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Photography by John Russo

Model Citizen

by Matt Lee | Men's Book Chicago magazine | July 10, 2012

She’s Chicago’s hottest export ever! OK, so Cindy Crawford isn’t actually from Chicago—she was born and raised in DeKalb. But the woman who defines the word “supermodel” did get her start in the city, working with star photographer Victor Skrebneski, briefly lived downtown, even more briefly attended Northwestern on a chemical engineering scholarship, and considers Chicago her “adopted big-city home.” We caught up with the icon at the Starlight Children’s Foundation Gala at the Standard Club on May 19. Crawford was the guest of honor for the foundation, which provides entertainment, education and family activities for seriously ill children.

You must get asked to do a lot of galas and philanthropic events. What about the Starlight Children’s Foundation speaks to you; what brought you here tonight? Well, those are two different questions, really. What speaks to me about this organization is that I lost a brother to leukemia when I was 10 and he was almost 4. I always talk about how a childhood illness diagnosis is a diagnosis for the whole family; it’s not just for the child. Organizations like Starlight are a little ray of sunshine in a day otherwise full of doctors, getting poked and bad news. So it’s my own personal experience of being around hospitals when I was a kid and watching my brother go through that… any little distraction or anything that can help brighten that child’s day, not only does it feel good, but it can also help with healing.

Why I’m here tonight, though, has to do with a friend of mine from high school; Stefan Noe is on the board and he called and asked me to do it. Because I’m from Illinois, it felt nice to come and give something back. Not that Chicago is my hometown because it really isn’t, I grew up in DeKalb, but Chicago is my adopted big-city home. I started my modeling career here. Last night we got a group of our friends from high school together for dinner and that was really fun.

In the early days here, when you were shooting with Victor Skrebneski, did you live downtown? I’m seeing Victor tomorrow! I started shooting with Victor when I was still in high school so I was still living in DeKalb with my mother. Then I went to Northwestern, so I was able to work with him when I was in college. I went to Northwestern for one semester; by then I’d started working a lot as a model in New York, so I dropped out. But to answer your question, yes, I had an apartment about two blocks from Victor’s studio so I could walk over. There were other photographers, like Bob Frame, but I primarily worked with Victor.

You were on scholarship at Northwestern? Yes, I had a chemical engineering scholarship.

What interested you about chemical engineering? That I could get a free ride! I was good at math and science so they offered me a full ride. I went into engineering and I thought, ‘Well I like chemistry…’ I thought I would go for two years and figure out what I really wanted to do, but my path took another turn.

What do you like to do when you’re in town? Today was so gorgeous, I was just going to walk around and grab lunch with friends. My sister lives up in Kildeer so she came down last night. But I ended up in the emergency room this morning. I don’t know what happened. I think I got food poisoning or something, so I spent the day at Northwestern on an IV drip. They took very good care of me.

Ouch. Glad you’re OK! You have several product lines—a furniture line, a skincare line. Do you have any other businesses in the works? Right now Meaningful Beauty, my skincare line, takes up about 30 to 40 percent of my time, and then my home business takes up another 30 percent—I mean other than the time that I get to be mommy and have fun. I’ve been with Omega Watches for 17 years, so I still work with them. And, actually, I recently started something, but it’s not in the U.S.; it’s in Germany. I just started doing a clothing thing for a big department store there and we shot that last week. But we’re not quite ready to go public with it yet.

How about on the entertainment front? You know what, I’m doing what I want and I don’t really want to add too much to my plate right now. One thing I get offered a lot of is hosting reality shows. I always say I don’t want to work that hard; I don’t want something scheduled. I love my schedule right now because we take five weeks off in the summer to go to a lake house. I can make my own schedule and I don’t want to be locked into something.

You’ve made several very successful workout tapes over the years. How do you stay in shape these days? I live in the mountains, so I hike. I also have a trainer who comes three times a week and we do a myriad of things. It’s not that dissimilar from what I did on my exercise tapes with [celebrity trainer] Radu—free weights, lunges. I probably do more cardio now. Once you hit a certain age you’ve got to do a little more cardio and Power Plate.

You’ve had such an amazing journey. When you think back to when this all started, what are your impressions? Are you often reflective? I’m more about being in the moment. I’ve been really fortunate; I’ve learned a lot; I get to travel. I didn’t grow up in a family with any extra money so certainly having financial well-being is nice. I think the best thing about the Midwest is that those roots stay with you wherever you go. Even in L.A. or New York, because I’ve lived in New York as well, I gravitate toward other people from the Midwest. Hopefully my children will see those same values in me.