Absolutely Not Fabulous

Michael Gross got his first close-up look at modeling back in the '70s, when he was writing about what, at the time, seemed like the most overindulged creatures on earth: rock stars. Those were the days of model-as-appendage, when all but a few worked anonymously and played in the shadow of their rocker boyfriends. Now, of course, models are superstars themselves, hotter than rock stars, movie stars and investment bankers combined. They've got their own TV paean ("Models, Inc.") and even their own fanzine ("Top Model"). But even 15-year-old Cindy wanna-bes know that beyond the glam is an industry that abuses its young and masks the carnage under layers of hairspray and hype. Gross calls it the "endless sausage machine." We can't get enough of it -and Gross knows it.

ln his new tough-love book, Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women (524 pages. William Morrow. $25), Gross doesn't voice any doubt about what the sausage-maker turns out. The senior writer at Esquire insists that what fascinates him is the business of modeling, and he chronicles the growth of the industry and the internecine rivalries between model magnates like Eileen Ford and John Casablancas. But after a decade covering fashion, Gross, 42, also knows that sizzle sells. And so the book--whose publication is not-coincidentally timed to get the most out of next week's New York fashion shows-names names and dishes dirt, the sort of on-the-record kiss-and-tell that tab TV would die for.

He doesn't skimp on sex. Gross writes of Casablancas, Elite Models' magnetic chairman, who began a much-heralded affair with model Stephanie Seymour in 1984, when she was 16. Seymour was just one of Casablancas's underage girlfriends, Gross says; the agent doesn't deny it. "In Europe, no one gives a s--- if someone is older," Casablancas says. "Americans don't want to admit [that a] young girl will fall in love with a guy who's famous and who's done things and who's got power."

Drugs? Gross describes the time that Calvin Klein took a planeload of top models to Japan and warned that anyone who did drugs or booze would be kicked out. "So, on the plane the models took everything they were carrying"--Quaaludes, coke, pot, they downed it all, he writes. Janice Dickinson, the first of modeling's bad girls, admits, "I did my share of drugs." But not everyone agrees with the book's version of history. Though Gross writes that silver vials of cocaine were handed out at Cheryl Tiegs's 1984 wedding to Peter Beard, the model denies using the drug. "This is not a book anyone should take seriously," Tiegs told NEWSWEEK. Then there's the backbiting, none of it more outsize than the decadeslong feud between Casablancas and Ford. Gross recounts the time two Ford officials jumped ship and Eileen Ford sent them Bibles with passages about Judas Iscariot underlined in red ink.

But for all the abuse he details, Gross refuses to portray models as victims. "You're talking about teenagers with big allowances, keys to the car, their own entrance to the house and absent parents," Gross says. Besides, some models-Cindy Crawford and Veronica Webb-stay grounded despite the chauffeurs and Concordes.

Why do we care so deeply about such fluff? It wasn't because models became more interesting than rockers and movie stars; in the '80s, Gross says, they became more interesting than fashion itself. "Thank God for the supermodel hysteria. They kept things going full tilt until fashion designers got it together." Even so, we may be getting megamodeled out, thanks, ironically, to three of the biggest models of the decade, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell and Lin Evangelista. In the early '90s, they reigned as The Trinity, inseparable stars who were so hot that they began to believe their own hype. Gross recalls Evangelista parading down runways "with a sneer that said to women, 'I'm better than you'." Someday, Gross suggests, that will be remembered as the beginning of the end. That's someday. For now, there's another crop of supermodels to lust after-Nadja Auermann, Bridget Hall. And the heat is on to find the next new face.