Sibyl Buck On Her 90s Model Rebellion and Returning to Runway

Shot by Betty Sze

Sibyl Buck got into modeling with a plan in mind: she’d try it out, see where it took her, and get out at the age of 25. A free spirit with a disdain for orthodoxy, her bright red hair and piercings (acquired in a defiant attempt to discourage catcalling) were a hit in Europe with both the old and new guards. Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, and Herve Lager were fans, as were John Galliano and Jean-Paul Gaultier. On the brink of mainstream success in America, with a billboard in Times Square, the attention of Tom Ford at Gucci, and a role in The Fifth Element movie, Sibyl stayed true to herself and quit fashion in 1997 at the age of 25. She went on to tour the world as a musician, become a mother and establish a yoga practice in California. But this season, with the fashion world embracing unorthodox models more than ever, Buck was back on the runways walking for Miu Miu, The Row, Vivienne Westwood, and Thom Browne. She sat down with’s Betty Sze to talk about the industry then vs. now and shared her five most memorable moments of the 90s.

Interview and above image – Betty Sze | Editor and Introduction – Rosie Daly

courtesy Sibyl Buck

Elle Quebec, March 1994
Photographed by Serge Barbeau.

This photo was particularly significant because it was the first editorial that was printed after I dyed my hair red. My comp card from Company Management was in black & white and just said red for hair color. There was no internet to know what I looked like outside of the promo materials they had, so Elle magazine assumed it was naturally red and booked me for two stories out in the desert near Las Vegas. They ended up printing one in black and white, but the other was this great film that really made the red pop. It was my first time in the Mojave desert, and I remember Serge Barbeau, the photographer, kept wanting me to furrow my brow and look angry. I had only ever worked with photographers who wanted me to look pleasantly surprised or sexy before, so it was refreshing to be invited to explore more of a spectrum of human expression.

courtesy Sibyl Buck

Sibyl with Yves Saint Laurent, Vanity Fair
Photographed by Jean-Marier Perier.

This photo was part of a series taken chez Mr. Saint Laurent. This was probably 1995-96 at the height of my career. I was lucky to have an ongoing relationship with him and the Yves Saint Laurent fashion house, which was full of decent, sharp-witted, and kind people…mostly women. To be invited into his house was lucky, but honestly, I lacked the context to really appreciate the whole scene of furniture and art and the attitude he had going on there. If there was one thing I came to know about him that defined him in my mind: he knew what he liked and what he didn’t like. If I walked out during a fitting in a look he liked, he said almost invariably, “c’est chic,” and if he didn’t like it, “c’est pas chic.” He was living and creating by a code that was clear as day to him.

courtesy Sibyl Buck

Max Magazine, April 1996
Photographed by Bettina Rheims.

Awww… I love thinking of this day! Bettina Rheims was, and is, such a cool woman. She was always messing with edges and the unexpected. I remember thinking before I knew her that she made people look vulgar who we normally expected to be really pretty. When we worked together this day for the cover shoot (and centerfold) of Max magazine, she was so into the collaboration between us. I was so grateful for her inviting me to play within the boundaries of the “T&A” that Max Magazine is known for. We showed the unexpected bits, like some bum crack, some unwaxed bikini line (of course, they edited it out for the cover, but Bettina used the unedited version in her exhibitions #freethebush), and for the centerfold; a gender-fluid topless camouflage overalls look with flexed biceps. Bettina even invited me to be part of selecting the edits, which I really appreciated. She was so real with me and such a very inspired/inspiring person! Side note: I used this cover once to get on an airplane when I lost my wallet. This was pre-cell phone/internet/9-11, so definitely a different world. I had the actual paper magazine in my hand.

courtesy Sibyl Buck

German Cosmopolitan

This photo is like a symbol of how kind of like a dream the 90s was for me. I’m so lucky to have sat next to David Bowie for a photo. Sometimes I like to lean into the fantasy: I was just casually hanging out with my man Bowie, and someone snapped a hot pic…

courtesy Sibyl Buck

Marie Claire Germany, October 1996
Photographed by Peter Lindbergh.

This photo was the first time I ever shot with Peter Lindbergh. He was so warm-hearted and very lovely to work with. It was also the only time I worked with him because I ghosted fashion altogether the next year to find my baby daddy and play in bands. My agent at the time, the kind-hearted Michael Flutie of Company Management, threw up his hands and said, “I don’t get you!” when I walked in having cut my hair super buzz cut short after having had this long brown hair. He said, “Peter wanted to work with you again, Gucci wanted to book you… this was your year!” But I knew if I didn’t follow that quiet inner voice of guidance telling me to “go, now!” I was going to miss the whole point of my life.

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