The best models of all time (…and what made them so great)

Cindy! Linda! Naomi! Here's Marie Claire's ultimate edit of the best, most fabulous, most iconic models of all time...

Once upon a time, before there was Gigi, before there was Kendall, hell, even before there was Kate Moss, there were (whaaat?) – other models. The ladies above might be breaking Instagram right now but in a pre-Insta era, there were still a plethora of beautiful faces to obsess over. Whether they were posing in Dior couture for Richard Avedon, partying with David Bailey (and/or Mick Jagger – sometimes both) or splashed across billboards everwhere in Cover Girl beauty campaigns, these are the girls who rank in our all-time Supermodel Hall of Fame…

1. Suzy Parker

Era: Late 1940s – early 1960s
From: New York
Her look: Freckly and flame-haired with an hourglass figure
USP: A favourite muse of photographer Richard Avedon, her sister Dorian was a famous model, dubbed the ‘world’s first supermodel’. That was before the world met Suzy. She went on to eclipse her sis, becoming the first model to earn $100,000 per year and the only one to have an (unreleased) Beatles song named after her

2. Twiggy (AKA Lesley Hornby)

Era: 1960s
From: Neasden, North-West London
Her look: Bambi – after a few weeks of no dinner. Big eyes, spidery lashes and a skinny twig-like frame (hence the nickname).
USP: Invented the Swinging Sixties – with a little help from the Beatles, Carnaby Street, et al. Discovered at 16 when she had her hair chopped off in hairdresser Leonard’s West End salon – a fashion journalist saw the pictures, and the rest is history.

3. Veruschka

Era: 1960s
From: Kaliningrad, Russia.
Her look: A lionine mane of blonde hair and the kind of versatile face that could take any look – fake ‘eyes’ on her eyelids, being covered in gold leaf… You name it, she pulled it off
USP: Her blue blood and fascinating family. Real name: Vera Gottliebe Anna Gräfin von Lehndorff-Steinort. Her mother was a Prussian countess and her father was a German count who was an active member of the Resistance – he was eventually executed for an assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler.

4. Penelope Tree

Era: 1960s
From: UK
Her look: Saucer eyes, spiky lashes and poker-straight hair. ‘An Egyptian Jimminy Cricket’ according to her then-boyfriend, cheeky chappie photographer David Bailey.
USP: Super-connected socialite roots – brought up in the US, her mother was an American socialite descended from famous social activist Endicott Peabody. Her British MP dad threatened to sue if her first-ever photos (by legendary photographer Diane Arbus) were published.

5. Jean Shrimpton (AKA ‘The Shrimp’)

Era: 1960s
From: High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
Her look: Delicate, snub-nosed perfection
USP: Yet another David Bailey conquest, she started her affair with him when he was still married to his first wife, who he divorced to be with Shrimpton. Described as having ‘the world’s most beautiful face’, everything she wore (even barely visible in a beauty campaign) was always a sell-out

6. Pat Cleveland


Era: 1960s-Present
From: New York
Her look: European-style beauty with a free-flowing mane of black hair
USP: One of the most famous black models to break through fashion’s exclusionary policies of the 60s, she was named ‘the all-time superstar model’ by former US Vogue editor, André Leon Talley. Modelling for designers from Valentino to Yves Saint Laurent, it was on the runway where she really established her fame, bringing her own theatrical style. She moved to Paris in 1970, refusing to return to the US until 1974, the year Vogue first featured a black model on their cover.

7. Lauren Hutton

Era: 1970s-present. Yup, she’s still going, modelling for The Row, Club Monaco and jewellery brand Alexis Bittar in recent years
From: Charleston, South Carolina
Her look: Two words: gap teeth. After trying to disguise the gap with mortician’s wax, she eventually refused to have them ‘fixed’, heralding a new era of healthy body image and natural imagery in modelling
USP: The first model to score a big-bucks beauty contract, negotiating $400,000 to be the ‘face’ of Revlon in 1973. Appeared on the cover of Vogue a record 41 times. Not forgetting her eight-page nude magazine photoshoot – at the age of 61.

8. Beverly Johnson



Era: 1970s
From: Buffalo, New York
Her look: Chisel-jawed glamour
USP: Credited with forcing fashion to take black women seriously, she was the first African-American model to appear on the cover of US Vogue in 1974 and ditto French Elle in 1975. Also an actress, she’s appeared in everything from Law & Order to Sabrina, the Teenage Witch in recent years

9. Christie Brinkley

Era: 1970s and 1980s
From: Michigan, USA
Her look: Cookie-cutter California Girl personified (she was brought up in LA) – toned and tanned with a perma-grin
USP: She had the longest-running beauty contract of any model, ever – 25 years as the face of Cover Girl. Along with 500 magazine covers, including 3 consecutive Sports Illustrated swimwear issue covers – quite the coup in the 1980s. Also: a spell as Mrs Billy Joel.

10. Cindy Crawford

Era: 1980s and 1990s
From: Illinois, USA
Her look: Big hair, strong brows, athletic body. Hang on, have we forgotten something? Oh yes. The most famous mole OF ALL TIME.
USP: Brains and business acumen. She nearly ended up as a chemical engineer and invented the celebrity workout video with her famous ‘Cindy Crawford: Shape Your Body’ exercise series, raking in a fortune in the process.

11. Claudia Schiffer

Era: 1980s and 1990s
From: Rheinberg, Germany
Her look: Teutonic Brigitte Bardot
USP: Holds the world record for most amount of magazine covers, as listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. Was hand-selected by Karl Lagerfeld for his Chanel campaigns and remained one of his favourites for years. But what can top being ‘guillotined’ by permatanned magician David Copperfield (her fiance from 1994-1999) live on stage?

12. Helena Christensen

Era: 1980s-present
From: Copenhagen, Denmark
Her look: Enigmatic and olive-skinned, thanks to her mixed Danish/Peruvian heritage
USP: Former Miss Universe Denmark with serious creative skills. She wanted to be a musician and has run her own fashion boutiques (including Butik in New York) and clothing lines. A successful photographer, she was the launch creative director of Nylon magazine, and has held exhibitions of her work

13. Linda Evangelista

Era: 1980s-present
From: Ontario, Canada
Her look: Hawk-nosed chameleon, with ever-changing hair. Long before ‘The Rachel’, it was all about ‘The Linda’ – her 1989 gamine crop that became famous the world over, inspiring wigs and other celebrities (hello, Demi Moore in Ghost).
USP: The feisty models’ model. It was she who uttered the infamous phrase, ‘We don’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day,’ referring to her and her fellow supermodel gang. She’s credited with setting a new benchmark for models’ fees and caused controversy by reportedly earning sky-high sums for walking in catwalk shows for the big houses.

14. Kristen McMenamy


Era: 1980s-present
From: 
Pennsylvania, USA
Her look:
Other-worldly androgynous. Legendary model agent Eileen Ford advised her to have cosmetic surgery – luckily, she pressed on with her unique look
USP:
Ushered in the era of grunge in 1992. Some might say she actually started it, by chopping her long red hair off and letting Francois Nars shave her eyebrows for an Anna Sui catwalk show. Cue international recognition and a starring role in fashion shoots with titles like ‘Grunge & Glory.’ Combined with her theatrical poses and runway ‘walk’, she’s still your go-to girl for high-fashion drama.

15. Christy Turlington

Era: 1980s-present
From: California (her mother is from El Salvador), USA
Her look: Doe-eyed serenity – the embodiment of Calvin Klein’s fragrance Eternity, one of her most famous campaigns.
USP: The Zen One. Having launched her own Ayurvedic skincare line and yoga range, she’s now a prominent campaigner for maternal health in the developing world. She studied for a masters’ degree in public health and launched Every Mother Counts, a non-profit organisation that supports maternal health programmes in countries including Malawi, Uganda, and Indonesia, as well as directing a 2010 documentary on the subject, No Woman, No Cry

16. Elle Macpherson
Era: 1980s-present
From: Sydney, Australia
Her Look: Athletic girl-next-door with surfboard abs
USP: She’s graced the cover of a record five Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issues, earning herself the nickname ‘The Body’. She had a ‘Body’-off with Heidi Klum after Klum referred to herself using the same nickname in an advertisement for a Victoria’s Secret bra. Savvy businesswoman to boot, she’s made millions with her lingerie line Elle Macpherson Intimates and was also head judge of Britain & Ireland’s Next Top Model for three years from 2010. 
17. Naomi Campbell

Era: 1980s-present
From: Streatham, South London
Her look: Perfectly symmetrical with pillowy pout and serious (some might say ferocious) attitude.
USP: Where shall we start?
The good: The first black model to appear on the cover of US Vogue’s key September issue (in 1989)
Forced the fashion industry to up their bookings of black girls (her pal Yves Saint Laurent threatened to pull his advertising if they didn’t)
Starred in a Bob Marley music video at age 7
Took fashion’s most famous tumble on a pair of Vivienne Westwood mega-platforms
Was called ‘honorary granddaughter’ by Nelson Mandela
Has worked non-stop for charity – including raising £4.5 million (and counting) for disaster relief through her own Fashion For Relief foundation
The bad: Um. Convincted of assault four times and accused of various forms of assault or abuse by no less than 9 employees and associates
Was forced to appear in a 2010 war crimes trial against former Liberian president Charles Taylor after apparently receiving a ‘blood diamond’ from him. She denied any knowledge.

18. Kate Moss

Era: 1980s-present
From: Croydon, South London
Her look: The Game-Changer: ‘short’ (5’7″), slightly bow-legged, gap-toothed, freckly… The anti-glamazon.
USP: The ultimate muse. She rarely speaks, but that’s OK because all other significant cultural voices do it for her. An 18-carat statue of her worth £1.5m created in 2008 for the British Museum was the largest gold statue created since Ancient Egyptian times, a painting of her by Lucian Freud was sold for £3.9 million in 2005, and she’s inspired every fashion photographer from Corinne Day to Mario Testino. Not to mention musicians, including her exes Pete Doherty and Jamie Hince. We won’t start on her actual style. If it wasn’t for her, would ‘Get The Look’ fashion pages even exist?

19. Gisele Bundchen

Era: 1990s-present
From: Southern Brazil.
Her look: Brazilian bombshell who brought the sexy back. Sunkissed hair, sunkissed limbs, and a special Zoolander-tastic stride known as the ‘horse walk’ – knees up, feet kicking out in front.
USP: She’s been the highest-paid model in the world every year since 2004. She wore the most expensive lingerie ever created in the 2000 Victoria’s Secret show (the ‘Red Hot Fantasy Bra’ worth $15 million) and she’s chalked up over 350 ad campaigns and 1,200 magazine covers.

20. Natalia Vodianova

Era: 1990s-present
From: Gorky, Soviet Union (now Russia)
Her look: Dreamy innocent with piercing blue eyes
USP: Rags to riches tale following a heartbreaking early start – born into extreme poverty and with a disabled half-sister, she sold fruit on the street as a child to help family finances, before ending up as Viscountess Portman after marrying English property heir Justin Portman. Now goes out with equally illustrious Antoine Arnault, son of LVMH founder Bernard Arnault, and is a mother of four. Yes, four. And she can still shimmy into an Italian sample-size catwalk look

21. Erin O’Connor

Era: 1990s-present
From: West Midlands
Her look: Unconventional, angular and aristocratic
USP: The favourite muse of fashion’s great creatives, including Alexander McQueen (where she played a madwoman trapped in a glass cage for one of his early shows, Lunatic Asylum), John Galliano and Jean Paul Gaultier, who ‘discovered’ her. One of the few living people to appear on a Royal Mail postage stamp, part of a specially-commissioned set shot by photographer Nick Knight.

22. Alek Wek


Era: 1995-Present
From: Wau, South Sudan
Her look: Strong, unique and exotic
USP: Dark-skinned models were almost unheard of in the high fashion industry before Wek came along. After being scouted by Models 1 age 14 she became a huge influence on changing beauty ideals and went on to grace the covers of Elle, i-D, Glamour and Cosmopolitan, as well as appearing in editorials for Vogue. She fled her native Sudan in 1991 to escape the civil war and now devotes time to work with UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders and World Vision.

23. Agyness Deyn

Era: 2000s
From: Greater Manchester
Her look: Punky bleached crop and down-to-earth, non-model ‘walk’.
USP: Best mates with teenage pal Henry Holland, it’s fair to say she helped launch his career while he helped launched hers. Her first job was in a chip shop in Rossendale. Now a bona fide serious actress, starring in West End play The Leisure Society and films including Electricity (2013) and Patient Zero (2015)

24. Jessica Stam

Era: 2000s-present
From: Ontario, Canada
Her look: Elfin porcelain-doll pretty, with feline eyes
USP: She inspired one of the original It bags, the Marc Jacobs ‘Stam’ – a quilted, ladylike frame bag – in 2005. Demand was so high, waiting lists had to be closed. A glammer claim to fame than being the world’s most beautiful dentist – her original career plan.

25. Mariacarla Boscono

Era: 2000s
From: Rome (with a well-travelled childhood featuring spells in Florida, Italy and Kenya)
Her look: Black-haired, pale-skinned Sicilian-widow glamour
USP: Has appeared in the Pirelli calendar 3 times. She’s earned a place in fashion history as long-running muse to Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci – she’s basically the human embodiment of his dark, Latin-infused aesthetic.

26. Daria Werbowy

Era: 2000s
From: Krakow, Poland (she grew up in Canada)
Her look: Tawny, leggy, panther-like grace 
USP: A true fashion models’ model, she holds the all-time record for opening and closing the most shows in a single season. Her long, lithe limbs and cool, natural beauty have been seen in everything from Balmain (the image of her in then-designer Christophe Decarnin’s 2010 collection with its ripped khaki vests, sharp-shouldered military jackets and skinny leather jeans sparked a thousand copycats) to Vogue Paris shoots galore.


27. Liu Wen

Era: 2000s
From: Hunan, China
Her look: Delicate features topped off with sweet dimples
USP: Dubbed ‘the first Chinese supermodel’ by reductionists everywhere, it can’t be denied that she’s done a lot to bridge the gap between East and West as far as fashion’s concerned. The first East-Asian model to star in the Victoria’s Secret show, the first East-Asian spokesmodel for Estée Lauder and the first Asian model to make Forbes magazine’s annual highest-paid model ranking. Also riveting: she claims she’s never had a boyfriend.

28. Cara Delevingne


Era: 2010s
From: West London
Her look: Angel face with beetle brows
USP: Aristo with attitude. Impressive array of comedy facial expressions (tongue-out selfie, anyone?) and ‘don’t give a ****’ approach. Her family’s posher than a princess (relatives include a lady-in-waiting to Princess Margaret, baronets and viscounts aplenty and two Lord Mayors of London) but she’s not shy about her undercut or indeed about being bisexual, currently dating female singer St Vincent.

29. Edie Campbell

Era: 2010s
From: Westbourne Grove, West London
Her look: Unique combo of haughty and kooky – sullen stare, fine features and punky crop  
USP: A talented jockey, she won the first-ever ladies charity race, The Magnolia Cup, at Goodwood in 2011. No wonder Burberry have snapped her up to convey classy Brit cool personified in ad campaigns galore.

30. Jourdan Dunn

Era: 2000s-present
From: Greenford, West London
Her look: Razor-sharp cheekbones and a sultry, sleepy gaze
USP: In 2008, she was (sadly) the first black model to walk in a Prada show for over a decade. Now a poster girl for diversity in modelling, causing controversy when she posted on social media that she’d been rejected from a Dior couture show for her boobs and not her skin colour, which she said is what ‘usually happens’. Also a role model for young single mums everywhere – she had her son, Riley, at 19, and has spoken about his battle with sickle-cell anaemia.

31. Kendall Jenner

Era: 2010s-present
From: LA
Her look: High-fashion version of the Kardashian LookTM
USP: When you book Kendall, you book access to 35 MILLION devoted social media followers. Yup, she was definitely paying attention when Kris ‘n’ Kim were working out the global domination master plan. Google have named her as the second most-searched-for model in the world, and Adweek claimed she generates $236,000 for a single Tweet. The Instagirl generation has arrived.

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