For more on the decade, catch CNN’s new Original Series “The Nineties” on Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
It’s one of the decade’s most iconic music videos, an unforgettable 1990’s style moment and an enduring reminder of the rise of the supermodel.
Wind back the clock to October 1990, when five of the biggest supermodels on the planet: Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford and Tatjana Patiz, starred in the David Fincher-directed video for George Michael’s “Freedom! ’90.”
Michael, who died on Sunday aged 53, had requested the models after seeing the same five pose for fashion photographer Peter Lindbergh’s iconic Vogue cover.
“UK Vogue’s editor Liz Tilberis asked me to capture the ‘new’ woman of the Nineties,” Lindbergh tells CNN.
That cover — showcasing the five natural beauties, stripped down, in black and white — catapulted each woman’s career to stardom.
“The idea was not to photograph women on social status but women independent of themselves who didn’t need to look at their husbands. It [the photo] turned out to be the new thing that everyone was waiting for. People could see they represented a different world.”
“They were strong, intelligent, they knew what a woman was and they were really clever. After this came the explosion of supermodels. Everyone jumped on them.”
Linda Evangelista, sporting a platinum blonde crop and an oversized black turtleneck, opens the “Freedom! ’90” video, spliced between Michael lip-syncing the lyrics: “I won’t let you down, I will not give you up, gotta have some faith in the sound, it’s the one good thing that I’ve got.”
What follows are smoldering scenes of the models, lip-syncing to the then 27-year-old’s third single off his “Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1” album.
Campbell, Evangelista, Turlington and Crawford would later sing along to “Freedom! ’90” to close Versace’s Fall/Winner 1991 runway.
“25 years later, this video — and not my magazine covers — is what people mention the most when they approach me on the street. It’s pretty incredible,” Evangelista told Harper’s Bazaar during the 25th anniversary of the video’s debut.
Lynnette Peck, a fashion retailer and style journalist who worked at Vogue in the 90s, vividly remembers seeing the video for the first time.
“I was at university and MTV was on at the student’s union. It was one of the only videos that was playing at the time. We already knew those models from the Vogue cover and before.”
Peck said she suspects that Michael understood the power of these women, and sought to give them a platform for their empowerment, long before the “Girl Power” movement seen years later.
“I remember at the time it was controversial that George didn’t really appear in the video – but to have all these beautiful women instead?”
“But now I suspect that he was making a statement … women didn’t have any power in videos back then. They were normally just cast as the girlfriend.”
Lindbergh says he had no personal contact with Michael but did watch the video.
“The girls were really excited. They were on this major video, a little bit ridiculously proud to be doing it – so I had to laugh and not take them so seriously in it.”
In September, Vogue produced a modern, colorful tribute — starring the likes of Adriana Lima, Joan Smalls and Liu Wen — to celebrate the video’s anniversary and New York Fashion Week. Each model in the video, wore a look straight from the runway.
Following the announcement of his death on Sunday, Campbell, Evangelista, Turlington and Crawford paid tribute to Michael.
“I am beyond heartbroken and devastated,” wrote Evangelista, while Crawford wrote: “His bravery inspired all of us.”