The Iconic Supermodels of the 1980s

Iconic Yes, the hair was bigger, but that wasn’t the only thing to set the cover models of the ’80s apart from the rest. The term “supermodel” may feel synonymous with the ’90s—Naomi, Kate, and all the other greats that only go by one name—but the breakout models of the ’80s paved the way for their cool-girl predecessors. And we continue to see the influence of these ’80s models in fashion today:

Iconic

This season, Chanel sent byzantine jewelry pieces down the runway that resembled the Christian Lacroix sweater from Anna Wintour’s first 1988 Vogue cover. There were also ’80s influences in the looks of Saint Laurent and Louis Vuitton’s fall 2020 runways. From new ’80s babies like Cindy Crawford and Brooke Shields, to already established beauties like Jerry Hall and Gia Carangi, below we put together a list of the top models of this decade.

Jerry Hall

Though Hall came to rise in the ’70s , she was absolutely thriving in the ’80s. (Hall boasted 40 magazine covers by the time she was only 21 years old!) She graced the covers of French Vogue, walked in Chanel shows, and was on the arm of eternal rock star Mick Jagger. (What was more badass than that?) The couple broke up in 1999, however, and have four children together.

Ines De La Fressange

La Fressange’s career took off in the late ’70s and n 1983, she became the first model to sign an exclusive contract with Chanel. In 1989, Fressange and Lagerfeld had a public falling out, but made up when she walked his show once again in 2011. La Fressange most recently starred in Uniqlo’s spring/summer 2020 campaign.

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Gia Carangi

This model from Philadelphia was known for her troubled past and early death, but she was also considered one of the first supermodels of all time. She was discovered in a night club in 1976 and modeled for brands like Dior and Versace in the late ’70s and early ’80s until she died from AIDS in 1986 at age 26. Carangi’s life was made into a movie named Gia, which starred Angelina Jolie.

Farida Khelfa

Muse to Azzedine Alaia, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Jean Paul Goude, this French-Algerian model was discovered at age 16 at a Paris night club. At 6 feet tall, she stood out, and was the subject of some of Goude’s most iconic photos of all time. The stylish model is also an actress and filmmaker and now lives a relatively private life. “I’m very flattered to be described as a style icon. Coming from an immigrant family, it was always very important to me to dress well. It was a way to be accepted,” she said to L’Officiel.

Cindy Crawford

Before Cindy Crawford became a supermodel, she was on an academic track. She was her high school’s valedictorian and studying chemical engineering at Northwestern University before she dropped out to pursue modeling. In 1982, she won Elite Model Management’s “Look of the Year” contest and within months the U.S. had fallen in love with her all-American look. She become one of the original Big Six supermodels, and had the most commercial success of all the girls.

Brooke Shields

After spending her pre-teen years starring in films such as Pretty Baby (1978) and Blue Lagoon (1980), Brooke Shields made waves in the fashion industry, covering the most popular fashion magazines and appearing in Calvin Klein’s controversial jean ads. Her bold brows, impeccable bone structure, and long hair were iconic.

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Christie Brinkley

Christie Brinkley didn’t dream of becoming a supermodel. In fact, she was hesitant to abandon her career as an illustrator. But that all changed after she caught the attention of American photographer on the streets of Paris. She decided to embrace the industry, and the rest was history. She covered the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition three consecutive times (1979 to 1981) and starred in national campaigns for Chanel Beauty and Cover Girl. She also had a high-profile relationship with Billy Joel, during which time she inspired his famous song, “Uptown Girl.”

Iman

Iman was discovered in 1975 by Peter Beard who saw her on the street in Nairobi and was taken with her statuesque beauty. At the time she was at university majoring in political science and fluent in five different languages. She exploded onto the fashion scene, booked many major fashion spreads and covers, and served as a muse to the likes of Thierry Mugler, Calvin Klein, and Donna Karen. She went on to win the affections of another ’70s icon, David Bowie, who she married in 1992. The supermodel became a CEO in 1994, launching makeup brand IMAN Cosmetics to serve women of color at a time when the beauty industry largely ignored their needs.

Elle Macpherson

At the beginning of her career, Elle Macpherson pursued modeling to earn money to pay for her law books at Sydney University. The Australian beauty moved to New York City, only planning to stay a year, but found instant success. By 1986, she had appeared in all the major fashion magazines and covered the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue in 1986, 1987, 1988, 1994, and 2006. Her unparalleled physique earned her the nickname “The Body.”

Carol Alt

Carol Alt was enrolled in college on an army scholarship and participating in military drills around the time she was discovered. A photographer walked into a restaurant where she was waitressing and told her she should model. She was introduced to Elite Model Management founder John Casablancas and was offered a contract on the spot. She went on to become one of the most famous cover stars of the ’80s and to walk the runway for the likes of Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren.

Paulina Porizkova

Paulina Porizkova’s modeling career began after a chance encounter with an Elite Model Management scout on the streets of Sweden. She went on to appear in numerous magazines, star in campaigns for Estée Lauder, Maybelline, Escada, and more, as well as cover the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition in 1984.

Kim Alexis

Kim Alexis began modeling at 18 after being discovered by Elite Model Management. Although she did high-profile fashion work, she became best know for beauty after replacing Lauren Hutton as the face of Revlon’s Ultimate II line. She appeared on the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover for 6 consecutive years.

Renée Simonsen

Denmark-born Renée Simonsen‘s modeling career, which began as a means of paying for university, began when she won the “Face of the Eighties” model search in 1982. She found instant success, starring in major campaigns and covering numerous magazines. Despite being offered to auction for the role of Bond Girl in the next James Bond film, she left modeling at 24 to continues her studies. Today, she’s educated in psychology and is a full-time writer.

Tatjana Patitz

In 1987, a teenaged Tatjana Patitz entered Elite Models’ “Look of the Year” competition and placed third. Though she didn’t win the contest, Patitz’s unique look and energy caught the attention of fashion publications across the world, subsequently launching her into stardom. Patitz worked consistently as a model for the rest of the 80s, but it was the 1990 now-iconic black and white image of her with Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington and Cindy Crawford that officially stamped her as a supermodel. She went on to model in various versions of VogueElle, and Cosmopolitan while still making time to walk runways all over the world and appear in lucrative advertising campaigns.