Gia Carangi – A Doomed Supermodel!


Gia Carangi bare back pictured by Francesco Scavullo
Photographer Francesco Scavullo pictured Supermodel Gia in early 80s

By her mid teens, Gia Carangi had developed a beautiful face and an incredible figure.

Kathleen, certain that modeling could change her daughter, encouraged Gia Carangi to model. Gia Carangi was a natural: “I didn’t have to tell her what to do,” said a family friend and first photographer to work with Gia Carangi. “She already knew what to do in front of that camera and that’s a great model.”

At age seventeen Gia Carangi was discovered. Maurice Tannenbaum, who was at the time a hair-stylist and aspiring photographer remembers: “I saw her one night at the DCA, which was a club, and was reluctant to walk over to her, I was just taken by her and she was fascinated by the idea that I wanted to photograph her and she wanted to be photographed. You could see this raw beauty.” Not long after, he took her to New York to try her luck there as a model. “She was very excited, very nervous, very, very nervous. She came with her mother but her mother stayed in a coffee shop while we went off to see Wilhelmina.” Wilhelmina Cooper, a former model herself, ran a modeling agency in New York. She was so excited about Gia Carangi that she forgot to give her a contract.

In early 1978, 18-year-old Gia Carangi packed her bags and moved to New York City. One photographer remembers Gia Carangi in one of her first go-sees. Bill Friedman said in an interview for The Gia Carangi Project. With Wilhelmina’s push, Gia Carangi managed to rise to the top instantly, something that almost never happens in the fashion world. Photographers loved Gia’s street-smart attitude wrapped in jeans and leather: “Gia Carangi reminded me of James Dean. She was very cool but she had a tremendous vulnerability,” said photographer Andrea Blanch. Francesco Scavullo also remembers the first day Gia Carangi walked into his studio: “There’s only been maybe 3 girls in my whole career that have walked into my studio and I went ‘wow’. Gia Carangi was the last who came in here and I said ‘wow.”

Supermodels Gia Carangi and Kim Alexis with photographer Francesco Scavullo
Fashion photographer Francesco Scavullo took Supermodels Gia Carangi and Kim Alexis to Caribbean Island, St Barths for an editorial shoots in 1980s.

Gia Carangi was said to have had the most beautiful breasts in the business and she needed no taping for the Cosmo covers. By the end of 1978, she had already appeared in several magazines (including American Vogue ) and was making something in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. But still, Gia, who was still 18 at the time, was looking for stability in her life. Gia Carangi was looking for love and compassion at a time when people were looking for sex, money, and drugs. In her search for loving and stable relationships, Gia Carangi fell instantly in love with people she barely knew.

Gia Carangi felt incredibly lonely and even asked her brother Michael to go live with her in New York City. Model Julie Foster remembers in her interview for the E! True Hollywood Story: “Gia Carangi was looking for anyone’s love, she would show up at my house sometimes in the middle of the night and I’d let her in and she just wanted someone to hug her. It was very sad.”

Gia Carangi Biography

Gia Carangi poses for her fashion photo shoot
Gia Carangi, America’s first Supermodel poses in white top for her photoshoot

Gia Marie Carangi (January 29, 1960 – November 18, 1986) was a top US fashion model of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Gia Carangi was a precursor to the Cindy Crawford, Rachel Hunter, Elle MacPherson “Supermodel” era, she appeared on the covers of several fashion publications of her time. The fashion magazine covers featuring Gia include British Vogue April 1st 1979, Vogue Paris April 1979, American Vogue August 1980, Vogue Paris August 1980, Italian Vogue January 1981 and several issues of American Cosmopolitan between 1979 and 1982.

Gia Marie Carangi was known in modelling circles as “Gia”, moved from Philadelphia to New York City at the age of 17, and quickly rose to prominence, reaching international fame with such name magazines as Vogue and others.

Gia Carangi was the favourite model of many distinguished fashion photographers including Francesco Scavullo, Arthur Elgort and Chris von Wangenheim. Gia Carangi posed for photos at many countries worldwide and led a fast life, thanks to her exotic appearance and lesbian lifestyle.

Gia Carangi’s sexual orientation has been disputed. While some think Gia Carangi was 100 percent lesbian, others point out to the fact she had many relationships with males and call her bisexual.

Gia Carangi frequented New York’s jet-set night spots, such as Studio 54, and developed a heroin problem during the latter part of her life. Because of Bipolar Disorder, Gia Carangi experienced extreme mood swings and would walk out of a fashion shoot if she didn’t feel like doing it.

Gia Carangi constantly medicated herself with heroin. Gia Carangi made several attempts at fighting her heroin addiction, attending rehabilitation centers multiple times. In 1983, Gia Carangi was profiled on ABC’s 20/20 magazine, in a piece focusing on the dark side of modeling.

Gia Carangi poses outdoor
Gia Carangi, full image during her 1978 photo shoot for a Calvin Klein Harper’s Bazaar Italia

In June of 1986, Gia Carangi was diagnosed with HIV, becoming one of the first famous persons to be diagnosed with the disease, and also the first famous female diagnosed.

Gia Carangi died of complications resulting from AIDS in 1986, at the age of 26.

Posing in bathtub Gia Carangi
Supermodel Gia Carangi’s bold pose in bathtub modelling in 1970’s

A biography was published in 1993 by author Stephen Fried and a biographical film, Gia, debuted on HBO in 1998 which helped bring Gia Carangi back to the public’s attention. Angelina Jolie played Carangi in the movie.

In 1996, actress-screenwriter Zoë Tamerlis (a.k.a. Zoë Lund, Bad Lieutenant), herself a heroin addict who would die of drug-related causes in 1999, was commissioned to write a screenplay based upon Gia Carangi’s life. This version of Gia was not produced, but after Tamerlis’s death, footage of her discussing Gia Carangi’s life was incorporated into a documentary entitled ‘The Self-Destruction of Gia‘.