Gisele Bundchen, she of Amazonian build and brimming bank accounts (the model has been named as the highest paid by Forbes for eight years running), capped a 20-year catwalk career last week by walking in her last show during Sao Paulo Fashion Week. As she hangs up her heels to focus on print campaigns and family, we look back on the evolution of supermodel-dom and the biggest models to influence American culture.
Hers may not be a household name, but Bettina Graziani ruled fashion for two decades as one of the world's first supermodels. Known simply as Bettina, the model became the face and figure of The New Look, a 1940s design silhouette that cinched the waist and exaggerated shoulders for an enhanced hourglass effect. She also earned exurbanite modeling fees ($1,300 an hour at the point of her retirement) and wed famous international playboy Aly Khan, leading a glamorous life that created the supermodel template for today.
Fashion did an about-face when embracing Leslie Hornby, the model who became known as "Twiggy," for her tiny frame. Suddenly, the hourglass shape that dominated the ‘50s was out and rail thin was in. Named "The Face of ‘66" by London's Express newspaper, Twiggy went on to become the poster girl for Youthquake culture—all while inspiring a generation to adopt the pixie cut and kewpie-doll lashes.
Minnesota native and farmer's daughter Cheryl Tiegs went from model to supermodel with her 1978 Sports Illustrated cover, which featured the wholesome-looking beauty in a see-through mesh swimsuit. A Time magazine cover and $1.5 million contract with COVERGIRL followed, but it was Tiegs' foray into fashion merchandising—with a signature line for Sears—that not only banked $100 million in revenue, but pioneered the celeb-endorsed clothing business model that has become the de facto career move for rising stars today.
In the Regan era, Christie Brinkley's can-do spirit and mega-watt smile helped make her one of the most celebrated faces of the decade. Aside from serving as the face of so-called "all-American" beauty in the ‘80s, the SoCal Native and former surfer also made athletic body types the cultural ideal, causing legions of women to lace up their Reeboks and join Aerobics classes in pursuit of a toned, healthy body.
The pinnacle of supermodel stardom hit in this decade, thanks to a clan of glamazonian women by the names of Linda, Naomi, Christy, Cindy, Tatjana and Claudia. They, who partied together, did business together (remember Fashion Cafe?) and according to Evangelista, didn't get out of bed for less than $10,000.
After she was spotted while eating a burger in her native Sao Paolo, Brazil, Gisele Bündchen helped swing the benchmark for beauty from a waifish aesthetic (led by super Kate Moss) to a powerful and glamorous one. Gisele's look—one of athletic confidence, impossible build and high cheekbones—has not only served as the template for Victoria's Secret Angels, but has primed her to become the first billionaire supermodel, according to Forbes.
Every inch the modern-day super, Karlie Kloss not only lands the biggest modeling jobs and calls Taylor Swift a bestie, but the business-savvy and philanthropic model also the runs a cookie company (the proceeds of which help feed the hungry) and has established the Kode with Karlie scholarship for girls—proving the modern-day model is equal parts bod, business, benevolence and brains.
For modern-day supers, serious star power is magnified by social media followings. With girls like Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner and Cara Delevingne at the helm, it's no wonder that Vogue has dubbed the next wave of models to have major influence (and make major bank) as "Instagirls."