By now, you’re probably used to seeing all your favorite supermodels on the runways and in the season’s hottest campaigns, but you probably don’t know how they each first got their start. From the most iconic supermodels of the ’90s to today’s runway stars, we’re taking a look back at the model discovery stories that launched some of fashion’s greatest careers.
Adriana Lima The supermodel has been pursuing a modeling career since she was barely a teenager. At 13, Lima entered a modeling competition in Brazil. By the time she was 15, she had placed second in the Ford Models Supermodel of the World Contest. Eventually, Lima signed on with Elite.
GETTY IMAGES Alessandra Ambrosio Ambrosio started taking modeling classes in Brazil at the age of 12. She continued with the contests, and by the time she had turned 14, she was chosen as a finalist for the countrywide Elite Model Look competition. The rest, as they say, is history. Along with appearing in major fashion campaigns for brands like Balmain and Dolce & Gabbana, the model has been most known for her work with Victoria’s Secret. As one of the most recognized VS Angels, Ambrosio walked an astounding 17 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Shows, making last year her final walk for the annual show.
Behati Prinsloo “I was in Cape Town on vacation with my grandmother and grandfather. We went to the grocery store after church and this guy came up to me and asked if I was a model and wrote his number on a piece of paper and my grandfather was like this is so shady,” Prinsloo told Fashionista in 2009. “So we went home and told my parents about it and never did anything. And then the next time I was in Cape Town, Noelle [Doukas, daughter of Sarah Doukas, founder of Storm] came up to me and asked me to come into the agency. So I finally went in and signed with Sarah right there. I spent the summer in Cape Town and it went really well so they shipped me off to London.” Prinsloo first debuted as a Prada/Miu Miu Exclusive. She became a Victoria’s Secret Angel in 2009 and later designed the Behati Loves Pink swimsuit capsule collection for the brand. She has appeared in campaigns for H&M, Nina Ricci, DKNY, and Nine West.
Candice Swanepoel The South African bombshell was unexpectedly discovered while shopping at a flea market. By the time she was 16, she was already modeling in Paris, according to Business Insider. Along with being named a Victoria’s Secret Angel in 2010, Swanepoel has walked the runway for several major designers including Fendi, Dolce & Gabbana, Michael Kors, and Chanel. In 2018, she launched her own swimwear line, Tropic of C.
CHRIS VON WANGENHEIMGETTY IMAGES Christie Brinkley Christie Brinkley has her dog to thank for her modeling career. In an interview with WWD, Brinkley revealed that, while calling a veterinarian for her sick dog in Paris, she met a photographer at the telephoning office who saw her potential. He asked to shoot her for a project, and Brinkley has since graced photoshoot sets worldwide. Merci, pooch!
GETTY IMAGES Christy Turlington While horseback riding in Florida at the age of 14, Turlington was spotted by a photographer. Just one year later, she was making her way to Paris, she revealed in an interview with Harper’s BAZAAR. While dominating the ’90s fashion world as one of The Big Five supermodels, she appeared in major campaigns for Calvin Klein, Chanel, Versace, and more while also walking every major runway show. In 2014, she was named one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential for the philanthropic work she has accomplished since.
DANIEL SIMONGETTY IMAGES Cindy Crawford Before Crawford graced the runway and the covers of all major fashion magazines, she was a girl living in the small town of DeKalb, Illinois. She recounted how a poolside photo that a local photographer took of her piqued her interest in modeling. From there, she traveled to Chicago and signed with the modeling agency Elite.
GETTY IMAGES Doutzen Kroes When Kroes was an 18-year-old living in Holland, she sent photos of herself to an agency to earn some extra cash and was signed immediately. “I felt super-young coming from the north of Holland, and I went to Amsterdam only once before I went to New York. It was a really big adventure to go there,” she told The Telegraph. In 2008, Kroes become a Victoria’s Secret Angel and has been a regular on the runway since. She’s also landed campaigns for brands like Valentino, Balmain, Mugler, and Stuart Weitzman.
Gigi Hadid Gigi inherited her modeling chops from her mom, Yolanda Hadid, and started her career when she was only two years old. She was first discovered by Guess cofounder Paul Marciano as a toddler and appeared in a Baby Guess campaign. As a teenager, she relaunched her modeling career and signed with IMG in 2013. After landing her first major fashion editorial in the December 2014 issue of Harper’s BAZAAR, Gigi’s modeling career skyrocketed both on and off the runway. She has since walked just about every major fashion show, starred in a multitude of campaigns, and collaborated with Tommy Hilfiger for three seasons on the Tommy x Gigi brand.
GETTY IMAGES Gisele Bündchen Forbes’s longtime highest-paid model in the world was discovered while shopping in São Paolo, Brazil, The Independent reported. After walking her first runway at the age of 14, Bündchen went on to become the breakout supermodel of the late ’90s and early 2000s, after making her big break at Alexander McQueen’s spring 1998 show. She has since dabbled in acting, appearing in movies like The Devil Wears Prada and Taxi, and most recently wrote a memoir, Lessons: My Path to a Meaningful Life.
Iman In an essay published in Vogue, Iman recounts sitting for her first-ever shoot in Kenya with photographer Peter Beard. Beard later took these photos back with him to New York, and his reputation as a fashion photographer gave Iman the credence and exposure necessary to be catapulted into supermodel stardom.
Karlie Kloss Long before walking the biggest shows at fashion week, Kloss walked a charity fashion show in her Missouri hometown. Then, at the age of 15, she made her New York Fashion Week debut on Calvin Klein’s runway. “I was discovered at 13 in a mall in St. Louis. I had never been on an airplane, actually.” she told CBS in 2015. Since, Kloss has walked every major runway in New York, London, Milan, and Paris—along with starring in campaigns for brands like Oscar de la Renta, Versace, and Diane von Furstenberg. In 2015, she partnered with Flatiron School and Code.org to create a scholarship program, Kode with Klossy, which supports young girls who are interested in computer science to become leaders in tech.
Kate Moss Renowned model scout Sarah Doukas found a 14-year-old Moss squabbling with her father at JFK Airport in New York. Doukas got on their flight to England and approached them in-flight as soon as the seat belt sign turned off, Business Insider reported. In the ’90s, Moss’s collaborations with Calvin Klein brought her to fashion icon status after debuting the “heroin chic” look. Moss spent the decade dominating runways, campaigns, and editorials as one of the supermodels to watch. Passing the torch along, Moss founded the Kate Moss Agency in 2016 for young models and creatives.
Lais Ribeiro Ribeiro’s modeling career began with rejections from local fashion shows “because she wasn’t curvy enough,” reported the Daily Mail. However, she was catapulted to the world stage after participating in a national competition. She gained immediate recognition and eventually moved to New York to further her career.
Lily Aldridge Aldridge was at her school carnival when she was discovered at the age of 16, according to Tatler. Her first job was a campaign for Abercrombie & Fitch. Since then, Aldridge has appeared in campaigns for Rag & Bone, Bobbi Brown, Coach, and been named a Victoria’s Secret Angel, walking in the brand’s runway show each year.
Linda Evangelista “I took a modeling course in my hometown, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada. It was sort of a scam. In order to work as a model, you had to pay for the classes. My mom paid for me. They sent me there at 16, and I was chosen by a Japanese agency to go over to Japan for the summer to work,” Evangelista told Interview in 2013. “My parents were strict Italians who didn’t let me go out past 10 o’clock, and I had to choose between going out Friday or Saturday night and was not allowed to have a boyfriend. But they said okay. I got there and it was a catastrophe. They wanted me to take my clothes off and shoot me naked. It was a nightmare and I panicked and basically the Canadian Embassy helped me out. I was there about two days and went home, saying, ‘I don’t want anything to do with this ever again.’ But how I got my start was that my modeling agency insisted I enter the Miss Teen Niagara Pageant.” Now, Evangelista is respected as one of the most iconic, influential models of all time and has appeared on more than 700 magazine covers.
GETTY IMAGES Miranda Kerr The sweet-faced model got her claim to fame when she won a modeling contest for Dolly magazine at the age of 13 years old. Afterward, she moved to Brisbane to finish school and started modeling for Billabong. In 2004, she signed with NEXT Model Management and eventually signed a contract with Maybelline, later becoming the first Australian Victoria’s Secret Angel.
Naomi Campbell The iconic supermodel was only 15 when she was spotted by Pennington Models scout Beth Boldt. “A woman came up to me and asked if I’d ever thought of modelling. It was Beth Boldt, head of the Synchro agency. My immediate reaction was surprise and excitement,” Campbell told The Guardian. “My mum wanted me to stay on at school and finish my exams. But I wanted things my way, so a few weeks later I went to see Beth on my own. On my first visit, she parted my hair in the middle, did my makeup and took me up on the roof in my school uniform to take a few black-and-white pictures. Eventually, Mum decided I could model, so long as it didn’t interfere with my school work or exams.” In January 1990, Campbell was declared “the reigning megamodel of them all” by Interview. Most famously, she was also part of The Big Five supermodels of the ’90s—going on to become a runway icon and the face of endless major fashion campaigns.
GETTY IMAGES Rosie Huntington-Whiteley The model was first discovered by British agency Profile Model Management when she was just 15 years old and signed to its New Faces division. Whiteley made her runway debut at Vivienne Tam’s New York Fashion Week show in 2004. She has appeared on dozens of magazine covers; graced campaigns for Givenchy, Dolce & Gabbana, Burberry, and Balmain; and became a Victoria’s Secret Angel in 2010.
Tyra Banks Although Banks is one of the most well-known supermodels in fashion today, it didn’t start out as breezy as she can make it seem on the runway. She initially received rejections from different fashion agencies, some even saying that they “already have a black girl.” Eventually, she signed on to Elite Model Management while she was still in high school. And the rest is history.
Winnie Harlow Harlow was first discovered by Tyra Banks on Instagram, who cast her as a contestant on America’s Next Top Model. Harlow placed sixth overall in the competition, after winning a second chance following her original elimination. Since then, Harlow has walked runways for the likes of Marc Jacobs, Tommy Hilfiger, and was just cast as Victoria’s Secret’s newest model. She has also been a spokesperson for vitiligo and gave a TED talk in 2014 called, “My Story Is Painted on My Body.”