link fence with makeup assistant Sandy Linter. Carangi immediately became infatuated with Linter and started to pursue her, though the relationship never became stable.
Drug abuse and career decline
On March 1, 1980, Carangi's agent and mentor, Wilhelmina Cooper, died of lung cancer. Devastated, Carangi started abusing drugs. Scavullo recalled a fashion shoot with Carangi in the Caribbean when, "She was crying, she couldn't find her drugs. I literally had to lay her down on her bed until she fell asleep." Her addiction soon began to affect her work. Carangi began having violent temper tantrums, walking out of photo shoots to buy drugs, and began falling asleep in front of the camera. During one of her final location shoots for Vogue, Carangi had visible red bumps in the crooks of her elbows where she had injected heroin. The photos were airbrushed and eventually ran in the November 1980 issue of Vogue, but some photos reportedly still showed visible needle marks.
By November 1980, Carangi's career was in a steep decline. Modeling offers soon ceased and her fashion industry friends, including Sandy Linter, refused to speak to her fearing their association with her would harm their careers. She briefly signed with Ford Models "for a couple of weeks", but was soon dropped. In an attempt to quit drugs, she moved back to Philadelphia with her mother and step-father in February 1981.
Retirement and attempted comeback
After moving to Philadelphia, Carangi went through a 21-day detox program. Her sobriety however was short-lived and she was arrested in March 1981 after she drove into a fence in a suburban neighborhood and took off. After a chase with police, she was taken into custody where it was later determined she was under the influence of alcohol and cocaine. After her release, Carangi briefly signed with a new agency, Legends. She worked sporadically, mainly in Europe.
In fall 1981, Carangi was in the throes of drug abuse. Despite this, she was still determined to make a comeback in the fashion industry and signed with Elite Model Management. While some clients refused to work with her, other clients were willing to take a chance because of her past status as a top model. One of her first jobs was for Francesco Scavullo who photographed her for Cosmopolitan. Scavullo convinced the magazine's editors to use the shot for its April 1982 cover. Sean Byrnes, Scavullo's long-time assistant later said, "What she was doing to herself finally became apparent in her pictures. [...] I could see the change in her beauty. There was an emptiness in her eyes." The Cosmo cover would be her last.
During this time, Carangi mainly worked with photographer Albert Watson and got jobs modeling for department stores and catalogs. In April 1982, Richard Avedon hired her for the 1982 Versace campaign which led to her being hired for the Spring 1983 campaign. She then modeled for German mail-order clothing company Otto Versand. Around this time, Carangi enrolled in an outpatient methadone program but soon began using heroin again. During a photo shoot for the Spring 1983 Versace campaign shot in the fall of 1982, Carangi became uncomfortable and left the shoot before any usable shots of her were taken. By the end of 1982, she had only a few clients that were willing to hire her. Carangi's final photo shoot was for Otto Versand in Tunisia. She was sent home during the shoot for using heroin. She left New York for the final time in Spring 1983.
As she had squandered the majority of the money she made from modeling on drugs, Carangi spent the final three years of her life with various lovers, friends and family members in Philadelphia and Atlantic City. She was admitted to an intense drug treatment program at Eagleville Hospital in December 1984. After treatment, she got a job in a clothing store which she eventually quit. She later got a job as a checkout clerk and then worked in the cafeteria of a nursing home. By the winter of 1985, Carangi began using drugs again. In June 1986, she was admitted to Warminster General Hospital in Warminster, Pennsylvania with bilateral pneumonia. A few days later, she was diagnosed with AIDS-related complex.
On October 18, 1986, Carangi was admitted to Hahnemann University Hospital. She died of AIDS-related complications on November 18, 1986. Her funeral was held on November 23 at a small funeral home in Philadelphia. No one from the fashion world attended, mainly because no one knew about her death until months after she had died. However, weeks later, Francesco Scavullo, Carangi's friend and confidant, sent a Mass card when he heard the news.
A biography of Carangi by Stephen Fried called Thing of Beauty (from the first line of John Keats' famous poem, Endymion) was published in 1993. A biographical film, Gia, debuted on HBO in 1998. Angelina Jolie starred in the title role, garnering a Golden Globe award for the role.
In 1996, actress-screenwriter Zoë Tamerlis, herself a heroin addict who died of drug-related causes in 1999, was commissioned to write a screenplay based upon Carangi's life. This version of Gia was not produced, but after Tamerlis' death, footage of Carangi, Tamerlis, photographers, Carangi's family, and Sandy Linter discussing her life was incorporated into a 2003 documentary entitled The Self-Destruction of Gia.
Carangi's sexual orientation has been reported inconsistently after her death; LGBT outlets label her lesbian, and other times as bisexual due to her sexual relationships with men. In the film Gia, Jolie portrayed her as being sexually intimate with men and women. Additionally, Carangi is considered a lesbian supermodel and icon and is said to have "epitomized lesbian chic more than a decade before the term was coined".
Designers and cosmetic firms represented
- André Laug
- Christian Dior
- Diane von Fürstenberg
- Gianni Versace
- Giorgio Armani
- Levi Strauss & Co.
- Max Factor
- Meyer Epstein Furs
- Perry Ellis
- Royal Silk
- Vidal Sassoon
- Yves Saint Laurent
- Vallely, Paul (2005-09-10). "Gia: The tragic tale of the world's first supermodel". The Independent. Retrieved 2007-05-28.
- Carolin, Louise. "Gia – the tragedy of a lesbian supermodel". Diva. Retrieved 2008-01-17.
- Weller, Krysten (2003-05-16). "No Lifeguard on Duty: The Accidental Life of the World's First Supermodel". The Michigan Times. Retrieved 2008-01-
- Gross, Michael (2003). Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-054163-6.
- Magee, Antonia (2009-10-28). "Model Jean Shrimpton recollects the stir she caused on Victoria Derby Day in 1965". Herald Sun.
- Gross, Michael (October 30, 1989). "The Face". New York Magazine (New York Media, LLC) 22 (43): 39. ISSN 0028-7369.
- "Gia Marie Carangi (Overview)". Fashion Model Directory. Retrieved 31 May 2013.
- Rapp, Linda (2005-04-17). "Scavullo, Francesco (1929–2004)". glbtq.com. Retrieved 2007-05-28.
- Fried, Stephen (November 1988). "Thing of Beauty". phillymag.com. Retrieved March 14, 2013.
- "Gia Marie Carangi". 2005-03-28. Archived from the original on 2007-04-04. Retrieved 2007-05-28.
- "Gia Carangi: A Biography". Retrieved 2007-05-28.
- Lo, Malinda (2005-12-13). "Back in the Day: Out on the Catwalk". AfterEllen.com. Retrieved 2007-05-28.
- Fried, Stephen (1994). Thing of Beauty: The Tragedy of Supermodel Gia. Pocket Books. pp. 232, 234. ISBN 0-671-70105-3.
- "The Life and Death of Gia Carangi – self-referential?". Geoclan.com. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
- Pollock, Griselda; Bal, Mieke (2008). Conceptual Odysseys: Passages to Cultural Analysis. I.B.Tauris. p. 97. ISBN 1-84511-523-6.
- Fried, Stephen (1994). Thing of Beauty. Pocket Books. p. 246. ISBN 0-671-70105-3.
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- Fried 1994, p.387
- Fried 1994, pp.389-390
- Carangi, Gia at the Open Directory Project
- Gia Carangi at the Fashion Model Directory
- Gia Carangi at the Internet Movie Database
- Gia Carangi Foundation
- Gia Carangi at Find a Grave