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What Makes a Model a Supermodel?

Lisa Fonssagrives

Lisa Fonssagrives

The official distinction between model and supermodel is the subject of much debate and discussion. But as supermodel Heidi Klum simply puts it, “‘Supermodel’ means you’re a household name as a fashion model.”

The term supermodel was first coined in 1943—the time of Lisa Fonssagrives, who appeared widely on fashion magazine covers—but many models, including Suzy Parker in 1956, and even the self-proclaimed supermodel Janice Dickinson in 1979, have been labeled the first-to-rise-to-supermodel status. As models drive their profession to new heights, requirements to be “super” continue to evolve—however, instant recognizability beyond the fashion world continues to be the critical factor in attaining a supermodel title.

In the 1990s, a powerhouse of models that included Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford, Kate Moss, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, and Christy Turlington elevated modeling to a new level of celebrity. The “Big Six”—as they were called—dominated magazines, runways, editorial pages, and advertising in a way that had never been done before. Their fame created swarms of fans and paparazzi that followed them beyond the fashion world and into mainstream culture.

The famous 1993 <i>Vogue</i> supermodel cover.

The famous 1993 Vogue supermodel cover.

Supermodel Linda Evangelista’s infamous quote, “We don’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day,” was not an exaggeration, as the demand for versatile supermodel beauty grew astronomically and commanded multimillion dollar contracts.

Model talent from Brazil joined the growing supermodel list with names like Gisele Bündchen, Adriana Lima, and Alessandra Ambrosio, who each signed seven-figure contracts with lingerie giant Victoria’s Secret.

Today Gisele, the world’s highest earning model, is the woman Claudia Schiffer believes is the only model recognizable enough today to make her worthy of the supermodel title.

As opportunities in television began to expand the model reach beyond the runway, campaigns, and editorials, models like Tyra Banks and Heidi Klum rose to a new level of supermodel stardom. Now considered media moguls as often as they are supermodels, Tyra and Heidi have enjoyed success in the field of reality television that has turned them into household names.

As supermodel Carol Alt says, “Young models of today have the benefit of all the outlets every model before them has created along the way.” Television series like America’s Next Top Model and Project Runway have helped revive a public interest in models, creating greater opportunity for new faces to transcend into a supermodel celebrity status of their own.

Related Content:

The First Supermodel

Supermodels Become Household Names

Supermodels as Media Moguls

The Rise and Fall of the Supermodel

The Supermodel Brand

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