The runway’s most iconic daredevil Ève Salvail takes us on a trip down memory lane in her debut autobiography Sois toi et t’es belle. 90s supermodel Ève Salvail, known for her audacious looks and signature motifs, has been a muse for revolutionary designers like Jean Paul Gaultier and walked countless shows, at every turn leaving audiences stunned with her prevailing uniqueness. With nods to punk and other alternative subcultures, Salvail became a pioneer in the fashion industry and, in many ways, changed fashion by embracing her look and staying true to herself, regardless of the hardships that she faced.
The multi-disciplinary artist invites us into her not-so-linear journey to self love, and in the book, reveals the importance of seeing the beauty of vulnerability. Salvail, known to be the face of anti-conformity, provides an insight into her most intimate memories through the years and includes a series of never-before-seen original illustrations depicting some of the experiences explored in the book. Today, Salvail talks to Schön! about the pressures of lockdown, embracing insecurities and the upcoming projects she has in mind.
If we could define the word ‘innovation’ in the context of modelling, you would be the first face a lot of people think of. When did you realise you were becoming a figure of originality in the fashion industry? How did that feel?
I felt like I was an alien in the fashion industry until a woman came to me backstage holding a book. She told me she’d written it, that it was about her battle with cancer. She explained that having a supermodel walk the CHANEL runway with a bald head meant that no longer would women who lost their own hair through chemotherapy have to wear a wig to go out in public. She told me that I — little me, a young little punk from a small town in Canada — had shattered this belief that a woman without hair was ugly. I still have trouble believing this. Like, I am not worthy of having such an impact!
How long had you been planning on writing an autobiography before you started? And why did you finally start?
I was giving speeches/conferences for a short time when a friend suggested I write a book. I always wanted to one day write a biography, but to be honest I thought it’d be later in life than at the age of 49.
What is your writing process? In other words, how do you get in the mood to write, how do you edit, etc.?
When you write a book with a publisher, they assign an editor to you, and like a team, the book will be written little by little with this person editing as you go. It took awhile for me to understand how to open up, how to divulge and how to remove the masks that protected me throughout my life. I was always told to shut up and to be beautiful, so it was tough to talk about my struggles and less beautiful events in my life. Once I understood how to do that, it became fun to write, because I had a purpose: to share my fears and my processes so that anyone could relate — so that one could say, I’ve felt that way, too! We all have our share of fears, hopes, insecurities, strengths.
Were there any memories that you rediscovered during the making of this book? Which one sticks out the most?
It was more about information I did not know. Since I was born with a small handicap (dysplasia of the hip bone; I was born with both femurs dislocated from the hip bone), the doctors had suggested that my parents remove my shoes in the summer so that I would “learn how to walk” in sand, grass, rocks, where it is a little bit more difficult to balance oneself. I did not know they did that, and it explained why I always remove my shoes in the summer. I thought it to be just a weird yet comforting habit of mine, but I was surprised to discover why!
You came up in an era of punk and grunge. What is something that you think we’ve lost now those subcultures have faded?
It was a sort of a small revolution, and I think there are still some in the world today. I do not think we’ve lost something. It’s like parents saying that kids today are not as cool as they were. It’s normal, in my opinion, to think that our generation was cooler or better than the next. Kids of today will say this about tomorrow’s generation.
Your book includes illustrations that aim to display your legendary image. How did you select these particular images?
The drawings were in journals that I carried everywhere throughout my modelling career. Instead of writing in journals, I would draw. The drawings were done at the time of each experience told in the book. The writing recalls what happened/the experience, and the drawing tells how I felt at that same moment.
The global pandemic took a lot of us by surprise, but also made a lot of us adapt to a new normal. In what ways did the lockdown affect the completion and release of your autobiography?
I wrote most of the book during the first lockdown. It was lovely because it “forced” me to write when I could have easily found good reasons to get out for lunch or to meet up with a friend in the evening instead of writing. I missed the contact with people when the book got launched and it will be the same for the launch in Europe, but that is the way the universe wants it and Gosh Darn It I’m getting mighty good with Zoom!
What was the hardest part about writing this book?
Opening up. That is why the title is a play on words, defying “Sois belle et tais toi” (“Be beautiful and be quiet”).
Your book encourages the notion of self-love and the idea that beauty is personal. Have you always felt this way, and did you ever have periods of insecurity?
I only started to feel love for myself in the past five years. I wanted to share that because it is so hard to not love oneself, it is so hard to love one’s self as well. I wanted to share what I have learned in hopes that someone else, just one person, could start to love themselves today!
How have you seen the modelling industry change since you first started?
I did not follow the industry after I left it. I cannot really tell you what has changed. Besides, fashion is an art form; whether it is expressed this way or that way, it is bound to change, I’d imagine.
Being in the modelling industry demands a lot of resilience. What was it like being a non-conforming model back in the 90s?
So much fun! I really had a lot of fun with that! Modelling isn’t an easy job, of course — but that part, the anti-conformist, was the best!
You’ve also been DJing. Can you tell us more about that?
I’ve loved every time I spent behind the decks. I really love this career! As a DJ, your job is to make sure everyone has fun. It’s the best job ever!
Sois toi et t’es belle is your first autobiography, and what a strong debut it is! What can we expect from you next?
I have a gazillion projects in the making right now — perhaps even a second book. Who knows?!
Sois toi et t’es belle is available now.
direction + photography. Zach Phan
fashion. Kelly Ann Panagakos
talent. Ève Salvail
hair + make up. Celica Sea
special thanks. Featherstone Vintage
words. Esosa Aiworo
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