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BY DESIGN : His Focus? It's Solely on Models : Books: He had an idea but got no takers. So, photographer Arthur Elgort published it himself, and his take on the runways is one hot seller.

August 04, 1994|GAILE ROBINSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

New York photographer Arthur Elgort's self-published "Arthur Elgort's Models Manual" is the poolside read of the summer. But if you weren't one of the first 10,000 to snatch it up, you'll have to cool your heels. They're all gone. Sold out.

The press is cranking, but it may be awhile before the second printing is delivered--something about the cover and printing on plastic in the summer, says Elgort from his vacation house in the Hamptons. Meanwhile, waiting lists are forming for the $35, small-format, high-concept romp through mannequin-land.

"It appeals to anyone who is into glamour gazing," says John Hirschmann, who works at Hennessey and Ingalls. The Santa Monica bookstore sold its last copy of "Models Manual" this week.

The people who have bought all the copies at West Hollywood's Book Soup are "the archetypal California girls, and older men I will charitably describe as photographers," the store's Joe Goodrich says.

It's not cheesecake, though, but rather the story of discovery Elgort does best in the book. He remembers the first time he met Patti Hansen, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista and scores of others. He still has the Polaroids he shot the first time they came to his studio on a "go-see." He describes the moment he first set eyes on them in the same way romance novelists describe love at first sight. He lovingly photographs the transformation as they have their makeup done and lounge on his studio sofa in hot rollers.

Elgort documents each step of the process of building the fairy tale: the stylists, the hair and makeup people, the fashion editors--he gives them all a chance to add their two cents. Then he wraps it all together and exposes the fantasy for what it is without losing a bit of the allure.

When Elgort, 54, started shopping around his idea last summer, New York publishers turned up their collective noses. They wanted a slick, oversize coffee-table tome. But Elgort would have none of it.

"Those coffee-table-sized things make me think about retiring or a retrospective at the Whitney Museum," he says. "I didn't want to do anything grand and precious. I wanted something kids or people not in the business could put in their book bag or backpack and enjoy thumbing through in the car or on the train."

So Elgort published the book himself (Grand Street Press, 1993), staying true to his vision by using matte paper and frenetic graphics. The format is easy reader-style--the stories, told in tiny sound bites, are more like captions to the photos. There are brief interviews and comments from fashion's forward guard--perfect escapist fare.

\o7 Before their big breaks:

\f7 "I counted nails in a hardware store."--Elaine Irwin

\o7 True confessions:

\f7 "I believed I was totally plain, if not on the ugly side. I've felt like an impostor the whole way. I was always grateful for anyone who thought I was attractive."--Paulina Porizkova

\o7 Career advice:

\f7 "How do you get to the top in this business? It helps if you're blonde, have big (breasts) and sleep with all the photographers. . . . Just kidding."--Helena Christensen

\o7 Fatalities:\f7

"Gia was fantastic when she hit. . . . I don't know one photographer who saw her and didn't want to photograph her instantly. She was a very special young woman who had a very short modeling career. She made it short because she couldn't handle it. We lost Gia to drugs."--Polly Mellen.

Elgort and his models also offer a little myth-busting:

\o7 All models are stupid.

\f7 "People think models are stupid. Of course they're not. They're just not adults yet."--Karen Mulder

\o7 Models have to starve themselves to stay thin.

\f7 "I don't diet. I just don't eat as much as I'd like to."--Linda Evangelista

\o7 Models' careers are over by the time they're 21.

\f7 "If you last past the age of twenty-five in this business, you have to start working out. Everyone else you're competing with is eighteen years old. If your ass is on the back of your thighs, they'll get your jobs."--Veronica Webb.

\o7 No one wants to read a book about models.\f7

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