In 1993, before she graced the cover of Rolling Stone magazine at right, Gisele Bündchen was a skinny 14 year-old kid in southern Brazil who aspired to play professional volleyball. Her friends called her “Olive Oyl” for her likeness to the Popeye cartoon character. That was also about the same time, as legend has it, that young Gisele was “discovered” by a modeling agent who saw her eating a Big Mac at a local Brazilian MacDonald’s. Today, the skinny kid doesn’t have to eat Big Macs anymore; she is worth an estimated $150 million and is a text book case of supermodel success and celebrity commerce. As of 2010, Gisele Bündchen was associated with more than 20 brand-name products around the world in Brazil, Italy, France, Mexico, Spain, Turkey, South Korea, Germany, Switzerland, Russia, and the U.S. According to Forbes, she made $45 million in 2010. She has appeared on billboards, magazine covers, TV and print ads, and in Hollywood films.
Born in July 1980 and raised in a region of Southern Brazil settled by German immigrants, Gisele is one of six children, including a twin sister. Her mother and father, both of German descent, worked respectively as a bank clerk and university teacher / writer. As a teenager with her sisters, Bündchen studied modeling. The 5′-11″ sandy-haired, blue-eyed beauty was soon noticed at national and international beauty contests, modeling shows, and by the Elite Modeling Agency. She made her way to New York in 1996 to begin modeling at Fashion Week, and by July 1999 made her debut on the cover of Vogue magazine. No less a fashion demigod than Anna Wintour of Vogue anointed Bündchen “model of the millennium” in 1999, the same year Vogue marked for “the return of the sexy model.” Three more Vogue covers followed for Bündchen in late 1999 and early 2000, along with a host of modeling and advertising jobs. By the year 2000, her modeling rate was reportedly up to $7,000 an hour. In September 2000, when she did the Rolling Stone cover above, she became only the fourth model to do so.
Since 1999, Gisele Bündchen’s advertising accounts have included a range of the world’s leading fashion, fragrance, and fashion accessory lines, among them: Christian Dior, Balenciaga, Roberto Cavalli, Dolce & Gabbana, Missoni, Versace, Céline, Givenchy, Bvlgari, Lanvin, Guerlain, Valentino, Ralph Lauren, Earl Jean, Zara, Chloé, Michael Kors, Louis Vuitton, and Victoria’s Secret. She is also involved with several Brazilian brands like Vivo, Brazil’s leading mobile company, Multiplan, Colcci and Credicard. Her television commercials for clothier C&A Brazil helped their sales increase by 30 percent. In May 2006, Bündchen signed a multi-million dollar deal with Apple Computer to join their “Get a Mac” advertising campaign to promote Macintosh computers. Another important client had been Victoria’s Secret, where she had modeled for seven years. But in May 2007 she ended her contract with Victoria’s Secret reportedly because the lingerie firm would not raise her $5 million-a-year salary. In addition to her modeling and advertising, she also has her own line of Gisele Bündchen Ipanema sandals with the Grendene shoe company. Custom Ipanemas sell for as much as $230 a pair. She is also the owner of the Palladium Executive hotel in the south of Brazil. Forbes, which had previously done a 2004 cover on Bündchen for one of its Brazilian editions, named her to its 2007 list of the most powerful celebrities due in part to her business interests. Bündchen has also appeared in movies, beginning with the 2004 comedy Taxi, starring Queen Latifah and Jimmy Fallon. She also appeared in the 2006 hit film, The Devil Wears Prada.
As of July 2007, Forbes magazine described Gisele Bündchen as “the highest-paid model in the world” noting that the 26-year-old runway and fashion star then commanded “more money and more contracts than any other model on the planet.” That year she was also included in Time magazine’s listing of the world’s 100 most influential people.
During her dating years, before she met her husband, Tom Brady, Bündchen’s various escorts and male friends were of keen interest to the media and entertainment world. Her reported male companions in those years included male model Scott Barnhill, billionaire Joao-Paulo Diniz, actor Chris Evans, hotel tycoon Vikram Chatwal, actor Josh Hartnett, surfer Kelly Slater, and actor Leonardo DiCaprio. A 2000-2005 relationship with DiCaprio was the more serious of these, but that pairing was ended by Bündchen reportedly because of DiCaprio’s wandering eye. She began dating Brady in December 2006. More on their courtship and marriage a bit later.
Gisele Bündchen has appeared on many magazine covers throughout her glamorous career. In fact, she is second only to the late Princess Diana when it comes to the sheer number of cover shots – now numbering more than 600 and counting. Among these have been top fashion magazines such as W, Harper’s Bazaar, ELLE, Allure, and the international and American editions of Vogue. Other cover appearances have been made on a range of style magazines and mainstream magazines such as i-D, The Face, Arena, Citizen K, Flair, GQ, Esquire, Vanity Fair and Marie Claire. In recent years, when Bündchen appears on a cover it often results in additional sales. In September 2007, a Bündchen cover for Vanity Fair’s style issue, photographed by Mario Testino, made it one of the year’s bestsellers.
A few of her cover shots in recent years have cast her with other celebrities. One Vogue issue of April 2008 — “the shape issue” — featured her with basketball star Lebron James, promising to reveal ”the secrets of great bodies” of the world’s top models and star athletes. An earlier Vogue edition from June 2000 featured her with Hollywood’s George Clooney. In April 2010, she appeared on the cover of American Vogue for the 11th time in her career.
In 2011, she appeared in a striking close-up on the cover of i-D magazine’s pre-fall fashion issue, photographed by Emma Summerton, prompting one observer to remark that Bündchen “still manages to look almost flawless” (see cover, below left). In addition to her fashion magazine covers, Bündchen has also appeared in photographs or stories in various mainstream publications such as Time, Newsweek, People and others.When Vanity Fair’s contributing editor Leslie Bennetts interviewed Bündchen in May 2009 for a cover story, she found the supermodel to be a very “sunny, upbeat person,” quite effusive in conversation, and “exuberantly high-spirited.” Bennetts also described Bündchen as “warm, friendly, humorous, and gaily self-deprecating.” Others who have worked with the supermodel confirm her sunny disposition. Mario Testino, who photographed her several times for Vogue, has said that Bündchen’s personality won him over – “she’s filled with life.” Designer Michael Kors has also described her as “warm-hearted” and “good-humored,” as well as a person with “a lot of self-esteem.” And Marc Jacobs, creative director at the French design house Louis Vuitton has said of her: “If there is a model that incorporates a strong, secure woman who is unafraid of her sensuality, she is Gisele.” Bündchen has also been described as a hard worker capable of long work days with little complaint. She is also an avid reader and speaks several languages fluently, including English (with a unique accent, it is said), Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish, as well as some German and French.
In her 2009 Vanity Fair interview with Leslie Bennetts, Bündchen comes across as quite the family person, holding great stock in her roots back home in Brazil and how these have shaped her own family wishes for the future:
“I would like a big family. I love children. When you come from a big family, you see that growing up you’re learning how to share. Your sisters have got your back; you’re not alone in this—‘We all support you!’ Your family provides that; it gives you a sense of safety, and it’s a very grounding feeling. That’s why I feel I can fly away, because I have those roots and they’re so deep. This is what I want to have in my life. This is why you get married—you want to create those roots together; you want to give that to your kids. I would also love to adopt a child from Brazil. When you come from Sao Paulo, you see five-year-olds sniffing glue on the corner. You think, ‘If you make a difference in the life of one of them,’ that makes your time on this earth worthwhile…”
Back in the modeling world, Gisele Bündchen shows no signs of slowing down. However, it is her business lines that may well make her very wealthy. Three years after she launched her own line of flip-flop sandals in 2001, sales topped $30 million. By 2010, more than 250 million pair were sold. Forbes magazine has speculated that she may well become the world’s first billionaire fashion model as she moves to brand herself, building businesses beyond sandals, expanding into jewelry, “green” cosmetics, lingerie, and other products.
Bündchen v. The Dow
On May 2011, for the fifth consecutive time, Forbes ranked Gisele Bündchen as the world’s top-earning model with an estimated $45 million from modeling, product endorsements, and independent business ventures. In August 2011, Forbes also ranked Bündchen at No. 60 on its list of “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.” In 2010, Bündchen introduced her own skin care product line, named Sejaa Pure Skincare. She has also been a real estate investor for years with acquired properties in New York, Los Angeles, Sao Paulo, and Costa Rica.
Gisele’s career and business ventures have been successful enough that she has employed four of her five sisters – one as business manager, another as her lawyer, a third in accounting, and the fourth in charge of Bundchen’s website. Husband Tom Brady told Vanity Fair in 2009 that he admires his wife for “being a ferocious businesswoman who is ultra-competitive and intent on being the best at what she does.” But beyond her business ventures and supermodel earning power, Gisel Bündchen has also become a valuable asset to numerous other businesses and products.“She’s an international icon who can also move product—from shampoo to couture,” says Edward Razek, chief marketing officer of Limited Brands who worked with Bündchen during her Victoria’s Secret years. After clothier C&A Brazil hired Bündchen in the early 2003 as a spokesmodel and she began doing television commercials, sales increased by 30 percent. (see previous use in article). In early 2011, Procter & Gamble’s Pantene shampoo sales exploded 40 percent in Latin America after Bündchen started representing the product. The Lingerie Brand “HOPE” also increased its product turnover by 40 percent after contracting Bündchen to be its representative.
In America, meanwhile, at least one economist, Fred Fuld, is bullish on Bündchen. In 2007, Fuld developed a stock market index to measure the profit performance of companies represented by Bündchen compared with the Dow Jones Industrial Average. According to Fuld, the “Gisele Bündchen Stock Index” was up 15 percent between May and July 2007, substantially surpassing the Dow Jones Industrial Average which was up just 8.2 percent in the same period. By November 2011 Fuld reported that the Bündchen Index continued to outperform the Dow.
In December 2006, Gisele Bündchen began dating Tom Brady, quarterback for the New England Patriots professional football team. As she would later tell Vanity Fair, she wasn’t looking for a long-term relationship at the time, but it happened anyway. “I knew right way—the first time I saw him. We met through a friend. The moment I saw him, he smiled and I was like, ‘That is the most beautiful, charismatic smile I’ve ever seen!’ We sat and talked for three hours. I had to go home for Christmas, but I didn’t want to leave. You know that feeling of, like, you can’t get enough? From the first day we met, we’ve never spent one day without speaking to each other.”Early on, however, their new relationship was put to the test when Brady’s former girlfriend of three years, actress and model Bridget Moynahan, announced that she was pregnant with Brady’s child and would have the baby on her own, which she did in 2007. Bündchen and Brady were able to work things out over the unexpected complication and have since included Tom’s son in their lives during the boy’s regular visits.
Bündchen and Brady, both Catholics, were married in February 2009 in a small Catholic ceremony at St. Monica Catholic Church in Santa Monica, California. Bündchen told Vanity Fair that in Brady she had found her soulmate. “He’s very close to his family… His parents have been married 40 years. He’s got a pure heart. That’s all that matters—he’s got the purest heart. I feel grateful because I have a lot of love in my life. I found the person I’m sharing my life with. I have a good man.” As for Brady, he told Vanity Fair that his wife is “the most positive and energetic person I have ever met. She always looks at challenges as her greatest opportunities.” In December 2009, Bündchen gave birth to a baby boy in Boston, named Benjamin Rein Brady.In addition to making a beautiful couple, the combined Brady-Bündchen union is quite the economic powerhouse as well. According to Forbes, the supermodel and the quarterback are now the “World’s Highest-Paid Celebrity Couple,” earning a combined $76 million for the period May 2010-May 2011. That standing places them at the top of the “power couple” list, ahead of other notable pairings such as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and Beyonce and Jay-Z. And like other celebrities in that league, they have had a few run-ins with the paparazzi. But sometimes, as Gisele recently discovered, an innocent and well-meaning sentiment sent out over the internet can create instant and unwelcomed publicity.
In the run up to the February 2012 Super Bowl — which starred her husband, Tom Brady, as one of the two competing quarterbacks in the big game against rival New York Giants — Bündchen had sent an e-mail message to friends and family on the Thursday before the big game. The note read as follows:
“My sweet friends and family. I feel Tommy really needs our prayer, our support and love at this time. This Sunday will be a really important day in my husband’s life. He and his team worked so hard to get to this point and now they need us more than ever to send them positive energy so they can fulfill their dream of winning this super bowl . . . So I kindly ask all of you to join me on this positive chain and pray for him, so he can feel confident, healthy and strong. Envision him happy and fulfilled experiencing with his team a victory this Sunday. Thank you for your love and support. Love, G.”
The New York Post — a Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid newspaper known for indulging in sensational-styled front-page stories – got hold of Bündchen’s note. The paper did contact Bündchen about her email and she was quite surprised the paper had it, saying it was a private note sent, she thought, to close friends and family. The Post, however, cheering heartily for their home-town team, the New York Giants, replied to the Bündchen note with a New York Post cover story that featured an excerpt from the note along with the huge headline, “Not A Prayer!” In the game, the Giants won, 21-17, but Tom Brady set a Super Bowl record completing 16 passes in a row.
Good WorksGisele Bündchen, in any case, is a person who aspires to do good deeds with her wealth and celebrity. In recent years, she has become involved in several charity efforts and also chooses a charity each year to receive proceeds from the sales of her sandal line. Bündchen has helped raise money for cancer research and treatment and recently as well for aiding the victims of Hurricane Katrina and the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami. She has also visited teenage cancer patients at Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. She created the Luz Foundation, a project to empower girls and help them deal with self-esteem issues. In 2006 she became the face of American Express Red, part of the “Product Red” initiative to send money Africa’s HIV/AIDS victims. She has also appeared on more than two dozen Elle magazine covers wearing Product Red- related clothing and has posed with products of companies supporting that cause. In 2011, The Giving Back Fund recognized Bündchen as one of the leading celebrity givers according to public records, adding her to the list of celebrities making large charitable donations.
Environmental issues are also among Bündchen’s top social concerns, as she has supported clean water initiatives, environmental sustainability, and the preservation of South American rainforests. In December 2010, in a partnership with AOL and A Squared Entertainment, Bündchen began appearing as a cartoon character in the animated web series, “Gisele and The Green Team,” an educational series aimed at children. Designated a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in 2009, Bündchen traveled to Nairobi in January 2012 on her first official UNEP visit.
Date Posted: 5 February 2008
Last Update: 6 February 2011
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