The 1980s were far more than just a decade in fashion; they were a bold declaration. Defined by audacious flair, oversized shoulders, dramatic hairstyles, and a love for all things sparkling, the '80s epitomized glam. This period, guided by the mantra “more is more,” embraced opulence to the fullest, driven by design legends like Karl Lagerfeld, Christian Lacroix, and Yves Saint Laurent.
However, the clothes were only half the story. Enter the supermodels of the '80s. These women transcended mere modeling; they were the living embodiment of the era. And while the '90s often claim the spotlight as the golden era of supermodel stardom, it was the '80s that truly set the stage. There would be no Kate, Cindy, or Naomi without the legends of the '80s.
So, as we take a trip down memory lane, get ready to discover the top 21 models who defined the '80s and set trails ablaze, creating a legacy for those who would follow in their glittering footsteps.
Discovered in Nairobi by photographer Peter Beard in 1975, Iman’s ascent in the fashion world was swift, breaking barriers as one of the few prominent Black models of that era. Esteemed in the fashion industry, Iman was a muse to iconic designers like Yves Saint Laurent and Thierry Mugler and strutted for designers like Bill Blass, Calvin Klein, and Oscar de la Renta. Her unique challenges in finding makeup for her skin tone led her to create Iman Cosmetics, specifically catering to women of color. Her personal life also garnered attention, particularly her 1992 marriage to rock legend David Bowie.
By the 80s, Brooke Shields had already established a notable career. Beginning her modeling journey at just 11 months old, she spent her pre-teen years starring in films like Pretty Baby and Endless Love. Building on those early roles, she carved out a standout career in modeling with her bold brows and captivating presence, making her a much sought-after face in the fashion world. She is remembered best for her controversial Calvin Klein jeans commercial, where a young Shields quipped, “You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.” Throughout the decade, she graced numerous fashion magazine covers and editorials.
Throughout the 1980s, Jerry Hall's modeling career skyrocketed. Building on her late '70s momentum, she became a defining figure of '80s fashion glamor. With her signature golden locks and Texan charm, Hall frequently graced the covers of glossy magazines, notably French Vogue. She was a regular presence on runways, especially for Chanel. Beyond modeling, her relationship with Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones added to her iconic status, merging the worlds of rock 'n' roll and high fashion.
Starting her modeling career to fund her law studies at Sydney University, Elle Macpherson's journey took an unexpected turn when she moved to New York City. By the mid-'80s, she graced major fashion magazines and scored the coveted cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue 5 different times, earning her the moniker "The Body." Beyond swimsuits, Macpherson dominated high-fashion runways and luxury ads.
Carol Alt, a native New Yorker, was one of the most famous models in the 80s. Alt caught a fashion photographer's eye at her day job as a waitress and was immediately offered a contract by Elite Model Management's founder, John Casablancas. She secured significant contracts throughout the decade, notably with major brands like CoverGirl. Dubbed "The Face" by Life magazine, Alt's career milestones in the '80s were nothing short of impressive. She graced the covers of countless magazines, including the coveted Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, and appeared in numerous fashion campaigns. Designers sought her presence on their runways, and she became a staple in shows for fashion powerhouses such as Versace, Calvin Klein, and Ralph Lauren.
Paulina Porizkova's rise to supermodel stardom in the 1980s was nothing short of meteoric. Discovered in Sweden at 13, she swiftly ascended fashion's ranks, dazzling onlookers at countless Parisian runways. By 18, Porizkova was already a two-time Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover star, following Christie Brinkley's legacy of back-to-back covers. Her ubiquity in the '80s spanned campaigns from Chanel to Christian Dior, but in 1988, her landmark $6,000,000 contract with Estée Lauder truly set her apart from the rest of the modeling pack.
Anna Bayle, a beauty hailing from the Philippines, broke significant barriers in the modeling industry during the 1980s. As one of the first prominent Asian supermodels on the global stage, Bayle brought a unique and captivating look that quickly caught the attention of fashion designers and magazine editors. She walked the runways for major fashion houses like Bill Blass, Chanel, Christian Lacroix, Oscar de la Renta, and Valentino. Beyond the catwalks, Bayle graced the pages and covers of elite fashion magazines, showcasing her versatility as a model.
Cristina Córdula started her modeling journey in Brazilian advertisements at the age of 16. Her career took a transformative turn during a Milan fashion show when a hairstylist advised a bold haircut. This fresh look catapulted her to the forefront of the fashion world, making her a sought-after name for prestigious brands like Dior, Chanel, and Yves Saint Laurent.
In the 1980s, Christie Brinkley emerged as one of the era's most iconic supermodels, synonymous with the all-American beauty aesthetic. With her radiant smile, sun-kissed blonde hair, and statuesque figure, Brinkley became a household name and face. A significant milestone in Brinkley's '80s career was her unparalleled success with the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. She graced its cover for three consecutive years, from 1979 to 1981. This winning streak opened doors to a slew of endorsements, with CoverGirl being the most notable. Her contract with the iconic cosmetics brand spanned 25 years, making it one of the longest in the history of the modeling industry. Beyond print, Brinkley is known as the inspiration behind her ex-husband, Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” and the star of its music video.
Janice Dickinson undeniably made her mark in the fashion world. Dickinson began her career in the late ‘70s but reached supermodel status by the ‘80s. Her unique look graced the covers of elite magazines like Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, and she walked the runways for giants like Versace and Calvin Klein. While she boldly claims to be the "first supermodel," there's no doubt about her '80s dominance. She not only became a top model of the time but also made headlines for her bold style and even bolder statements. The prominence she gained during the decade set the stage for her later venture, becoming the judge we all loved to hate on “America’s Next Top Model.”
In the 80’s, Karen Alexander emerged as a formidable force in the modeling industry, shattering many barriers. She etched her name in fashion history by becoming one of the first Black models to grace the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue. Additionally, she appeared in Chanel beauty campaigns, another groundbreaking feat for a Black model at the time. Another major moment for the model was gracing the cover of Vogue’s January 1989 issue, captured by the legendary Peter Lindbergh. Beyond her print work, Karen's elegance was a highlight of runways, where she walked for fashion greats like Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, and Yves Saint Laurent.
British-American Kelly LeBrock began her modeling career at just 16 years old with a massive 24-page spread in Vogue. This early success quickly led to a contract with Christian Dior, elevating her industry status. While she graced countless magazine covers, her iconic Pantene shampoo commercial, where she famously said, "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful," truly cemented her place in fashion history. Beyond the fashion world, LeBrock showcased her versatility in films like "Weird Science" and "The Woman in Red." As one of Eileen Ford's standout models, she remains an emblematic figure of her era.
Discovered by Elite Model Management at the tender age of 18, Kim Alexis epitomized the approachable glam of the 1980s with her golden blonde hair, deep blue eyes, and sun-kissed complexion. Although she graced various magazines and campaigns, her true mark was in the beauty domain. She notably became the face of Revlon's Ultima II line, stepping into the shoes of the legendary Lauren Hutton.
Inès de La Fressange
Inès de La Fressange was the 80s’ embodiment of classic French elegance and beauty. Thanks to her striking beauty and aristocratic background, she was the perfect muse for Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel (many credit this to La Fressange's uncanny resemblance to Coco Chanel herself.) She played a pivotal role in the brand's revival during the '80s. Notably, in 1983, she signed an exclusive contract with Chanel, becoming the first model to sign an exclusive modeling contract with a fashion house.
Guinea-born Katoucha Niane, often known simply by "Katoucha," rose to prominence in the '80s as one of the first major African supermodels. Highly favored by designers like Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Lacroix, Paco Rabanne, and Thierry Mugler, she graced their runways with a regal refinement. Beyond her modeling prowess, she also became a passionate activist, leveraging her fame to campaign against female genital mutilation, a practice she personally endured. Katoucha's legacy in the fashion world symbolizes the power of beauty and strength,
In the early '80s, at just 17 years old, Tatjana Patitz secured third place in the Elite Model Look competition, a triumph that earned her a contract. Throughout the decade, she graced the covers of numerous international editions of Vogue and other prestigious fashion magazines. She was notably one of the five supermodels featured in George Michael's iconic "Freedom! '90" music video, alongside other top models like Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford. This cameo cemented her reputation as one of the era's most iconic faces. Many esteemed designers favored Patitz, and she frequently walked the runways for iconic fashion houses. Her striking features and chameleon-like adaptability in front of the camera solidified Patitz’s status as a defining model of the 1980s.
Marpessa Hennink was introduced to the fashion elite by illustrator Antonio Lopez, and the young Dutch model quickly cemented her place on the catwalks of industry titans like Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld, Azzedine Alaïa, Valentino, and Kenzo. Her pivotal moment came in 1985 when she walked in Dolce & Gabbana's debut show and subsequently became the face of their inaugural Fall/Winter campaign. This partnership propelled her into the ranks of fashion royalty, earning her the title “the Catwalk Contessa.”
Leaving Brazil at 19 to chase her modeling dreams in France, Dalma Callado quickly rose to stardom in the 1980s. She was a muse to designers like Valentino and Gianfranco Ferré. Callado dazzled on runways for Chanel, Givenchy, and Versace, graced numerous magazine covers, and was a standout in Yves Saint Laurent campaigns, marking her as a definitive face of '80s fashion.
Gia Carangi is often hailed as one of the very first supermodels. Discovered in a nightclub in 1976, she quickly shot to prominence, gracing campaigns and runways of iconic fashion houses. Photographers, including legends like Richard Avedon and Arthur Elgort, were captivated by her unique look. While her beauty was widely celebrated, Gia's personal life was tumultuous. She grappled with drug addiction and, later, the effects of HIV/AIDS. Tragically, her life was cut short when she succumbed to AIDS in 1986 at the age of 26. Beyond her modeling achievements, Gia holds a distinct place in the industry as one of the first openly LGBTQ+ models, breaking barriers in an era where such openness was rare. Her life, filled with both radiant success and profound challenges, was later depicted in the film "Gia," with Angelina Jolie portraying her.
Danish model Renée Simonsen rose to prominence after winning the "Face of the Eighties" competition in 1982. She graced the covers of top publications like Vogue and Sports Illustrated and became the face of major beauty brands such as Clarins, Covergirl, and Maybelline. While Simonsen had the opportunity to audition as a Bond girl, she prioritized her education over Hollywood stardom, eventually leaving modeling to study journalism and psychology.
The French-Algerian model was discovered at a nightclub by photographer Jean-Paul Goude, who introduced her to the legendary designer Azzedine Alaïa. Throughout the 80s, Khelfa became one of Alaïa's most cherished muses; she frequently showcased his designs on the runway and in magazine editorials. Khelfa also forged close creative relationships with Jean Paul Gaultier and Christian Louboutin.
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