Still on Top
“My career was never based on pretty,” Gisele Caroline Bündchen declares, with no hint of irony or sarcasm. Next month, Gisele turns 36 years old, and despite her recent insistence on retiring from the runway, her image is still present everywhere.
At 1.8m tall (5′ 9”), Gisele is not particularly tall for her profession, yet she has managed to stay on top of the world of modeling for over a decade. According to Forbes magazine, she is today not only the most highly paid model in the world but the richest as well.
Considering her enormous success, even more surprising than her unexceptional height is that she was informed she would need to fix her nose when she first began modeling at age 14. Clients and photographers told her that her nose was too large, and she should consider having plastic surgery to reduce it.
“It’s true,” says Angela Missoni, creative director of the Missoni fashion company in Milan. “Gisele did our first campaign with Mario Testino, and we used a beautiful cover shot, but with Gisele’s hair all across her face. Mario wasn’t 100 percent sure about her. He was worried about her nose.”
Gisele has very clear memories of the criticism she endured when she first began modeling more than twenty years ago. “What can you do about moments like that? Even before I got into the modeling business, I was used to being bullied because I was always tall and skinny and stuck out,” she said. “I got really red all the time from playing volleyball, red like a pepper. So I thought bullying was just the way life is,” she added.
Nevertheless, Gisele has endured. What’s the secret of her success? “There are many, many beautiful girls in the world whose names no one remembers,” Angela Missoni observes. “With Gisele, there is something different, her energy. Of course, she is super beautiful, but she also has this charisma, this presence, this very sexy normality.”
“I always knew that, even if I was not the most beautiful girl, I’d be the most energetic and hard-working,”Gisele says. “I’ve always been a hard worker, never late for a job in my life. Really, ask anyone. If you want to know the truth, that’s the reason for my success.”
The designer Anna Sui once said this about Gisele: “She has that effervescence only certain girls have, an energy you look for that is really rare.” Photographer Patrick Demarchelier shot Gisele when she was just 16 years old for Harper’s Bazaar magazine. Patrick has photographed some of the most famous women in the world, including Madonna and Princess Diana. He says about Gisele: “Even at 16, I could tell how smart she was. She was outgoing, always happy, and clearly already knew what she was doing.”
Gisele comes from a middle-class family, yet she is acutely conscious of the psychic and economic distance between the provincial world she comes from and the imposing one she inhabits today. Her father was a real estate agent and her mother a bank cashier. She grew up in small town in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil’s southern most state, known for its population of German immigrants with their blonde hair and blue eyes. Gisele is a fraternal twin, born to a family of six girls who grew up wearing their sisters’ hand-me-downs. “When I was a kid, I never even thought about fashion. I had one pair of jeans.”
Gisele was first approached by a model agent when she was 14 years old, sitting in the food court of the mall. She decided to take a chance and left home alone on a 28-hour bus ride to São Paulo. “Modeling was the farthest thing from what I ever thought I would do with my life. From the beginning, looks did not define me in any way. I have a different idea of what I am. I wanted to be Jane Goodall. In my mind, I’m still Jane Goodall in bare feet.”
Today, Gisele divides her time among three residences: a U$14 million, 48th-floor Manhattan apartment; a house in Boston; and a vacation compound in coastal Costa Rica. She lives with her husband, Tom Brady, the New England Patriots quarterback, and their three children – a boy and a girl from their marriage and a son from Mr. Brady’s previous relationship.
“To me, the idea of being famous is irritating. The attention is strange. Everyone has an opinion. It can overwhelm you when people attack you or make comments,” she said.
To date, Gisele has appeared eleven times on the cover of American Vogue. She has a personal net worth estimated in excess of U$300 million. She enjoys a daily income flow, Forbes calculated, of at least U$128,000. This past year, which she refers to as her sabbatical, she maintained contracts with Pantene, Procter & Gamble, Under Armour, Chanel No. 5, Carolina Herrera, Emilio Pucci, and Balenciaga, and her name appears on several products from jelly sandals to underwear.
As the ultimate complement to her modeling career, a book “Gisele Bündchen” (Taschen, U$69.99) has now been published. It’s a 536-page monograph that assembles in one enormous volume images of the model from throughout her career. In the huge volume of her photos in the book, she is captured by some of the most famous photographers in the world, such as Helmut Newton, Juergen Teller, Peter Lindbergh, Bruce Weber, David LaChapelle, Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, Michel Comte, Mario Sorrenti, Nino Muñoz, and David Sims. What is striking about these images is that the most compelling element of any photograph she appears in is not the clothes or the setting but the preternatural vitality of Gisele herself.
Gisele, whose diet once consisted mostly of Coke and hamburgers, now observes the more stringent dietary practices favored by her athlete husband. Roughly 80 percent of what she consumes is vegetable in origin; her family’s meals are prepared by a private chef, and she practices yoga daily.
[Research for this article comes from The New York Times]