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  • Writer's pictureAna Beatriz Reitz

The Über Model is Back

What does Gisele Bündchen’s return to the spotlight mean for the industry?

 

L-R: Gisele Bündchen for i-D (2000), Bündchen for Esquire (2004), Bündchen for Allure (2000)

Gisele Bündchen was first discovered in a Brazilian mall in 1994 at just 14 years old. Since then, she has become one of the most recognizable faces in the fashion industry. Often remembered for opening up a new era of bombshell beauties in the middle of the infamous heroin chic period, Bündchen popularized the horse walk — a potent and firm movement on the runway. From her famous tears on Alexander McQueen's Spring/Summer 1998 runway (titled "Golden Shower”) to winning Model of the Year at the VH1/Vogue Fashion Awards at the age of 19, Bündchen has appeared on countless runways across the past 20 years — and is the record holder for most Vogue covers in the history of the editorial world. 


With numerous brand contracts, Bündchen became one of the original faces of Victoria's Secret Angels, alongside Adriana Lima, Heidi Klum, Alessandra Ambrosio, and Tyra Banks. From the original Supermodels — such as Naomi, Christy, Linda, and Cindy — to the glamorous Angels, these two groups were the first generation to redefine whole brand identities through their individual beauty, and now face the challenge of aging. One could argue that many of the opportunities available to them now are campaigns and projects that nostalgically look back to the past. Are older models trapped in a box in which viewers see them through the lenses of the past rather than the future? Despite those tough questions, models like Bündchen have had tremendous power and impact, and now have to navigate a changing industry with aplomb.


L-R: Versace Haute Couture FW99, Victoria's Secret 2005, Dior Haute Couture FW08

One could remember the 2006 Victoria’s Secret show as if it were today — with the sound of “SexyBack” blaring across the loudspeakers to boot. Here was a fierce-eyed Bündchen walking past Justin Timberlake, while she wore sparkly white lingerie and yellow feathery wings. Not only had Bündchen already worn what was then the most expensive lingerie ever created — a $15 million diamond and ruby-encrusted "Fantasy Bra" at the 2000 fashion show — but she was also carving out space for herself outside of the Victoria’s Secret brand. Most notably, Bündchen became John Galliano's muse for his infamously sensual (and provocative) 2000s Dior campaigns. From Versace Haute Couture Fall/Winter 1999 to Dior Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2008, the Brazilian supermodel established herself as one of the highest-earning models in the world between 2002 and 2016, according to Forbes. To this day, she consistently appears on their list of highest-paid stars. 


Although she formally retired from the runway in 2015, with a final walk at São Paulo Fashion Week, the supermodel's trajectory is far from over — she continues to delight fashionistas with her presence in magazines and campaigns. Despite being two months into 2024, Bündchen has already been named the face of various campaigns — including for brands such as Balmain, Frame, Hugo Boss, and Alaïa.


Gisele Bündchen for Balmain SS24

In Balmain’s "An Ode to Love, an Ode to Icons" Spring 2024 campaign, photographed by Rafael Pavarotti, the model poses in Olivier Rousteing's shimmering, vibrant, floral, and delicate looks from the SS24 Ready-to-Wear collection. Bündchen introduces the Jolie Madame bag — Rousteing's latest creation named after the house's iconic eponymous silhouette, which also pays homage to Monsieur Balmain's daring post-war designs. As Vogue Brasil reported, Rousteing and Pavarotti found inspiration for the photoshoot in Pierre Balmain's gardens. For the duo, these images embody the brand’s timeless notion of heritage, femininity, and elegance. Thus, Bündchen's casting is as well thought-out as their inspirations. “Gisele is more than a model,” stated Rousteing for Harper's Bazaar in February 2024. “She doesn’t take a job just for a job. Every minute of her life is about getting inspired and elevating herself and her soul.” 


"I've been obsessed with her since I was a teenager, mostly because of her incredible personality," he continued. Her Bündchen’s personality — and will-try-anything-once ethos — seems to be a decisive criterion in assigning her to a project. She's the one who says yes to posing in a swimsuit when it's freezing. She's the one who says yes to the out-of-body experience of representing her country at the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics in 2016, walking 125 meters in a long-tail dress by Brazilian designer Alexandre Herchcovitch. That courage was no different at Balmain.


L-R: Gisele Bündchen for FRAME, Bündchen for BOSS

With less glitz and vivid hues from Balmain's blooming paradise, Bündchen also stars in Frame's Spring 2024 campaign, photographed by Erik Torstensson in a classic yet contemporary wardrobe. The model wears some of the label's new looks, including perennial blue jeans and an ultra-’80s oversized blazer. 


Bündchen as a minimalist icon goes beyond Frame. “Instantly recognizable. This BOSS unlocked her power to pave her way to the top. Now, she's gone full circle. Can you guess when she first walked our runway?” writes Boss in the caption of a reel featuring the not-so-mysterious model. Bündchen, alongside Matteo Berrettini, Adwoa Aboah, and Lee Min Ho, poses for the label's Spring/Summer 2024 "Be Your Own Boss" campaign in soft tones and light textures for an ageless feel. The model wears minimalistic ensembles — such as an oversized sleeveless jacket in stretch wool, a one-shoulder blouse with fringed scarf detailing, and straight-lined black pants. There is no other way to say it: she's a boss.


Gisele Bündchen for Alaïa WS24

Aside from being the boss — and one of the most famous models of all time — Bündchen has done it all as a businesswoman, writer, philanthropist, environmental activist, mother, and Alaïa icon. “To me, she is the Alaïa woman," says Pieter Mulier to WWD. "Her connection to the house is so intimate. Wearing Alaïa is natural for her." With sharp attention and a unique sense of the brand's ethos, Mulier keeps its sophisticated and exotic appeal while carrying on the work of the legendary Tunisian couturier Azzedine Alaïa. The creative director also succeeds in preserving Azzedine's muses. "I fell in love with Azzedine. I’d fly across the world to do his show," Bündchen shared in ELLE's January 2003 issue, wearing an elaborate yet fluid gown while honoring Mr. Alaïa. 


For the Winter/Spring 2024 campaign, first, Maison Alaïa just shared a sneak peek of some fittings with the model on their Instagram. At Riverset Studios, under the lens of Tyrone Lebon, Gisele Bündchen combines empowered beauty and sensuality in a fresh and sunny atmosphere. Her looks vary from a red-coated flared skirt — worn as a strapless dress — to a structured and cinched leather coat; a white blouse with a latex pencil skirt; a pink flared dress; and a black slip-striped long gown. In some shots, she sports calfskin Shark pumps, a white goatskin Le Teckel bag, and even the brand’s iconic ballet flats in fishnet textures, inspired by classic Japanese shoes.  No matter the outfit, the accessory, or the footwear, according to Mulier’s notes, “She becomes the incarnation of the Alaïa woman.”


Gisele Bündchen for Alaïa WS24

Reflections regarding the significance of her return emerge in one’s mind. Why is there so much interest in Bündchen's reappearance? 


Naturally, she's one of the most iconic models of all time — the pioneer of the horse catwalk, the inspiration for the term "bombshell" and the expression "über-model" — one could only thrive with her appearance. But there are attractive motives beyond those. 


With an early entry into the industry, Bündchen has had to deal with many uncomfortable situations where she had to expose herself and sacrifice her autonomy (including at the aforementioned McQueen show). Now, at the top of the industry — and as a mother of three —  Bündchen is rebuilding her career on her own terms without abdicating her priorities. Now, the Brazilian model values a different lifestyle that made her reshape her professional life. Instead of looking back over her former career or engaging in nostalgia, Bündchen has her eyes on the future, pushing boundaries of what an older model can do in the process. She is no longer suffering through chaotic fashion months or living tirelessly for her job. The model is simply doing what she wants, when she wants, and how she wants — and looks cool doing it. Following her divorce from Tom Brady, Bündchen transitioned to a new type of professional motherhood, leading to the launch of these reflexive campaigns.


L-R: Gisele Bündchen for Allure (1999), Bündchen for Self-Service (2013), Bündchen for Ralph Lauren (2002)

But popular reaction to Bündchen’s return has less to do with her marriage, nostalgia, or private choices. After all, the model continued to participate in campaigns during her years off the runway — be it for Colcci, Arezzo, Victoria's Secret, or Louis Vuitton. Rather, the reaction, here, is about how Bündchen is carving out new space for “legacy” models, and how much that matters — especially given the prison that society has become for women and how those constraints affect our understandings of  beauty and fashion.


In an era when young girls are already preoccupied with skincare and makeup like never before, and women in their 20s getting fillers and Botox to avoid wrinkles, Bündchen’s Renaissance is a reminder that we are the energy we emulate — and not our bodies. Nor relationships or rumors. Most of all, her return  serves as a poignant note that no matter time, history, or appearance, true icons are eternal, and they can set their own standards.


Bündchen has demonstrated for over 30 years that the fashion world is hers. As one of the most successful and influential supermodels of all time, her impact is unquestionable and solidifies her status as an eternal fashion icon. Will she return to the runway? Only time will tell. 🌀


 

Ana Reitz is a Brazilian fashion writer who breathes fashion. As a Latin American fashionista, she values a diverse and inclusive fashion landscape and aims to make a difference in the complex yet beautiful industry that surrounds her. She writes anything fashion-related for her own Substack For Fashion’s Sake.

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