Sunday, 7 June 2009


Gisele Bundchen is a model who has made a fortune from bringing glamour back to the catwalk.
Born in Brazil in 1980, after being scouted at a shopping mall in 1994, Gisele made her high-fashion debut on the July 1999 edition of Vogue. The accompanying editorial spread dubbed her keynote appearance as ‘The Return of the Sexy Model.’
Up until that point, fashion had been greatly preoccupied with finding models who embodied the notion of ‘extreme beauty’: models who, in real life, would not necessarily be considered conventionally beautiful, but who possessed a quality of other-worldliness, something that worked particularly well alongside the extreme shapes and silhouettes that were popular within the world of couture fashion at the time.
The fashion world’s preoccupation with ‘oddness’ was in a part a reaction to the storm of controversy over the perceived ‘heroin chic’ trend. Very slim models were in favour, with Kate Moss’ Calvin Klein ads still in circulation. In the popular consciousness, models could not have been further away from the image of the girl-next-door.
Where fashion leads, modelling must follow, and agencies were struggling to find the next new face that would ignite the fashion world, and baffle the public. What was deemed fashionable, and what was considered to be beautiful, had never been further apart.
By the end of the Nineties, the models who worked the most were not conventionally beautiful, and completely unknown to anyone beyond the immediate perimeters of the fashion industry. The decade that had begun with a George Michael music video featuring supermodels Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista, had come full circle. Models were no longer celebrities: the era of the supermodel appeared to be at an end.

The discovery of Gisele quite literally prompted a new age in modelling. Her body type ran against everything that fashion was about, but it seemed that the fashion world (whether it realised it or not) was ready for a change.
Gisele was an instant hit, with repeat appearances on Vogue covers in November and December 1999 and January 2000. With such an emphatic seal of approval from the world’s leading fashion magazine, the fashion crowd leapt on the Bundchen bandwagon with abandon.
Gisele’s classically versatile look made her ideal for virtually every design house in the fashion industry. She walked every major runway in every Fashion Week around the globe, and completed ad campaigns for designers as diverse as Valentino, Missoni, Versace, Lanvin and Michael Kors.
The fashion world quickly came to realise that traditional beauty and sex appeal could be applied to any fashion equation. Previously seen as the modelling one-trick-pony, designers came round to the idea of beauty being versatile. You want smouldering sexuality? Done. Radiant, sunny charm to sell beachwear? Easy. Edgy, contemporary cool? Gisele’s brand of beauty worked here too.
Her huge popularity within the fashion world is easy enough to explain: she has everything a designer wants in a model. Tall, toned, curvy and oozing confidence, Bundchen is hugely successful because she is a (very) rare example of a model with no weak links. Many of the world’s most familiar faces have issues, whether it is a slightly prominent chin, a high forehead or being just that smidge too short. Everyone has something they like to hide from the camera’s discerning gaze.
The reason why Gisele took the industry by storm is her legendary physique – nothing is out of proportion, everything works in complete harmony. If symmetry is the golden standard by which all models are measured, Gisele’s classic feminine features suit any fashion viewpoint.
But it would be a mistake to assume that Gisele’s success is entirely down to those legs. Bundchen is the highest-earning supermodel in the world, with an estimated fortune of $150 million – and counting. However in demand you are, there are only so many catwalks you can walk down, and Vogue covers only appear once a month. Gisele has cleverly taken her popularity and multiplied it into cash by using her most valuable asset - her image.
Gisele has become the face of products well beyond the realm of the fashion industry. Her type of easy-to-read beauty translates to almost any product, and advertisers cannot get enough. Endorsements are what have secured Gisele her millions. Her long-standing contract with lingerie brand ‘Victoria’s Secret’ made her a small fortune, and the high profile of the brand helped Bundchen, in turn, become a household name. When most models are still only known by fashion insiders or media commentators, Bundchen (along with Kate Moss) has achieved a degree of celebrity: someone who has never picked up a fashion magazine in their life will be able to identify Gisele, or at the very least, recognise her face.
Gisele’s standing as the richest model on the planet has not only been boosted by her hefty portfolio, but has been assisted by her considerable business sense. She has developed a footwear line of flip-flops called ‘Ipanema – Gisele Bundchen’. Their success is such that they have even outsold the legendary brand ‘Havianas’ , making them the most popular range of flip-flops in the world. Gisele has taken her profile in the fashion world, and cannily applied some business know-how to make her fame work for her. Out of all the names currently working in the modelling industry, Bundchen understands most clearly the link between image and commerce. Her adaptability has made her extremely bankable, and it is this asset that Bundchen plays on best. If he were looking for the world’s most glamorous Apprentice, Sir Alan could do worse than give Gisele a call.
Gisele’s impact on the fashion world should not be under-estimated. Bundchen’s endlessly adaptable looks not only changed the modelling world, but the trajectory of modern fashion itself. By the end of the Nineties, it was time to leave grunge behind and side-step into something more glamorous and feminine. This sizeable shift is not entirely down to Gisele, but her arrival on the modelling scene could not have been better timed. Her launch onto the modelling scene cured fashion’s identity crisis – she inspired everyone on how to move forward.
Ten years on from her debut at Vogue, Gisele’s legacy is simply this: she has brought the power of beauty back to the core of the modelling industry. There is still a place for the unusual faces, but Bundchen’s timeless beauty reminds us that, if it is to succeed, fashion above all must engender desire. Beauty makes fashion glamorous, aspirational and fun, and in these tough times, that is exactly the approach fashion should be taking.

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