- A black person on the cover really is a provocation in 1977. Since GQ was launched as a fashion magazine by the lifestyle-publishing house Condé Nast in 1957, no model with another skin colour than white has been on the cover.
-They were looking for models for the ‘All American Look’. I asked, if I could go to this casting. My booker hesitated, looked at me for a while and explained, ‘Urs, you’re really sweet, but this casting isn’t for you. The All American Look is only for whites.’
Was that a joke? I was more than a little astonished. America, the traditional immigration country, the melting pot of nations, the New World, and only whites were ‘All American’ there?
Shortly afterwards, I found out how the single ingredients of this melting pot were distinguished. I was sent to see Helen Weepman, star attorney of the foreign models. She always managed to get visas for us, who came from all parts of the world.
At first, Helen wanted to chase me away from our date because - as she pointed out rather sharply - she had expected a Swiss. After my agency had assured her that I actually was the wanted Swiss, I was allowed to fill in the application form. When I handed it back to her, she instantly found a mistake. ‘There!’ She squinted, adjusted her glasses and drilled her brightly red painted index finger into the paper, just below the heading ‘Nationality’, where it said ‘Swiss’. I had also filled in denomination correctly: ‘Protestant’. One line below was the attorney’s fingernail. It was the line, where one could select a skin colour. White, black, brown, red, yellow, I had left that blank. Because as far as I was concerned, I was simply Swiss. ‘There are no black, Asian or white Swiss in Switzerland and no Hispanic Swiss either’, I said indignantly. Helen Weepman took the sheet from my hand impatiently and said, ‘my hourly rate is rather high and if you want to work here in America, then you had better learn quickly that you’re a black Swiss, not just Swiss. Now make your cross here, otherwise you won’t get a visa.
-So I learnt gradually that in America I wasn’t Urs from Switzerland but black Urs from Switzerland.
A few days after the visa application, I had a shooting for Brides Magazine with the European photographer Alberto Rizzo. In those days all photographers who had achieved fame and glory in Europe wanted to make money in America. Four models had been booked for the shooting, two black ones and two white ones. I wasn’t thinking about this when I joined the small group on one side, having arrived at the set.
‘Urs, this is New York, so we have to photograph this separately. Please go to the right, next to your girl.’ The photographer said this with a friendly smile and I pretended that nothing had happened. After the shooting my – naturally black – bride said, ‘you know, if you work longer here in America, you’ll learn how to deal with these things.’ That’s how it was, then. All models spoke of ‘these things’. Nobody ever spoke of racism.
Pop Art-Guru Andy Warhol, who produced art, films and screen prints in the subculture of his New York Factory with its 57 members on an assembly line, amusing himself with rock stars like Mick Jagger or David Bowie and a large entourage; Warhol was probably the most influential non-art director of all times – for fashion.
- Never before had there been something comparable to Studio 54: an inferno – or nirvana – of drugs, money, power, politics and sheer lust. A club where everybody was a star, rich or poor, young, old, hetero or gay or both in one night – provided they got past the doorman. Even Lillian Carter, the acting president’s mother, gushed, ‘I don’t know if I was in heaven or in hell.’
Actually, for me and all those who have survived, today the entire Studio 54 has blended into a single lasting memory
-I can still see myself now: Standing by the parapet of the balcony, the first time in Studio 54. Watching a world - intrigued and stunned - that was basically completely alien to me. Twitching limbs, naked breasts, people, a hustle, a life, unbelievably far away from my childhood in Central Switzerland. And I saw the black people, the coloured ones, Jamaicans, Africans, half-breeds.
That night in Studio 54 I was thinking about my father from Nigeria, that half of my self, that I had blocked out so far, not really wanting to know it.
- The booker will do anything to establish the model as a star. Unless a model is represented by one of the top agencies, the dream of becoming a top model can’t be realised. Only among the top twenty of the world’s modelling scene can one acquire actual wealth, getting into the top two hundred means at least financial security.
-Hollywood didn’t have any real stars on offer then, so fashion stores and designers moved towards signing up ‘faces’ exclusively for horrendous fees. That is the reason, why up to now supermodels like Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington and Kate Moss are ‘brands’, known by almost every woman on this earth.