Rock music had Jimi Hendrix. Filmmaking had Charlie Chaplin. Modeling has the supermodels of the 80s. The 1980s were a time unlike any so far. Technology shifts like videotape opened the doors to much cheaper video production. This is why MTV became such a giant force in entertainment. People were constantly being exposed to new creativity. With this new technology, timed with society’s interest in beauty and art, it was a perfect time for modeling to get its due. We could create great new content, but we now needed more subjects. Enter the supermodel phenomenon.
What Is a Supermodel?
A supermodel is a highly successful fashion model who has reached celebrity status for their work in the modeling industry. Some key characteristics of a supermodel:
- Has achieved widespread fame and high earnings from modeling work. Is widely recognized both within the fashion industry and to the general public.
- Typically works with top fashion designers and brands and does runway modeling, print ads, and appearances.
- Has longevity in their career, maintaining success over many years versus being a short-lived “it” model.
- Has crossover mainstream popularity and influence beyond just fashion, appearing in films, fine art, Playboy, TV, music videos, etc.
- Stands out from typical professional models due to their prestige, recognizability, high compensation and extensive resume. Generally seen as elite compared to even full-time fashion models.
- Often, they have an iconic “look” or branding that transcends their modeling work. Their name/image carries a lot of weight in pop culture.
Supermodels are seen as strong role models. Except for a diva incident or two, supermodels of the 1980s were globally respected.
The Top 1980s Supermodels
Cindy Crawford is an American supermodel who reached the peak of her popularity in the 1990s. Born Cynthia Ann Crawford in 1966 in DeKalb, Illinois, Cindy began modeling during high school when she was discovered in a cornfield. She went on to win second place in the Elite Model Management Look of the Year contest in 1983. Her big break came in 1986 when she appeared on the cover of Vogue. During the late 1980s, Cindy Crawford was one of the most in-demand supermodels in the world, becoming a ubiquitous presence in print ads, on runways, and on magazine covers. She worked with famous fashion photographers like Herb Ritts and Richard Avedon. She appeared in Playboy and even starred in a theatrical action film with William Baldwin (it was not a hit). Known for her trademark mole above her lip, Cindy was celebrated for her athletic and sensual look. She was a fixture of runway shows for designers like Chanel, Versace, and Valentino. She hosted MTV’s wildly popular House of Style program. Cindy launched Meaningful Beauty, a successful line of skincare products. She also authored books on beauty and modeling. Now in her 50s, Cindy remains involved in fashion and continues to model periodically. She is known for defying age norms for models.
Kate Moss is a British supermodel who rose to fame in the 1990s and became one of the most recognizable faces of that decade. Born in 1974 in Croydon, England, she was discovered at 14 by a modeling agent while at JFK Airport in New York City. Her thin, waif-like figure starkly contrasted with the curvy supermodels of the time and ushered in the era of “heroin chic” in fashion.
Moss became the face of many major fashion houses and brands including Calvin Klein, Chanel, Bulgari, Dolce & Gabbana, and Rimmel. She appeared on hundreds of magazine covers including British Vogue and W. Known for her rock and roll lifestyle. She dated several high-profile men including Johnny Depp and Pete Doherty.
While a hugely successful model, Moss’s career has also been marked by scandal and controversy. 2005 she lost major fashion contracts after photos in the Daily Mirror showed her allegedly taking cocaine. She apologized and later rebounded with more modeling work. Now in her late 40s, she continues to model and work in fashion, with an estimated net worth of over $80 million. Kate Moss remains one of the most famous figures from the 1990s supermodel era.
Christy Turlington is an American model widely considered one of the most successful supermodels ever. She was discovered by a photographer in Miami when she was 14 years old. She quickly rose to fame in the late 1980s as one of the “Big Five” supermodels alongside Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, and Claudia Schiffer.
Turlington has graced over 500 magazine covers during her career including Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Cosmopolitan, and Glamour. She has worked for top fashion houses like Chanel, Prada, and Calvin Klein and appeared in advertising campaigns for Maybelline, Versace, Valentino, and many more. Known for her elegant beauty and versatility, Turlington can easily transform from girl-next-door casual to ultra-glamorous high fashion.
In addition to modeling, Turlington is an activist focused on global maternal health. She directed the documentary film “No Woman, No Cry” about pregnancy and childbirth worldwide. She founded the non-profit Every Mother Counts to help make pregnancy and childbirth safer for women worldwide. Turlington continues to balance modeling and philanthropic work, proving she is both a legendary beauty and an admirable humanitarian. Now in her 50s, she remains one of the most recognizable faces in fashion.
Claudia Schiffer, born on August 25, 1970, in Rheinberg, Germany, is one of the most iconic supermodels of the 1990s. She was discovered in a nightclub in Düsseldorf at 17, which led to her signing with the Metropolitan Model Agency. In no time, she was gracing the covers of major fashion magazines, including Vogue, Elle, and Harper’s Bazaar. Her striking resemblance to Brigitte Bardot and her undeniable charisma made her an instant sensation in the fashion world.
Throughout the ’90s, Schiffer walked the runways for top designers like Chanel, Versace, and Dolce & Gabbana. She became one of the original “Big Five” supermodels, including Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, and Christy Turlington. These women dominated the fashion scene and became household names, with Schiffer leading numerous ad campaigns for brands such as Guess, Revlon, and Pepsi.
Beyond the runway, Claudia ventured into other areas of entertainment. She appeared in films like “Richie Rich” and “Love Actually” and produced her own line of fitness videos. As the years passed, she transitioned into business ventures, launching her cashmere collection and collaborating on various fashion projects. Today, Schiffer remains a prominent figure in the fashion industry, celebrated for her enduring beauty and significant contributions to pop culture.
Naomi Campbell, born on May 22, 1970, in London, England, is one of the world’s most recognized and influential supermodels. She was discovered at the tender age of 15 while window-shopping in Covent Garden. Her unique beauty and fierce runway walk quickly caught the attention of the fashion elite. By the late 1980s, Naomi had already graced the covers of major fashion magazines, including the French and British editions of Vogue. Her rise was meteoric, and she soon became a fixture on the catwalks of Milan, Paris, and New York, working with top designers like Versace, Yves Saint Laurent, and Chanel.
Alongside Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, and Christy Turlington, Naomi was part of the legendary “Big Five” supermodels of the ’90s. This group redefined the fashion industry, turning models into global celebrities. Naomi’s influence wasn’t just limited to the runway; she also ventured into music, film, and television. Over the years, she’s appeared in music videos for artists like Michael Jackson and George Michael, and she’s taken on acting roles in series like “Empire” and “American Horror Story.”
Beyond her work in entertainment, Naomi is also known for her philanthropic efforts. She’s been a vocal advocate for diversity in the fashion industry and has used her platform to raise awareness and funds for various charitable causes, including relief efforts in Africa and the fight against Ebola. Today, Naomi Campbell remains a force to be reckoned with, continuing to inspire and break barriers in fashion and beyond.
Stephanie Seymour, born on July 23, 1968, in San Diego, California, is one of the most celebrated supermodels of the late ’80s and ’90s. Her journey in the modeling world began early when she became a finalist in the inaugural Elite Model Management “Look of the Year” contest at just 15. This opportunity catapulted her into the limelight, and she soon found herself working with some of the biggest names in fashion. Throughout her career, she’s been the face of numerous high-profile campaigns, including those for Versace, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Victoria’s Secret.
Seymour’s striking beauty and undeniable presence made her a favorite among renowned photographers like Richard Avedon, Herb Ritts, and Mario Testino. She graced the covers of countless magazines, including Vogue, Elle, and Harper’s Bazaar. In addition to her print work, Stephanie became a familiar face on the runway, walking for designers like Marc Jacobs, Gianni Versace, and Michael Kors. Her iconic status was further cemented when she became one of the original Victoria’s Secret Angels, a title that brought her global recognition.
Outside of modeling, Stephanie Seymour ventured into acting, appearing in films and TV shows, though her primary focus remained in the fashion world. Over the years, she’s transitioned from being in front of the camera to taking on roles behind the scenes, including collaborations on fashion lines and other business ventures. Today, while she might not be as active on the runway, her legacy in the fashion industry remains undeniable, and she’s celebrated as one of the true supermodels of her era.
Elle Macpherson, affectionately dubbed “The Body” for her impressive physique, was born on March 29, 1964, in Killara, New South Wales, Australia. She burst onto the modeling scene in the 1980s and quickly became one of the most sought-after supermodels of her time. Her tall frame, sun-kissed skin, and captivating presence made her a favorite for swimsuit and lingerie shoots. In fact, she holds the record for gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue five times, a testament to her enduring appeal and iconic status in the modeling world.
Beyond the glossy magazine covers and high-fashion runways, Elle expanded her horizons into various business ventures. She launched a series of workout videos in the ’90s, which were a hit among fitness enthusiasts. Later, she ventured into fashion entrepreneurship by successfully launching her lingerie line, “Elle Macpherson Intimates.” This move solidified her status as a model and a savvy businesswoman. Her brand became one of the most recognizable lingerie lines in the world, known for its style, comfort, and elegance.
But Elle’s talents weren’t limited to modeling and business. She also tried her hand at acting, appearing in films like “Sirens” and “The Mirror Has Two Faces,” and hosting reality TV shows, including “Britain & Ireland’s Next Top Model” and “Fashion Star.” Throughout her diverse career, Elle Macpherson has remained a prominent figure in pop culture, seamlessly blending her roles as a model, actress, and entrepreneur.