Teenage Gia Carangi, who was desperate looking for love met a teenager named Karen Karusa. They became best friends.
Karen Karusa tells about Gia Carangi: “When I first met her it was just her father and her two brothers, and her father owned some hoagie shops so he worked a lot. She then went to go live with her mother. She had this bouncing around family situation and back and forth and whatever,”
karen says, “Gia felt abandoned. There was a lot kind of going on inside her, she was very street-smart, but there was a lot of pain and it all kind of comes out and you can feel it. And there was just a lot of feeling when you look at her.”
During her early teens, Gia broke curfews, experimented with alcohol, pills, and marijuana – something that most would say was very common in the 70s. Rebelliousness was a part of the circle they were all travelling on. Gia worshipped David Bowie and identified with his rebellious side. With the presence of Bowie kids, Gia found the family she was yearning for. Gia went to concerts and hung out with the older crowd at gay clubs in downtown of Philadelphia. Gia identified with Bowie and his worshipers because according to them, it was okay to be different, bisexual, and gay. Gia’s sexuality was the only thing about her she was certain of and most times, proud of. “She was very open about it. She was always kissing someone on the mouth or grabbing someone or whatever,” says Karen. No one was more disappointed than Gia’s mom. She took Gia to counseling, but nothing worked.
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.”
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.”