The term “supermodel” came to prominence in the popular culture of the 1980s and 90s with models like “The Big Five” – Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Claudia Schiffer and Christy Turlington – ascending to the dizzy heights of superstardom – an ascension described in a famous quote from Evangelista in 1990; “We don’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day”.
Brinkley (pictured below left) didn’t dream of becoming a supermodel. In fact, she was hesitant to abandon her career as an illustrator. But that all changed after she caught the attention of an American photographer on the streets of Paris. She decided to embrace the industry, and the rest was history. She covered the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue three consecutive times (1979 to 1981) and starred in national campaigns for Chanel Beauty and Cover Girl. She also had a high-profile relationship with Billy Joel, during which time she inspired his famous song, Uptown Girl.
Campbell (pictured above right) was the queen of the catwalk. So much so, that Beyoncé immortalised her signature strut in Get Me Bodied, encouraging listeners to “walk across the room like Naomi Campbell.” And though this English beauty received a great amount of success, her rise to the top was faced with adversities. She was often the only Black model in runway lineups, campaigns, and editorial shoots – a pervasive mindset that she has fought to overturn throughout her illustrious career.
Christensen started her career in pageants, winning Miss Denmark in 1986 and representing the nation at the Miss Universe event that year. With this notoriety, she entered the fashion fold, appearing in runway shows and campaigns for Valentino, Prada, Chanel, and Revlon, which made her the brand spokesperson in 1992. A few years before, Christensen (pictured below left) starred in the music video for Chris Isaak‘s song Wicked Game.
More than most, Crawford’s renown in the ’90s superseded the industry. She was – and still is – a cultural icon, starring in not just myriad fashion campaigns, but also in Pepsi commercials. Her appearance on the small screen, too, extended to hosting House of Style on MTV. Before Crawford (pictured above right) became a supermodel, she was on an academic track. She was her high school’s valedictorian and studying chemical engineering at Northwestern University before she dropped out to pursue modelling. In 1982, she won Elite Model Management’s “Look of the Year” contest and within months the US had fallen in love with her. With her distinct beauty mark, her face was plastered on billboards and advertisements. Her daughter, Kaia Gerber, is following in her famous footsteps.
Heralded as the ultimate chameleon, the Canadian supermodel (pictured below left) went through the ’90s changing her hairstyle and garnering headlines for doing so. From a black pixie cut to a bright red bob to a platinum-blonde coif, Evangelista’s looks season after season captured the attention of myriad designers, who made her the face of campaigns and the centrepiece of runway shows.
Scouted as a teenager by Elite Model Management at age 17, Ireland became one of the most recognisable faces in fashion when her 1989 Sports Illustrated cover was released to the public. To this day, Ireland’s cover is still hailed as one of the most iconic in the publication’s history. The supermodel (pictured above right) didn’t just stick to modelling; Ireland also pursued an acting career and even started her own business in 1993.
Klum (pictured below left) parlayed her modelling success into other media ventures. The German beauty went from starring in campaigns for Marc Jacobs and spreads for Harper’s Bazaar to becoming the face of Victoria’s Secret and appearing in films and television shows. The serial entrepreneur also has an eponymous lingerie collection.
At the beginning of her career, Elle Macpherson (pictured above right) pursued modelling to earn money to pay for her law books at Sydney University. The Australian beauty moved to New York City, only planning to stay a year, but found instant success. By 1986, she had appeared in all the major fashion magazines and covered the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue in 1986, 1987, 1988, 1994, and 2006. Her unparalleled physique earned her the nickname “The Body.”
Kate Moss’s entry into the fashion industry was somewhat controversial. Discovered at an airport in London at 14 years old, her waiflike figure (pictured below left) was a contrast to the Amazonian bodies that preceded her. She was the poster child for the grunge style that pervaded a good part of the ’90s – and her party-going lifestyle and string of famous relationships only heightened this reputation. Indeed, her name crossed industry barriers, becoming part of the pop culture lexicon.
Porizkova’s modelling career began after a chance encounter with an Elite Model Management scout on the streets of Sweden. She went on to appear in numerous magazines, star in campaigns for Estée Lauder, Maybelline, Escada, and more, as well as cover the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue in 1984. Paulina (pictured above right) married Ric Ocasek of The Cars in 1989.
Discovered in a nightclub in Düsseldorf, Germany, Schiffer – with her luscious blonde locks, smoky eyes, and plump pout (pictured below left) – was touted as the second coming of Brigitte Bardot. Karl Lagerfeld was a fan, taking her under his wing and making her the face of Chanel – a distinction she received with other labels, including Guess. She would garner cover after cover, currently holding the record in the Guinness Book of World Records.
From covers of Harper’s Bazaar to Playboy to the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, Seymour (perhaps more than most) was celebrated for her amazing figure. Indeed, photographer Richard Avedon said in People that she had the “perfect body” – a distinction that brands like Versace, Alaïa and Victoria’s Secret highlighted on their catwalks and in their campaigns. And for music fans, the California native (pictured above right) is best remembered for starring in Guns N’ Roses‘ video for November Rain.
Along with Evangelista and Campbell, Turlington rounded out what the fashion industry coined the “Holy Trinity.” Born in Oakland, California, she started modelling locally in Florida. But it was not until moving to New York at 18 when her dominance at the top of the modelling world solidified. Over the years, Turlington left to get an education, graduating cum laude from NYU’s Gallatin School of Independent Studies.