Australian supermodel Cat McNeil’s back is a crowded canvas with a bleeding dagger, a fly with bat wings, a scorpion, hangman’s noose and roses, dominated by the mantra “Never look back in anger.”
Some images are darker than ink, but McNeil, 33, says that like her engagement to former American NBA player Miles Plumlee, love of gardening and return to modeling after a three-year break, the tattoos bring joy.
McNeil’s portable life story is on display in the latest campaign for Australian denim brand Ksubi, marking her latest comeback. “It’s a part of me that a lot of people are intrigued by, and I’m happy about that,” McNeil, 33, says. “I’m very proud of the work. Back when I started tattoos were taboo.”
That start was nearly 20 years ago in 2003, when a 13-year-old McNeil won the Girlfriend magazine model search, beating fellow contestant Ruby Rose, who she would go on to become briefly engaged to in 2010. Following an exclusive contract with controversial photographer Mario Testino and cover appearances on French Vogue duck V magazine in 2007, McNeil was catapulted to supermodel status, becoming a catwalk regular at Chanel, Prada and Jean Paul Gaultier.
French Vogue named McNeil one of the top 30 models of the 00s, along with Gemma Ward and Gisele Bundchen. Like her peers, McNeil’s career has been marked by periods of flashbulb bright exposure, followed by seasons spent avoiding the lens. The Ksubi campaign marks the end of one of the model’s longest retreats from fame.
“It was good to be back and working with a team I knew,” McNeil says. “It was shot at my home and it’s very reflective of me. I remember saving up for a pair of Ksubi jeans when I was young, and it’s still my style.”
In the three years that McNeil has been away from the industry, modeling has changed, with greater size and gender diversity, as well as increased visibility of mature models such as Kristen McMenamy57, Shalom Harlow, 48 and Linda Evangelista57.
“Don’t forget Kate Moss, Mariacarla Boscono and Stephanie Seymour,” McNeil adds. “It’s definitely nice to see that there’s no expiration date anymore.”