Styles from the crypt

You can teach old models new tricks, but don't ask them to protect endangered species.

Published July 2, 2001 7:12PM (EDT)

"Everything old is new again," says Elle this month, which, we get the feeling, is what they'd say if they exhumed a dead dog and tried to pass it off as a frisky new puppy. Disinterred doesn't always mean better, and no amount of jingoism is going to make a long-sleeved, ruffle-collared cotton blouse look better than it looked the first time around. Or as good, even. Just not as many people do cocaine anymore.

This blow-by-blow '80s revival is starting to worry us, anyway. It's one thing to look to the past for inspiration, another to re-create it in obsessive detail. Victorian brooch earrings; puff-sleeved shirts with Peter Pan collars and cropped, aqua leather jackets with lapels like Lucite half-shells (a steal -- or some other kind of crime -- at just under $2,000) were never OK except maybe on Mrs. Bates and Mrs. Banderas. So why are designers so intent on reviving looks that seemed so peaceful in the grave?

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And the comebacks keep on coming. "Semi-retired" (read: ice floe) former supermodel Linda Evangelista is slated to appear on the cover of Vogue's September issue, an issue Fashion Wire Daily oddly --though, in this case, fittingly -- calls "the fall fashion tomb."

While mildly curious about Evangelista's triumphant return, we're even more intrigued by FWD's decision to spruce up the underwhelming news with details such as:

"The original supermodel had put on weight after going into semi-retirement, but has shed the extra pounds and has been keeping herself in great shape for her return to the modeling world."

And ... "A spokesperson for the glossy magazine said they had 'no comment.'"

And ... "Meanwhile, Evangelista's on-again-off-again beau French soccer goalie Fabien Barthez of Manchester United, has reportedly left her for Prince's ex-girlfriend Ophelie Winter, famous for saying she discovered God during 500 sex sessions with the pop star."

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Fashion is a cruel business in which people often call each other "fat." It can't be easy being Evangelista right now, but it's still probably easier being Evangelista than it is being a rare Tibetan antelope.

Recently, British Vogue ran a photo of aristocratic personage Lady Charlotte Fraser draped in a "shahtoosh," and soon found itself apologizing profusely. The offending item -- a shawl made from either the soft underbelly or the abundant neck fur of the Tibetan "chiru" -- is soft, fine and takes about five dead antelopes to make.

Due to the shahtoosh's popularity as "the rich woman's pashmina" (a shawl can cost up to $20,000), the Tibetan chiru population has dwindled down to 75,000 from several million; and the International Fund for Animal Welfare predicts that they will be extinct by 2004.

The chiru is protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, but the black market in shahtoosh continues to thrive. Reportedly, Jacqueline Lundquist, wife of United States Ambassador to India, Uma Thurman and Richard Gere all owned one before the big shahtoosh crackdown of 1999.

"Everybody was wearing them. I had no reason to believe it was illegal," Lundquist told the Times of London.

In 1998, Lundquist had modeled in an AIDS charity fashion show in Delhi -- a fashion show attended by Tibet fetishist Gere. In 1999, over 100 New York socialites -- including "semi-retired" supermodel Christie Brinkley -- were issued subpoenas and ordered to give up their garments and testify to a grand jury in New Jersey.

Brinkley's shahtoosh was a gift to her from Gere.

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Ironically, aging supermodels don't even have to wear $20,000 endangered species wraps to be considered beautiful, as a recent study found. According to FWD, Dr. George Fieldman, an evolutionary psychologist, "found that many men find older women as alluring as their younger counterparts."

Fantastic as it sounds, Dr. Fieldman and his team proved this by showing a photograph of an attractive 36-year-old woman to a group of men in their 20s, along with photos of "less attractive" women between the ages of 25 to 45. (We're unclear as to whether that's "less attractive" as in less attractive, or "less attractive" as in "antelope.")

Anyway, the men were divided into three groups, each of which was told that the babe was 36, 41 or 45 years old. Then they were told to pick their favorite.

"Men in all three groups said they preferred the beautiful woman, regardless of how old they thought she was," FWD reports. "The scientists, who expected the men to go for only the younger women, were surprised by the results of their experiments."

So, probably, was Linda Evangelista.

By Carina Chocano

Carina Chocano writes about TV for Salon. She is the author of "Do You Love Me or Am I Just Paranoid?" (Villard).

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