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Gia Carangi: The Forgotten Face of Fashion

Riley is a new writer, but has dabbled in creative personal works, spoken word, and film reviewing.

Gia Carangi with hair rollers

Gia Carangi with hair rollers

Who Was Gia Carangi?

Gia Carangi was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1960 to Kathleen and Joseph Carangi. The model had a troubled life to begin with. Her parents had a violent and turmoil-filled marriage before her mother, Kathleen, ultimately abandoned her at the age of eleven. Several family relatives would describe her as a "Mommy's girl" who never got as much attention from her mother as she needed.

Gia worked at her father Joseph's sandwich shop until she was seventeen when Sondra Scerca discovered her in Maurice Tannenbaum's hair salon. She moved to New York City the same year and signed on with Wilhelmina Models.

"Life and death, energy and peace

If I stop today it was still worth it

Even the terrible mistakes that I have made

And would have unmade if I could.

The pains that have burned me and scarred my soul, it was worth it to have walked where I have walked.

Which was to hell on Earth,

heaven on Earth

back again



far in between

through it

in it

and above."

— Gia Marie Carangi (1986)

Gia in her apartment

Gia in her apartment

Gia Carangi's Drug Addition

After a few years in the modeling industry, Gia fell victim to frequent use of cocaine and heroin. Even more erratic than before, Gia began to leave during shoots in the designer's clothes or just not show up. This caused her to be offered gigs less and less, leaving her strapped for cash and in and out of rehabilitation centers.

Towards the end of her life, despite trying to break out in the modeling industry again, Gia worked several retail jobs.

Unfortunately, Gia passed due to an AIDS-related complex on November 18, 1986, at the age of twenty-six. She was one of the first famous women to die of this disease and had three squares that include her in the AIDS Memorial Quilt.

Towards the end of her life, Carangi lived with her long-term on-and-off girlfriend, Rochelle, who said that Gia spent an incredible amount of money on drugs. Rochelle, an alias for Elyssa Golden, claimed to have seen bank statements of nearly $5,000 for heroin.

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Who Was Gia Carangi Really?

When Gia has been written about in the past, there's a heavy focus on the tragedy of the loss of talent and beauty rather than the loss of the person Gia was. She wasn't just a model; she was so much more than that.

Here are five not as well known facts about former supermodel Gia Carangi:

  1. David Bowie was her idol: Gia was cited as really enjoying Bowie’s androgynous aesthetic and open bisexuality. She was notably most comfortable in men's clothes and was often described as “street rat chic” outside her photo shoots. Baggy clothes, messy hair, and a flirtatious attitude towards women gave her a reputation for being a lesbian. Of course, the multiple affairs with several women in the industry only solidified these rumors to be fact.
  2. She had an on-and-off again relationship with her makeup artist: Gia Carangi and makeup artist Sandy Linter had an ongoing affair, starting in 1978 when the two posed nude together against a fence. Linter has since said this about their relationship, “We spent a lot of time together, going to clubs, restaurants, just out all the time. We had chemistry. I got her. I didn’t pry. I got her moods, and she felt safe with me.”
  3. Her fame came quick: By the end of 1978, Carangi was already an established model. The young woman was featured on the cover of many fashion magazines, including the April 1979 issue of British Vogue, the April 1979 and August 1980 issues of Vogue Paris, the August 1980 issue of American Vogue, and the February 1981 issue of Vogue Italian. This is only one example of the notable magazines Gia was featured in. The model stated she never built into being a model; she just became one.
  4. She often journaled: The notorious model was known for filling several journals with doodles, schedules, and letters she never sent out. Oftentimes, she also used this space to vent about her life and situation with a melancholy tone. One example of this would be her famous quote, “when I look in the mirror, I just want to like myself… And if I like myself, then I look good.”
  5. She tried to re-enter the fashion industry: Carangi went to several rehab programs but was still blacklisted from the modeling industry as of 1982. She tried to set herself straight, recording an interview for the 20-20 program to "prove" that she was off the drugs. However, it did the exact opposite and became a cheap joke rather than a way to save her career.

The Legacy of Gia Carangi

In the end, Gia Carangi was a young woman who the fashion industry chewed up and spat out, her life ending at the early age of twenty-six. There were multiple recounts of her tragic life, HBO's film Gia starring Angelina Jolie and Thing of Beauty by Stephen Fried are the most well-known examples.

Of course, many recognize Gia Carangi as a tragic figure, haunted by her mother's abandonment and drug use, who fell victim to the AIDS epidemic.

But we have to remember her legacy, the people she represented as an openly queer model in the 1980s, and how creative her soul was, rather than the person she was forced to become.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Riley Smith

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