Remember When Kristen McMenamy Had No Eyebrows?

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With pale skin and striking, angular features, Kristen McMenamy has always challenged convention with her ghostlike ethereal beauty. She began her modeling career in 1985 at 21 years old, at the same time when agent Eileen Ford suggested plastic surgery if she wanted to succeed. Despite impressive campaigns for Chanel, Claude Montana, and Jil Sander at the time, as well being photographed by the likes of Steven Meisel, Helmut Newton, Richard Avedon, and Juergen Teller (who once called her “the best model I had ever worked with”), McMenamy was still far from a household name.

At 5 foot 10, the Irish American mannequin had skin so pale it was almost translucent. Her long red locks tended to be done in an ’80s glamour do more often than not. That is, until uber-hair stylist Garren lopped it off and dyed it black. Soon after, backstage at the Anna Sui Fall/Winter 1992 fashion show, François Nars plucked her eyebrows into oblivion. (The popular story was that they were shaved off.) At the time, the makeup artist was already leading the thin eyebrow movement, having plucked other supers including Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista’s eyebrows into nearly nothing. For Nars, it was palette cleansing, literally. “She’s my inspiration for the whole show. She’s like a blank page you can do anything you want to,“ he told a young Tim Blanks during a video report he did on the show for Fashion File, a popular pre-internet fashion cable news show based in Toronto.

McMenamy told photographer Nick Knight in his Subjective video series that she intentionally decided to “f-up her looks,” continuing: “If I can’t be the top model, then I’ll be the anti.” It was an if-you-can’t-join-‘em,-screw-‘em move that worked to her advantage as the reign of the blonde, athletic, and conventionally pretty models was beginning to wane. While Garren’s short do for McMenamy was more severe and androgynous, the hairdresser had created the gamine-slash-waif look on Amber Valletta while ‘90s models Audrey Marnay and French aristocratic model Lucie de La Falaise also sported the style.

McMenamy basically began grunge beauty with her dramatic look at that iconic Anna Sui show. Contrary to popular belief, the designer’s event marked grunge as a “thing” a full year before the infamous (and now Redux) grunge collection that Marc Jacobs did for Perry Ellis in 1993, which promptly got him fired. Sui’s signature knack for recreating vintage store finds with a modern cut and plenty of accessories had her Fall/Winter 1992 runway chock full of poet blouses worn with velvet frock coats, suede lace-up pants worn under Mongolian lamb fur trimmed suede maxi coats, and brocade tapestry jackets all worn with dramatic floppy hats, long fringe shoulder bags, and clogs. The thrift store vintage vibe worked perfect with McMenamy’s new androgynous look.

The model stopped modeling around 1998 to focus on family, but has since made a return to the runway, sometimes along with daughter Lily. She made another dramatic model move by sporting her premature full head of grey hair in 2010 at the age 45. Apparently fed up with plucking or dying it after discovering the first gray at age 21, she reportedly told the press it was still possible to be “rock ’n‘ roll with a head full of silver.”

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