Gisele Bundchen: 1980—: Model Biography
The rise of Brazilian beauty Gisele Bundchen in the late 1990s startled many in the world of fashion. Bundchen's robust, voluptuous looks seemed to mark the end of the era for the so-called "waif look" en vogue at the time, and her tanned, curvy figure was said to have sparked a search for copycat models. Bundchen's stardom was also reportedly the cause for a spike in the number of plastic surgery procedures performed in Brazil. Recalling the international fame of the man considered the world's greatest soccer player, Newsweek International writer Mac Margolis called Bundchen "the most celebrated Brazilian since Pelé."
Bundchen was born July 20, 1980, in Horizontina, Brazil, a town near the border with Argentina. She was a fraternal twin with her sister, Patricia, in a family that would eventually include five daughters. Her parents, Valdir and Vania, were descended from German settlers to Brazil a few generations back. Bundchen did not consider herself model material as a teen, and claimed that she was so tall and skinny that her classmates called her "Oli," a nickname for the Popeye cartoon character Olive Oyl. She was athletic, however, and dreamed of playing professional volleyball, but a modeling class she took to improve her posture led to an offer from an agency in São Paulo.
She took a few modeling jobs, but was warned that her natural curvaceousness was a hindrance to any future career; insiders also told her that her nose was too big. She began working at the agency office as well, and one day, as she recalled in an interview with WWD writer Jessica Kerwin, "This editor called and was looking for girls for a shoot, and I wanted to do it. The editor said, 'No, Gisele can't be in the shoot,' because she said that I have a big nose. I said, 'One day, she'll be sorry'—you know, just to make myself feel a little better."
Despite these first experiences, Bundchen came to the attention of others in the business who liked her fresh look. Quitting school at the age of 16, she was signed to Elite Models in New York, and invited by agency vice-president Massimo Redaelli to relocate to the United States. Bundchen's mother accompanied her. She enrolled in a fast-paced English-language course, and once again, held out hope that her few jobs would soon come at a more steady pace. The fashion in 1997, however, was for a decidedly unhealthy, pallid look, and the bronzed Bundchen seemed at odds with prevailing tastes. She was also told that she was too top-heavy, but a well-known photographer, Mario Testino, decided to shoot her for a job. Soon another industry name, Steven Meisel, was requesting Bundchen, and these tastemakers' faith helped convince top magazines and stylists to book her. Avant-garde British designer Alexander McQueen also became an early champion, hiring her for her first runway job as part of his famous "Rain" collection in London.
The year 1998 proved a far more successful one for Bundchen. She began appearing regularly in the world's top fashion magazines, and modeled collections for the design houses of Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, and Dior. In one ten-month period alone, she appeared on six of ten American Vogue covers. She was hailed as the embodiment of the latest new trend in beauty. "She had breasts and hips and great hair," James Scully, booking editor of Harper's Bazaar, told Newsweek International. "Men want her. Women want to be her. We haven't had that since Cindy [Crawford] and Naomi [Campbell]." Other industry insiders were also effusive in their praise. "She's just an incredible, unrestrained beauty with the innate ability to be sensual and glamorous but very real and natural," Buffy Birritella, an executive with Ralph Lauren, told Cosmopolitan writer J. D. Heiman. "That's at the core of the American ideal of beauty."
Bundchen was soon nicknamed "The Body" and "Perfect 10," and in December of 1999 she was awarded the Vogue/VH1 Award for Model of the Year. She had perfected what Margolis termed "her trademark runway walk," a strut that was "sassy and high-stepping, like a filly in tall grass," the writer remarked. "She's a straightforward sex bomb," an editor of British Vogue, Alexandra Shulman, told Sunday Times writer Eve McSweeny. "She's got perfect looks and an absolutely incredible figure, which makes even other models' figures look slightly imperfect."
Bundchen has remained refreshingly modest for a woman who reportedly earning $10,000 an hour for runway shows in 2000. Her sisters have joined her at various times in New York City to keep her company, and she traveled back to Horizontina often as well. There have been no media reports of diva-like behavior, though she often coped with unruly admirers, even on the inside of the business. Those who know her claimed she is refreshingly down-to-earth. "She's pure mannequin in a way," New York Times fashion writer Cathy Horyn told the Sunday Times. "She does a job and she does it well, and I'm totally content seeing a pro on the runway, without all the trappings—the bad boyfriend, the attitude, the drug habit. I would be disappointed to hear that Gisele had a rock-star boyfriend."
Bundchen, who speaks Brazilian Portuguese, has been romantically linked with Joao-Paulo Diniz, scion of Brazilian supermarket fortune, and at one time was rumored to be engaged to American actor Leonardo DiCaprio. She is a major celebrity in Brazil, where her curvy figure was said to have sparked a spike in the number of breast-augmentation surgeries. Her fame was also linked to an aspiring-model craze among Brazilian teenagers, who enrolled by the thousands in the new modeling schools that sprung up overnight in the country in the late 1990s. Yet fame has also presented certain difficulties for her. "I like to go with my friends to the kind of bar only people from New Jersey and Queens like to go to, and just play the jukebox and dance to old songs," she told WWD's Kerwin. "No one looks at you, and there are no lies in the paper the next day."
Bundchen signed a five-year contract with Victoria's Secret to appear in its lingerie, beauty, and hosiery campaigns across several media, ranging from television to print to its famed live Webcasts. Bundchen was signed for a reported $24 million sum. Her sole extravagances, she claimed, are horses and jewelry. "I don't worry too much about clothes and accessories, but jewelry I love," WWD quoted her as saying. She bought herself a four-carat diamond ring. "I love to wear it with jeans and flip-flops," she told the magazine. She also adored her Yorkshire terrier named Vida, who accompanied her everywhere.
Bundchen has been offered film roles, but was wary. "I don't want to live in L.A. in a big house and go to parties, no way," Cosmopolitan's Heiman quoted her as saying. "I want to have a quiet, good life." She did eventually acquire a house there that was near the beach and which allowed her to ride her horse, but she still kept her loft in the Tribeca of New York City. She claimed that her one goal is to finish school and then study veterinary science, noting that her sudden fame has not been altogether easy for her. "There are two kinds of people in this industry," she told Daily Telegraph writer Luella Bartley. "The people who do it because they want to be famous and the people who do it as a job and go home afterwards. I see what I do as just a job. I'm no better than anyone just because I'm famous. I just want to be a good person, but people automatically want to make it a different thing. People make up this crazy stuff about your life and they think they have a right to judge you. It's awful."
Cosmopolitan, March 2000, p. 264.
Daily Telegraph (London, England), September 7, 2001.
Entertainment Weekly, June 23, 2000, p. 18.
Newsweek International, September 25, 2000, p. 58.
Newsweek, October 2, 2000, p. 80.
People, August 7, 2000, p. 64.
Sunday Times (London, England), January 23, 2000, p. 4.
Time International, July 9, 2000, p. 26.
WWD, July 14, 2000, p. 12; August 29, 2000, p. 4; September 22, 2000, p. 6; July 3, 2001 p. 12.
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