I Spent an Afternoon in Suburbia With Cindy Crawford and Her Fans
Who spends a day in a furniture store with a 90s celebrity? I had to find out.
Photos by Premila D'Sa/top art by Noel Ransome
There aren't a lot of things to do in the suburbs of Toronto besides, like, actually going to Toronto. So when I found out international supermodel Cindy Crawford was doing a meet and greet at a furniture store in my sad suburban city of Mississauga, I threw away my bus ticket to Toronto and drove down to The Brick.
Full disclosure, given that I'm 19, I'm not a major fan on Cindy Crawford, a 90s icon. In fact, the only things I know about her are from a 20-minute skin care infomercial that used to play on television and the times she was mentioned on America's Next Top Model. I also knew she used to be the model most associated with a Pepsi commercial until that unfortunate Kendall Jenner one happened.
I had never been to The Brick before, a decidedly middle-tier Canadian retail furniture chain, best known for being owned by former NHL player Mike Comrie's family. (And he's best known for having once been married to Hilary Duff.) The Brick doesn't have an in-store restaurant like Ikea and I can't afford anything they sell so there was never any reason for me to go there before this. (Middle-tier is still unaffordable when you are a student.)
I mostly decided to check out the event because I wanted to know who would actually show up. Being the narcissistic millennial I am I assumed no one would because I didn't care about it. But oh my, was I wrong. The first sign was the full parking lot. My dad couldn't get a spot so he pulled up in front of the store and kicked me out of the car.
When I walked past the sliding doors I saw the line: it started at the other end of the store, curved around a massive couch display, and ended a few steps from me at the entrance.
There was a table set up with studio lights and a camera pointed at it. A couple of local police officers were hovering around the edges. They looked really intense, so I assumed this is where Cindy would be sitting. But she wasn't there yet so I took a couple minutes to scan the crowd. As I suspected, they were mostly middle-aged people. Surprisingly (or maybe not) there seemed to be an equal man-to-woman ratio. There were a few younger people but most of them were with their parents so I couldn't figure out if they were there for Cindy or to help their parents operate cellphone cameras. I found out that the two people right at the front of the line had camped outside the store since 2 AM.
They scoffed when I asked, "but why?"
"It's Cindy Crawford, we weren't going to take a chance. These other people only started lining up around 9."
They were really annoyed about that last part. The event, by the way, was scheduled to start at noon.
I was feeling up a pricey leather couch from Cindy's collection when the otherwise quiet line around me went wild. Cindy was here! I thought I would be excited but I felt nothing. What made me more aware of my lack of enthusiasm were the people in the line who started literally shaking as they got closer to her. Their fingers could barely clutch their pristinely kept copies of Vogue.
So I decided to jump in front of people as they left the table to catch them in their post-Cindy buzz. Maybe they could give me some insight into this euphoria I wasn't experiencing.
I met Richard Morgan, 37, who got Cindy to sign a Playboy cover from November 1998 for him. He told me it was the first Playboy he ever purchased (millennial side note: I forgot there was a time people had to pay for porn). I asked him how she responded to signing the cover.
"She told me I was the second guy who had a Playboy cover."
I found the first guy. It was Simon Mah. He drove down from another Toronto suburb, Scarborough, with his brother Norm and friend Vic. Vic wouldn't give me his last name. Fair enough.
"[If] my wife saw this she'd kill me," he said, flipping through his autographed copy of Cosmopolitan.
I tried to get the guys to explain the Cindy hype to me—like what makes it last two decades later. But besides holding out their signed covers and going "It's Cindy Crawford!", they weren't very convincing. So I went back to the line.
That's when I heard crying. In the front of the line was a woman pulling off an all-white Cindy-esque look. She looked like a cool soccer mom, except she was having a hard time keeping her cool. The security guard at the front of the line tried to calm her down, but you could tell he wasn't expecting this because he was super weird about it. He patted her shoulder the same cold, awkward way a stranger does when you start crying on public transit.
When the woman got up to the table, she hugged Cindy for a while. It would have seemed awkwardly long, but Cindy Crawford is a professional, so she made it look enjoyable. Then the woman opened up a red portfolio and started flipping through, sobbing uncontrollably. Her young kids stood beside her the whole time, completely unbothered and just really bored.
Suddenly the woman's two minutes were up, and she was pushed off to the side by Cindy's people. This is where I noticed that celebrities of Cindy Crawford's caliber have perfected their emotional body language. As the woman was escorted off the table, Cindy's eyes followed her and she did a sad little wave that said: "I'm sorry our time is done, I would spend more time with you but it's my people, it's not me, I swear you're special." But then as soon as the woman's out of sight, she shifted back to the next person, repeating the meet and greet process.
The woman, Christiane Gradilone, was still coming off the shock of the short meeting. She was staring at her signed copy of Vogue, completely overwhelmed. I approached her after she had a moment to calm down, but I made the terrible mistake of mentioning she looked like Cindy Crawford, which unleashed another round of sobbing.
"I swear I'm not a crazy person," she said in between tears.
I found out the red portfolio contained Gradilone's work from when she was a model in Brazil. She was signed with Elite Model Management, the same company as Cindy. She got the contract after winning a modeling competition where she emulated Cindy's Pepsi commercial. It was wild. But then, Gradilone gave up her modeling dreams for something more practical, the world of IT. Modelling was great, but IT got Gradilone into Canada, into a steady job at a major bank, and into a comfortable life in the suburbs.
By the time Gradilone went through her complete history, a couple of the young Brick models (whose purpose for being there that afternoon I never figured out) gathered around her.
"Girls, this is nothing," said Gradilone, her arm motioning back to Cindy's table, less than a feet away. "This doesn't last."
At this point, I was really confused. Did this woman idolize Cindy Crawford or not? Why was this "nothing"? Why did I just spend an hour in a furniture store trying to care about this?
"Only a few people can become Cindys, but so many people want to be Cindy," she said. "Cindy is different, there's no one like her."
I looked over at Cindy Crawford, who was expertly signing headshots. She didn't seem that special, she just seemed like a nice, pretty lady trying to sell some furniture.
Gradilone left with her family, and I went back to my spot behind the security guard watching more people come and go. I spent so much time talking to the fans and thinking about the meaning of this weird meet and greet that I missed my chance to meet Cindy Crawford. Fuck.
While the Brick employees cleaned up the store and resumed their regular day I sat on a plush display chaise and tried to imagine if there was any celebrity I would drag my kids down to The Brick to meet 30 years from now. I couldn't, and honestly thinking about it was really depressing so I stopped.
But before I left I asked the store manager the one question that really mattered. Did anyone buy Cindy Crawford's furniture?
It took her less than a second to answer.
"Not a single person."
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