In 1995, Vanity Fair launched 10 of the most promising actresses of a generation. The issue went on to inspire countless imitations. Now, Krista Smith talks with the iconic stars about the clothes, the controversy, and creating history with legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz.
Gwyneth Paltrow: I’ve had this very long, amazing, and very public career, and that cover was the first articulation of what was to come. I kept thinking I didn’t deserve to be there. I was young and those women were the biggest stars of the day—I mean, I don’t even think I was going out with Brad Pitt yet! It was this indelible moment for me because in some way it defined my daydream coming true.
Nicole Kidman: I just remember being amazed that I was included. I’d done ‘Days of Thunder’ and ‘Malice’ and I was feeling like, “How did I get this? This is incredible.”
Patricia Arquette: I remember them talking about how it haven’t been done before. All these actresses, tons of makeup people everywhere. Wardrobe people, and all these different clothes.
Angela Bassett: Being in this crowd of people and being called to be a part of it was really wonderful, and I won’t say intimidating … but I was the only woman of color in that room. You’re that one in the room. Just that one. But many came after.
Uma Thurman: Being on Vanity Fair was always a sort of benchmark of achievement. It was definitely always an honor that somehow or another you’ve done or been involved with some good work and it was being recognized.
Sandra Bullock: I’m not comfortable in my own skin in front of a still camera. Moving camera, as long as I’m not having to look at you, you just catch what I’m doing. Still camera, forget it. I will do everything I possibly can to avoid being in a photo shoot. Annie Leibovitz was so relaxed and great, but I literally was trying to just shove myself in a corner and you can kind of see that in the photo. I was like how far off screen can I go and still be a part of this amazing group of women.
AB: Sandra was just adorable, we were asked to be the model and she was so not the model and was like ‘how should I stand?’ It was very endearing and charming. I didn’t know how to stand either and oh my God when I see the pictures, one of my hands looks like the claw!
Jennifer Jason Leigh: We didn’t know this would become an annual thing, and what’s so fun about seeing each year since is that whoever is on the cover is going to make an imprint in some way on our society. A performance, a role, or a debut—and it’s kind of incredible when you look back.
Julianne Moore: I had just moved to L.A. and had totally changed my life. I barely had my bearings, and I don’t think I was even a very good driver at that point, and then there I was on the cover, which ended up as a billboard on Sunset Boulevard!
JJL: Yeah, [the billboard] was up on Sunset. It wasn’t just a bunch of girls in lingerie you know, it had a sense of humor, it had like a little bit of a kick and bite to it. And satire to it which I really appreciated and loved.
PA: I remember a big stink about, ‘You finally got of all these actresses but you have them all wearing lingerie’. There was a big blow-back from that. But you know, it’s funny, I feel like some of the most pivotal movies and moments in film, women are wearing old slips like that.
Sarah Jessica Parker: The cover caused so much conversation and a lot of controversy about what we were wearing, that we had somehow been exploited or objectified ourselves. In fact, it was the opposite of that. I’ve never felt that I’ve worn things in any shoot with Annie that I didn’t want to be wearing, that I didn’t feel comfortable wearing, or that I was diminished in the process. It was powerful.
JM: It was one of my very early cover shoots. I didn’t even know what a cover shoot was, you know? I can remember going there, we each had a little cubicle, and everybody in editorial was weighing in on what I should wear, I kept trying things on, and it was unclear about whether or not my outfit was really a dress or just a slip? I think it was just a slip.
SB: I knew I did not want to be in my underwear. I was like ‘Dear God, give me the longest thing that’s left.’ My little outfit was really tight, it was like one long Spanx. I was a rebel from the ankles down.
Linda Fiorentino: It was like the most expensive pajama party in history. . . . Most of the wardrobe had been taken, which is how I ended up topless. Every time we’d pick a top, Annie was like, “No, but someone else is wearing something similar. No, but she’s wearing that, too.” I finally said, “Forget it. I’ll just go topless,” and she, in her own inimitable Annie deadpan way, said, “Well, how can I say no to that?”
PA: Annie has such a cool energy. Very inclusive and makes you feel good. Even though we all felt weird or nervous, her warmth greets you and makes you feel it’s going to be okay. Thank God, it was her.
NK: I remember being in awe of Annie because she’s just such a force. And I’ve shot subsequently with her and she’s documented so much of my life. So, to be just to be the focus of her vision… I just remember being completely intimidated because she’s amazing.
UT: The two Hollywood covers I did, both with Annie, in one she talked me into wearing the shortest skirt I’ve almost ever been photographed in and in the other she walked into the dressing room exactly the same way and was determined for me to be wearing pants. I was thrilled, so I had both ends of the spectrum with the same photographer. Annie’s always very intense, and she’s always worth it.
AB: I remember Annie would come around and just sit in front of you and talk to you and and introduce herself. With her hair just all in in the way in of her glasses. You know, looks pretty much the same today as she did that day. Consistency.
SJP: The only thing you have to know is Annie will shoot until she’s dragged away. I have been in the middle of the East River with her in a terrible storm and lightning, and cables being dragged through water, being held up by crew members so no one’s electrocuted, she will shoot, and you have to have the stamina that she has. You can’t give up on her, and that day of the first Hollywood cover was a perfect example.
THEN & NOW
UT: That was the first time a lot of the actresses are with each other when they’re not competing with each other.
GP: It’s changed so much. If you were to do that now and you walked into a room of all these women, I feel like it would be so supportive, but it was a different time. At first, it was really intimidating, but it was actually fantastic.
AB: We were all pretty new to our career. It was very endearing and charming because most of the others’ work is young, beautiful, strong and the real deal. And I just felt like I didn’t know any of them. It was that first day in first grade when you’re trying to get to know one another.
SB: The fact that we were the first is pretty badass. It was nice to have connections with women when we were so isolated from each other. The only time we saw each other was when we were at the same audition. Now in our industry you can sense that things have gotten safer and calmer. You don’t feel so nervous stepping into a room with other women. Now you see them make beelines for each other to connect. And we were there when it all started on the cover of a magazine, that day, that time.