Gisele Bündchen, the “5ft 11in Brazilian bombshell”, transformed how fashion thought of the supermodel, says Hamish Bowles on the first episode of In Vogue: The 2000s. The 1990s were about fragile, androgynous supermodels like Kate Moss, Amber Valletta and Shalom Harlow. Then along came an “unapologetically sexy” Brazilian volleyball player with “breasts and a derriere” – an athletic, “old fashioned pin-up girl” – to challenge the “reign of the waif”.
At first, Bündchen tells listeners, she was too different. An Elle casting director told her “your nose is too big, your eyes are too small, and you’re never going to be on the cover of a magazine”. Then Alexander McQueen gave Bündchen a catwalk spot during 1998’s London Fashion Week. US Vogue cast her as their July cover in 1999 – hailing the “return of the sexy model”. She turned 19 on the day the issue came out. That year, Victoria’s Secret, the lingerie fashion house, made her a millionaire. Her agent warned that “catalogue work” would be the death of her high-fashion ambitions. She signed a $25m contract anyway.
It didn’t put off Marc Jacobs, Gucci’s Tom Ford or Dolce & Gabbana. Bündchen then became a fixture on late-night talk shows, married NFL star Tom Brady and “changed the game for models and fashion at large”. Thanks to her, “maybe fashion started opening its eyes”, paving the way for bigger stars like Ashley Graham. “You smiled when you saw her,” says Anna Wintour, US Vogue’s editor-in-chief, “because she herself was always having such a good time.”
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