RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — As if she weren’t already famous enough, the final catwalk show Wednesday at São Paulo Fashion Week by Brazilian “über model” Gisele Bündchen has launched a blitzkrieg of tributes in her home country.
At just 34, the supermodel who since 2002 has been rated by Forbes the world’s highest earner is to retire from the catwalk, 20 years after her first show. All week, Brazilians have been remembering one of the country’s biggest success stories.
And celebrating Bündchen’s world-beating career provides a welcome lift for a national pride punctured by the national soccer team’s 1-7 semi-final drubbing by Germany in the World Cup Brazil hosted last year. By coincidence, Bündchen’s family is of German descent. She grew up one of five sisters in the small town of Horizontina, in the south of Brazil where most German colonization took place.
Brazil needs good news. Right now, Gisele is it. With the possible exception of world surf champion Gabriel Medina, Brazilian sports stars in recent years have been hit and miss. The former standout of the BRICS economies is facing a likely recession. And a humiliating corruption scandal centered on state-controlled oil company Petrobras just keeps getting worse — João Vaccari, treasurer for the ruling Workers’ Party, was arrested earlier Wednesday in connection with “Big Oil,” as it has been dubbed.
But Bündchen just keeps winning. Forbes calculated that Gisele, as she is known in her home country, has earned $386 million since 2001 — or $427 million if U.S. inflation is factored in. Last year she was made the face of Chanel No. 5 perfume, replacing Marilyn Monroe, whose image had been used to advertise the brand. Chanel got director Baz Luhrmann to direct a lavish commercial to celebrate.
And she is married to American football star Tom Brady — of recent Costa Rica waterfall-jumping fame — with whom she has two children. The New England Patriots quarterback was pivotal in this year’s Super Bowl victory, and his wife and children were in the stadium to celebrate.
Even better, Gisele was the bigger earner, according to Forbes, earning $47 million last year compared to Brady’s $33.1 million. She may have dated Leonardo DiCaprio, but this Brazilian beauty is nobody’s trophy blonde.
“It is a privilege to be doing my last fashion show by choice and yet still be working in other facets of the business,” Bündchen wrote on Facebook Wednesday.
São Paulo photographer Luciana Faria, 27, shared an interview with Gisele, illustrated with a photo of the model and her distinctive cheekbones at just 15 years of age, shot outside São Paulo’s municipal market. In a caption, she summed up the feelings of many in two words: “Queen G!”
Phillips is The Washington Post’s correspondent in Rio de Janeiro. He has previously written for The Times, Guardian and Sunday Times.
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