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Modeling Is A Short-lived Career

Christie Brinkley

There’s no more highly paid model in the world than Victoria's Secret babe Gisele Bundchen. The lingerie company shells out around $5 million per year to the 26-year-old Brazilian beauty. But Bundchen doesn’t get a cut of every bra the corporation sells.

To pocket that kind of “passive” income, Bundchen turned to Brazilian shoe company Grendene, which markets Ipanema Gisele Bundchen sandals. The company slaps the model’s name and likeness on every box of sandals it sells, and in exchange Bundchen pockets around 7% of the wholesale revenue. Since the sandals sell approximately 20 million pair per year, a conservative estimate on her annual sandal windfall would be $6 million.

By its very nature, modeling is a short-lived career. Today’s model might start her runway and print career at 16. Unless she makes a name for herself, that career could be over in a season. Those who find themselves in demand by name designers and the editors of Vogue may or may not ever snag the brass ring--a multiyear (two to five years) contract with a clothing or cosmetics company.

Only the superstars (Kate Moss, Tyra Banks, Heidi Klum) can keep their careers going for much after they turn 30. Assuming she hasn't married a hedge fund tycoon or just wants to keep working, what's a supermodel to do?

The smart ones look ahead by banking as much money as they can by branding themselves as actresses or designers or talk show hosts--anything really--for those days when the modeling jobs dry up.

Being the prettiest face in the room is no longer enough--particularly as a model ages. Cosmetic companies want recognizable, Oscar-winning actresses such as Halle Berry and Susan Sarandon, who have both modeled for Revlon, or an actress/singer like Queen Latifah (Cover Girl) to represent their brand. For a model to bring in the big bucks--and bring them in long enough that she’ll have something to retire on--she needs to brand herself as far and wide as possible.

Acting has always been the backup plan for many models. But most end up with thankless nonspeaking roles such as those of Amber Valletta in What Lies Beneath and Esther Canadas in The Thomas Crowne Affair. Maybe that's for the best. When models get lead roles, bad things can happen. Take Cindy Crawford's 1995 stinker Fair Game. Bit parts, such as Tatjana Patitz's turn in 1993's Rising Sun, or turns on reality shows such as Janice Dickinson's season on VH1's The Surreal Life, often fail to launch acting careers. And unless you become an A-lister, the paycheck is far less than what a supermodel is used to.

One of the most successful model-turned-entrepreneurs is Kathy Ireland, whose face and figure sent millions of men's hearts fluttering during the ten years she appeared in every issue of Sports Illustrated's annual swimsuit edition between 1984 and 1994. After retiring from modeling, Ireland revealed assets that couldn't be concealed in a bikini: her business acumen. Although she had been generating income from selling her own calendars and modeling for catalogues, she hit the big time by creating her own fashion line--for which she still models--and licensing her name and image to 16 manufacturers that sell her products at 50,000 locations in 15 countries. In 2005, she generated an estimated $1.4 billion in retail sales, netting at least $10 million of that.

Ageless Supermodels

Whether it's just good genes or hard work, these former supermodels found the secret to ageless beauty.
  • Christie Brinkley
    I think men's faces seem to age more slowly because they shave and have a constant turnover of skin. I try to imitate the effect by scrubbing my face with a mega exfoliating scrub. A good exfoliant scrub is the first step for good skin.
  • Cindy Crawford
    Basically, I take care of myself, but I don't want to be obsessive. And I don't want to not like who I am today. I'm all for fighting the good fight, but I don't care how much you work out or how much cream you put on - things change.
  • Elle Macpherson
    I got mom's and dad's genes I guess. I meditate and I do yoga, but then I surf and ski and sport is a big part of my life. I am Australian and that is a big part of my culture.
  • Claudia Schiffer
    "I know one day I'll be considered too old. I think 40-year-old women actually look more healthy and fit than some girls in their 20s. I`ve met women who have way better bodies in their 40s because they've been working on them for all these years."
  • Christy Turlington
    "Yoga is the absolute best set of tools I can recommend to help one feel and look one's absolute best at any age. Simply because it helps establish and maintain interconnectedness between the mind and body â€" an important connection to nurture throughout one's entire life."
  • Carol Alt
    "My body got younger and my face got younger when I started eating raw foods. It saved my life."
  • Linda Evangelista
    "I think it's OK to say I'm 43 and it's work being me. It's a lot of upkeep! I'm pro-cosmetic procedure. I use Botox and I'm not afraid to say it, though I do like to keep some movement in my face."

Models Turned Actresses

  • Freida Pinto
    Before she made her acting debut in the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionare, Pinto was an aspiring model in India and appeared in ads for Wrigley's chewing gum, Airtel and DeBeers.
  • Cameron Diaz
    At 16, Diaz started working as a model, appearing in ads for Calvin Klein and Levi's and on the cover of Seventeen magazine. Her acting career took off after she scored a big role in 1994's The Mask opposite Jim Carrey.
  • Charlize Theron
    This model turned Oscar winner started modeling at 16 and traveled to Milan, Italy, on a modeling contract after winning a local competition. After breaking into acting in the late '90s, Charlize went on to win an Academy Award for Monster. Esquire picked Charlize Theron as the Sexiest Woman Alive. Way to take a stand, guys.
  • Rebecca Romijn
    Romijn was a fixture in Sports Illustrated and Victoria's Secret before her big-screen breakthrough in X-Men. Now, she's made her way to the small screen, starring in the hit show Ugly Betty.
  • Brooke Shields
    Shields got an early start to her modeling career when she appeared in an Ivory Snow commercial at 11-months old . She was also the youngest model to appear on the cover of Vogue at age 14. She's appeared in many TV shows and films, her most recent being NBC's Lipstick Jungle.
  • Halle Berry
    Berry was a former model and beauty queen before she made Oscar history, becoming the first African American woman to receive a Best Actress award in 2001. She entered several beauty contests before making it big in Hollywood, finishing runner-up in the Miss USA pageant in 1986.
  • Molly Sims
    Sims proved she was more than just a pretty face when she made the transition from Sport Illustrated swimsuit model to TV star on NBC's hit show Las Vegas, which ran from 2003 - 2008.
  • Andie MacDowell
    The Four Weddings and a Funeral and Groundhog Day star was a top model in the late '70s and early '80s before she took her star power to the silver screen.
  • Elizabeth Hurley
    Hurley was a well-known model in England before she launched her acting career in the '80s. Her big break came in the form of Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, and she continues to model as a spokesperson for Estée Lauder.

It just goes to show that some models are a lot more than a pretty face. In 1990, supermodel Linda Evangelista uttered what has become the most famous quote in modeling history: "We don't wake up for less than $10,000 a day."

She was referring to herself and fellow supermodel Christy Turlington, both of whom were a core part of the handful of models shaking up the industry by being as famous and powerful as celebrities.

Models did talk shows. They landed movie roles. They inspired franchises (the ill-fated "Fashion Café," which was part-owned by supermodels Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell and Elle MacPherson). They dated or married movie stars (Linda Evangelista and Kyle MacLachlan; Christy Turlington and Ed Burns; Cindy Crawford and Richard Gere). And, of course, they made millions.

For most other models, things are different. Top models still bank millions, but only once a multiyear contract is secured. The days of $10,000 runway fees are over. Top models don't even do runway. It's considered an internship process for the hundreds of anonymous 15- and 16-year-old foreign girls who swarm the runways of New York, Paris and Milan each season. They do 70 shows in six weeks and are paid about $250 an hour their first season.

A good hardworking model can make $200,000 a season. But chances are that model, once the season is over, will never be seen or heard from again.

In the supermodel heyday, most of the top models were homegrown--Cindy Crawford from Illinois, Tyra Banks and Christy Turlington from California. Their American accents made for a fairly easy transition to stardom. Then the fashion industry, which thrives on change, began to prefer foreigners.

Five years ago, it was the Brazilians, out of which rose Bundchen, Lima and Ambrosio. This new trinity, with their Victoria's Secret contracts, became well known, but with their foreign accents, they were unable to cross over into the world of TV, movies and talk shows as easily as their predecessors did. And with the exception of Bundchen, who dated Leonardo DiCaprio on and off for several years, they kept their private lives private.

A few seasons later came the Eastern Europeans: anonymous, pale, barely into their teens and bordering on anorexic. They were too young to become movie stars or date celebrities; too skeletal to bag Victoria's Secret contracts; and a lack of English didn't bode well for a broad media career.

Natalia Vodianova of Russia, who worked at a fruit stand from the time she was 11, rose out of this pack and into the protective arms of Calvin Klein. The vast majority were sent back to where they came from. Vodianova may be a star in the industry, but try to find a teenager in a Midwestern mall who would line up to get a glimpse of her the way she would have ten years ago for Tyra Banks or Cindy Crawford.

Meanwhile, the rise of celebrity culture relegated many models to anonymity. Cosmetic companies almost exclusively sign celebrities for their campaigns, as do designers. Scarlett Johansson is the face of Louis Vuitton; Eva Longoria represents L'Oreal; Jessica Alba pouts for Revlon; the list goes on and on.

Even more devastating to the industry's ability to create supermodels was that the fashion magazines followed suit. A decade ago, models graced 10 of the 12 covers of American Vogue. Last year, only one model made the cover, and that was Linda Evangelista--she of the famous $10,000-a-day quote--as if Vogue had a hankering for the time when models proudly proclaimed their celebrity status.

But it wasn't just celebrities knocking models out of the limelight. The designers--Marc Jacobs, Tommy Hilfiger, Miuccia Prada--became more famous than their mannequins. Isaac Mizrahi hosted the Golden Globe pre-show for the E! network. Donatella Versace is regularly skewered on Saturday Night Live. A decade ago, a top model might have made $100,000 on a single print campaign for a designer. Now, she will more likely get a small stipend fee, some free clothes, and the honor of an "association" with the famous designer.

But if opportunities for superstardom were waning in the modeling world, the ones who did make it could stay there longer than ever thanks to the advent of retouching. "It's completely stopped the aging process," says Elite agent Richard Habberley, who represents Victoria's Secret model Alessandra Ambrosio (who, at 26, need not worry about that just yet).

Eighties ubermodel Christie Brinkley, at 52, reclaimed her Cover Girl contract and appears none the worse for 20 years having passed. Christy Turlington, 38, and Linda Evangelista, 42, are also bagging new contracts, and look in advertisements almost exactly as they did back in their supermodel glory.

But the fashion world is about nothing if not trends. And trends are cyclical. Already the editorials of Vogue are turning away from the scary skinny models of Eastern Europe towards a healthier-looking and more Americanized standard. Hilary Rhoda is probably the best example of this. Models might even be making a comeback as cover girls. Vogue's May issue showcased 10 of the hottest new faces. Natalia Vodianova had the July cover to herself.

The new face of Estée Lauder grew up in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and played lacrosse and field hockey in high school. Unlike the size zero waifs that have taken over the runway, Rhoda wears a size four or six. Cosmetics companies could start launching new faces again. In L'Oreal's latest ad campaign, Dutch model Doutzen Kroes is prominently featured next to Eva Longoria.

One consistency throughout the past decade has been Victoria's Secret's modeling machine. The $5 billion lingerie giant has launched the careers of dozens of supermodels over the years, including Gisele Bundchen and Heidi Klum and newer bikini babes Adriana Lima, Alessandra Ambrosio and Karolina Kurkova. It has also steadfastly refused to follow the celebrity trend.

Victoria's Secret takes a similar role in nourishing talent to stardom in the way that Hollywood studios did with actresses back in the 1930s and '40s. A model starts out doing some runway, then advances to catalog, and, provided her professionalism and personality impresses enough people, she might eventually end up with the Academy Award of modeling gigs--a multiyear, multimillion dollar contract as a Victoria's Secret "angel." The company invests time and money into making their angels celebrities--the girls are given speech lessons and media training and booked on talk shows. If the girls are lucky, they break into supermodel stardom and then, like Victoria's Secret alums Heidi Klum and Tyra Banks, become media moguls. This season, Victoria's Secret even began branding their beauty products with the girls' names and likenesses.

Kiri Blakeley. Most Entrepreneurial Supermodels. Forbes . December 6, 2006.
Kiri Blakeley. The World's Top-Earning Models. Forbes . July 16, 2007.

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