The emerging point for a journalists feature article might be a blank page and correspondingly, a painter’s inspiration could come from a white canvas. Eve Salvail, a regular on ’90´s catwalks, can trace her stratospheric rise in the fashion industry from the moment she decided to shave her head. “I wanted to be bald,” elucidated Salvail earlier this year from the Forty Five Ten party in downtown Dallas. Even although Salvail is now 45 and based in Montreal, she still continues to model, with her most recent appearance for a Chinese designer by the name of Ms Min, a dedicated Salvail fan who recently painted the bald heads of her showroom mannequins with the her signature dragon tattoo.
Last season saw the female buzz-cut trend come back with a vengeance and has certainly contributed to the career boosts of previously unknown models as Tamy Glauser, Lina Hoss, Kris Gottschalk and Ruth Bell. This year, as the next generation of buzz-cut models take to the runway, Salvail talks about the supermodels, the re-emergence of grunge and underwear as a fashion statement.
How did you get your start?
Jean Paul Gaultier discovered me. He was in Montreal and he saw pictures of me, and that’s it! He booked me for his show. I was shaved and tattooed—everything.
And what about your signature shaved head?
I wanted to be bald: I was a bit of punk back then, as you probably know. I was in Tokyo when I got the tattoo, and I spoke to my father, and I said, “I want to be the first model with a shaved head.” He said, “Nah, Sinead O’Connor already did it; that’s kind of boring.” My parents were artists, so they were bored with the idea. Then somehow I came up with the idea of a tattoo on my head and my dad was excited, so I got it.I never, ever imagined that I would get to where I went. Like even with Gaultier, I didn’t even know who he was. I was just like: “I’m going to Paris for a day!” Forget about it. I stayed there for a year and a half after the show; it just went like crazy. Partly because of the element of shock. It was a pure fluke that I came up in the grunge era with a shaved head and a tattoo. It was good timing for that, so I was lucky.
What was the allure of grunge?
It was almost like the punk era of the 1990s. I don’t follow fashion, so I can’t really say for sure, but it seems to me that today fashion is a bit more conservative. Back then there was Thierry Mugler’s show with dresses that you couldn’t even walk in, but they were pieces of art—even Gaultier and the stuff he would come up with. It was art and it seems like now they’re more concentrating on selling a little more than before.
How was it walking with the supermodels?
I didn’t know anybody, so the first time, I was backstage at a big show and I was right behind Claudia Schiffer. I didn’t know who she was. She turned around at some point, and she was very sweet to me; most people were afraid a little bit because it was kind of a shocking look and I had the attitude that went with it. But anyway, Claudia turned around and asked me my name, and I said, “Eve. What’s yours?” Nothing. She turned around, and then I was, like, tapping her shoulder. I’m like, “What’s your name?” And I thought, gosh dang, she’s rude, and then someone elbowed me in the ribs after and was like, “That’s Claudia Schiffer; you don’t ask her name, you’re supposed to know.”You know back then, the models that we worked with, it was like a family. All day long you do shows and fittings and castings with the same girls, so it was always that group of supermodels that became sort of my friends. Everybody was really nice to me; I was lucky because with the attitude that I had, my God.
What was your style back then?
I used to wear long johns with the trap in the back. That’s what I used to wear backstage. I have millions of pictures of me backstage at Chanel wearing long johns and combat boots. Anarchy! I was an anarchist. I was a little punk. I look at videos of me back then. I was 18, and I was just like, “Fuck everything!”
What do you wear today?
I wear the same things that I used to wear, like leggings. I wear a lot of Zara mixed with Gucci and Helmut Lang, but simple, comfortable.
How do you feel about the many models who are shaving their heads these days?
That’s good. The most amazing moment of my career was shortly after I started doing Chanel and you saw me everywhere with a shaved head. A woman reached out to me, she had battled cancer and won, and she came backstage with a book, a biography of her cancer battle. She dedicated it to me and said: “The whole time I was in the hospital, I had a photocopy of your dragon. I cut it out and I would glue it to my head. You know, before you, we had to wear wigs and we were ashamed of losing our hair from cancer, but you brought the shaved head look to Chanel, and you made a woman with a shaved head be beautiful.” I was floored. I never thought of that. I cried so much; I was so touched by that. That was a beautiful compliment. Moments like that in my career I’ll never forget.
How did you get into deejaying?
A friend of mine owned a club in New York that I would go to all the time because it had karaoke. One time his DJ was sick. “Are you coming to karaoke tonight?” he asked. I said I was and he said, “Well, bring CDs—’80s CDs; you’re going to deejay.” At the time, there were no female DJs and so I immediately started booking a lot of gigs. I sucked: I’d clear the room within seconds! So I practiced and I learned how to deejay, but I really loved it from day one.I’ve been a DJ for 11 years now; at this point it’s fun. Deejaying is not as easy as it seems, but at some point when you get used to it and you’ve done it a lot—I did it in clubs at first so you really have an immediate reaction from the crowd—you learn how to control the crowd completely. You can send the entire population to go pee or go to the bar. So I felt power in a fun way.
Are you modeling as well?
Yes. It’s amazing to me that they still ask me. I’m 45 years old. I just did a lookbook for Ms Min; she holds her show in Paris, I believe, but she’s Chinese. They are fans, fans like crazy. You know that mannequins are bald—way before me—and Ms Min painted my tattoo on their heads. I thought it was so genius.
Article: Charles Daniel McDonald
Photography: Eve Salvail / Each Respective Designer