The women who would be Cindy Crawford are not quite ready for their close-ups. Shalom Harlow and Amber Valletta, the models who will replace the moled one on MTV’s House of Style beginning this week, are sequestered inside a Greenwich Village photo studio, but no pictures are being taken. Instead, for more than four hours, they perch on tall chairs, receiving the professional caresses of brushes, puffs, and pencils. Only when their retro shag haircuts meet industry standards do they emerge. They look go-directly-to-jail gorgeous, of course — although, a baffled MTV employee whispers, not remarkably more gorgeous than when they arrived.
Despite the time spent making them more picture-perfect, the first thing you need to know about Valletta, the blond, and Harlow, the brunette, is they act less like coddled fashion victims and more like the best friends they really are. Dressed in tight Prada and Helmut Lang outfits that reveal their bony frames, these 22-year-olds have the sort of girlish intimacy usually forged in dorm-room bull sessions. But in this case, it’s the bond built being rookie models in Paris (the two were just out of high school), once sharing an apartment in New York City, and seeing each other through personal crises (like Valletta’s recent split from model/husband Herve Lebihan).
In modeling circles, Valletta and Harlow are as famous for their friendship as their faces. ”They’re the Laurel and Hardy of beauty,” says Karl Lagerfeld, who pairs them in Chanel’s spring campaign. But in TV circles, they pose just one question: Can they make Must See MTV?
For more than than six years, Cindy Crawford was MTV’s House of Style. Hired in 1989, she quickly established a cross-gender sex appeal that turned the monthly Style into one of the channel’s longest-running, highest-rated shows. ”Cindy was all about having this bodacious image that attracted the headbangers as much as the fashion victims,” says Michael Gross, author of Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women. ”She was what made that show.” That’s why her decision last fall to leave Style stymied the MTV brass. ”How do you follow Cindy?” asks MTV president Judy McGrath. ”We sort of started with, ‘Should we have models at all?”’
Scene-makers, male models, and showbiz kids were considered, but MTV eventually came back to the idea of a supermodel. Niki Taylor, a Cindy-like choice, was asked but didn’t try out. Kate Moss was approached, but ”we couldn’t come to terms,” says Style’s executive producer, Alisa Bellettini. Only after auditioning everyone from Carla Bruni to Linda Evangelista did MTV hit on the idea of halving Cindy’s crown by hiring Valletta and Harlow. ”There was something bigger,” says Bellettini. ”They really fed off each other. We breathed a sigh of relief.”
Which lasted about a minute and a half. Style has been hostless since December, when Crawford, who declined to be interviewed for this piece, hung up her mike for good. And Bellettini has had just four weeks to train the new kids. Valletta has some on-air experience, having twice hosted E!’s Fashion Week last year; Harlow’s a novice. Ready or not, on March 11, the revamped House of Style — including segments like a tour of Maybelline’s Little Rock, Ark., factory with Christy Turlington — will hit the air.