The country girl essence
Gise, as she’s called by her family and close friends, and I were born on July 20, 1980 in Horizontina, a small town in the countryside of Rio Grande do Sul. She’s the third daughter, and I’m the fourth. Our parents, Vânia and Valdir, had another two girls after us. Growing up in a household with so many sisters was really special. We had a wonderful childhood and would play out in the street or among the trees, ride our bikes, or play volleyball. Both our parents worked to try to make ends meet and struggled to raise six girls. Of course, the older ones helped take care of the younger sisters, and that’s how we grew up. We learned early how to do things on our own and everyone chipped in with the household chores.
One of Gisele’s favorite places was our grandparent’s small farm, where she could ride on a horse-drawn wagon with grandfather, milk the cows and collect fresh eggs with grandmother, harvest strawberries from the vegetable garden, and shuck corn to feed the animals. She has always embraced her deep connection to nature and the simple things in life.
Her love of animals also blossomed early. She was devoted to taking care of our dogs and cats and was especially drawn to horses. Of the six girls, she was the most fearless. In fact, she was bold about everything, very adventurous and loved the adrenaline.
As a child, Gisele was very active in different sports, from ballet to gymnastics to track & field and volleyball. On the court, she stood out not only because of her height but also her devotion to the sport. Gise has always taken everything very seriously. She never missed practice and helped her teammates fire up for a game and stay focused. During a game, she was competitive and gave it her all on the court.
Even though being tall was great for the sport, it didn’t do much for her self-esteem as a teenager living in a small town. Kids made fun of her and she was tagged with silly nicknames by the boys, such as Olive Oil, because she was tall and thin. And at parties, it was hard to find a boy her height to dance with.
Breaking into fashion
A year before her 15th birthday, in 1994, Gisele attended a modeling course with our sister Gabriela, some friends, and I. We wanted to get ready for the Sweet 15 Debutante Ball the following year. The course ended with a trip to Curitiba, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. We had never traveled to these big urban cities, and it was during this trip that scouts spotted Gisele in a mall and invited her to come to their modeling agency. She was reluctant in the beginning as she wanted to go to an amusement park with the rest of the girls, but she ended up going with our mother to the agency.
Ever since this very first encounter with the fashion world, which was totally unfamiliar to us, Gisele has never stopped. Agency staff saw that Gisele was the right type for modeling and urged her to start. My parents authorized her to do a photo book and later, during summer vacation, she flew to Sao Paulo to shoot her first fashion editorial as an aspiring model. That same year, mother saw a great opportunity to assess Gisele’s modeling potential by enrolling her in a big modeling pageant. Gi didn’t win, but she was named runner-up in the national stage and placed among the four finalists in the final stage at Ibiza, Spain.
The thought of Gisele becoming a model affected the entire family because we didn’t know anything about this field. The profession caused a lot of insecurities and distrust, and the fact that Gi was only 14 at the time added to the family’s concerns. But after much thought and family meetings, which we always had whenever there was a problem or something to be discussed, and lots of conversations with the people at the agency, our parents authorized her to move to Sao Paulo.
In 1995, she left her hometown on a 1,000-km bus journey to Sao Paulo and never returned to live at home again. Gisele traded her calm, simple country-girl life for the hustle and bustle of the big city. Her first challenge arose when she arrived in Sao Paulo. She was mugged and the cash that our dad had given her for the first month in the city was stolen.
Once settled in, she began her pilgrimage of castings and more castings. It was hard at the beginning because she lacked experience and wasn’t very articulate in the profession. But Gi was never one to give up. She once told me she didn’t want to disappoint mom and dad as she had already gained their trust to leave home. She knew deep inside she would make it.
One step at a time – initial challenges
No, no, no… you’re too young, your nose and chest are too big, you’re not the right type for this job… this is what she was told over and over again in the beginning of her career. Someone even told her she would never be on a magazine cover because of her big nose! Well, imagine that! Today she’s a covers record holder! Of course, this business is heartless with the girls who get into it at a tender age. Only those who stay strong and confident have a chance of making it.
Still in ’95, Gisele traveled to Japan. This was where beginning models made some money to pay their heavy expenses back in Sao Paulo. It was particularly difficult for a family with another 5 kids to raise. When she came back, Gisele brought lots of gifts for everyone, and every time she returned from a trip, her generosity was evident.
Unfortunately, mother couldn’t live in Sao Paulo with Gisele or go with her on trips because she had another five girls at home, one still quite young. But someone from the family would always go visit her. Then, slowly, things started happening. She started shooting magazines for teen audiences, do runway shows, editorials and some advertising campaigns. Mother would save all the magazines in which Gi appeared, and the whole family was so proud of her.
Next came the opportunity to live in New York. Though she didn’t speak English, there wasn’t a moment of hesitation about moving to N.Y. It was an opportunity not to be missed. Her first trip there was in 1996 and a year later, at 16, she moved permanently and once again started from scratch. The difference this time was that she was much more articulate and experienced as a model and knew how to live on her own.
This was again a time of apprehension for the family. How could a 16-year-old girl live alone abroad? Father asked the international agency for a business plan so he could check which paths Gisele’s career could take. He would always send one of the sisters to spend some time with her in N.Y. and offer her support. But Gi has always been self-sufficient, and she thought she was the one protecting everyone else. In fact, this is one of her traits since she was a child – protecting her sisters with all her might.
Her career in New York took a while to take off, even though she went to many casting calls. She would go all over the city looking for work opportunities and doing tryouts. Of course, there were some difficult times. She lived with many girls and sometimes found herself in embarrassing situations because her roommates would play practical jokes on her because she couldn’t speak English. Gi didn’t seem to mind, though, and took everything in stride. Her focus was on achieving her goals.
Gi’s persistence was rewarded after trying out for 43 different fashion shows and being chosen for only one of them. This single “Yes” was the opportunity she needed to showcase herself. People who have seen her on the catwalk say her presence is truly powerful. After this, she started collecting titles, such as “the body”, “the most beautiful woman”, “back to the curves”, “the most desired”… Her name appeared on magazine covers and everyone wanted to know who that fresh new face in fashion was.
Gisele ushered in a big change in the era’s stereotype. It was out with the pale-faced, pencil-thin bodies with dark under-eye circles and traces of androgyny, dubbed “heroin chic”, and in with the sexy look, healthy body, curves and a golden tan. In fact, Gisele would sometimes come in for a fashion show with a slightly darker tan and get chided for it. This natural and healthier look of hers slowly incorporated itself into fashion.
Acknowledgment and hard-won success
At 19, in 1999 she was elected the best model in the world, turning her life upside-down. Her home was inside a plane. As she was constantly traveling and was away from her family, she bought herself a little dog and named her Vida, meaning life. She was Gi’s great companion and brought her comfort in times of loneliness. She also got a star tattoo on her wrist, saying it was her guiding star.
Gisele definitely had something different about her. Her beauty wasn’t perfect or angelical. Her facial features were well-defined and her personality was strong. And she was friendly, cordial and felt deep empathy with those around her. To Gisele, it was important to always treat people equally and appreciate the work done by everyone at the studio. And she was always eager to learn. Today, people say she photographs so well because she knows a little about everything, from lighting to the perfect angle to delivering exactly what the client wants. Another thing that people always point out to me is how professional and committed Gisele is. To her, a modeling career has always been her profession, and it deserves putting forth her very best. She learned how to be flexible and not take things personally despite working in a field where people’s egos can be hard to handle.
At the pinnacle of her career, she enjoyed accomplishment after accomplishment. At the time, a model was either fashion or commercial, but Gisele broke this standard. She was cool, super fashion and did commercial jobs all at the same time. She was seen as a chameleon because of her ability to transform herself. She could be beautiful and glamorous for one job, happy-go-lucky in another and more boyish in yet another. Sometimes she would shoot without any makeup and even then, she was impressive. It was like she had this special inner glow.
Our family was up-close and personal about Gisele, and it took a while for us to understand the magnitude of Gisele’s accomplishments and how the fashion world works. Handling the press, fans… everything was so different. Once when Gisele was in Brazil, we went to the mall – something quite normal for everyone – but we were unable to leave the mall without being assisted by many security personnel. That’s when it all fell into place! It was hard dealing with this in the beginning; after all, we had grown up in a small community where everyone knows each other and you kept your door unlocked. We had to learn the hard way that we needed to protect ourselves from harassment and that not everything is rosy and glamorous in this business. But we’ve always relied on each other for support.
Gisele made it to the top of the fashion world. She posed for the world’s greatest photographers, graced uncountable covers and did editorials for the top fashion magazines, walked the runway and did campaigns for the most illustrious fashion brands, sang, danced, did cameo appearances in movies, and closed the biggest business contracts in history.
Übermodel – one of a kind
Her path was so outstanding that a new term had to be coined to define her presence in fashion. The term “Übermodel” was born, meaning more than a super model. A British newspaper once wrote: “there are supermodels and there is Gisele Bündchen”. A model spends her life trying to get on the cover of Vogue America, for example. But in 1999 alone, Gisele graced the magazine’s cover three times and during her career, she appeared 11 times. And ’til today, she continues surprising everyone and keeps pushing the envelope in the fashion business. She recently starred a campaign for a famous perfume manufacturer which had never before used a model, only the most famous actors and actresses of all time, such as Marilyn Monroe and Brad Pitt. These are only a few examples of Gisele’s relevance in the business.
In 2003, at 23, Gi was tired of her hectic life, so she took a break from her career, spent some time in Horizontina, traveled to Africa with our parents, made time for herself and just chilled out. As she started working at a young age and took on adult responsibilities, she missed out on a stage of life that I personally found to be the most fun – the teen years. From 14 thru 20, it was all about work. She never cared for parties but enjoyed going out with friends. Her priority was work and she was bent on being successful.
During this time of introspection, Gi had time to think. She felt there was something greater behind all of her accomplishments and had a deep yearning for reclaiming her roots and the simple things, such as being in touch with nature. That was where she usually took refuge to renew her energies and find her center.
In 2004, she visited an indian tribe on the Xingu River and saw up close the problems the community faced due to deforestation and polluted rivers. Since then, she has championed environmental causes and supported countless projects, including our family’s own project for cleaning up the water in our home town, named the Projeto Água Limpa (Clean Water Project). She was acknowledged by the U.N. for her efforts and named a Goodwill Ambassador for the Environment by UNEP.
But Gisele’s career didn’t stop there. Just when we thought she would slow down or go into another business, she would always surprise us and reinvent herself. She even did cameos for movies and recorded two songs. Her lasting success is closely tied to the choices she has made along the way. She has built a solid career based on good values, integrity, and a positive outlook on life. She has become a true icon in a field where short-lived careers abound. Where as before she was hired as a model to interpret a role, a concept in a campaign, today she is chosen because she adds value to a brand. The concept is GISELE.
And the coolest thing about all of this is that despite the fame and the huge success, Gi hasn’t lost her essence. Indeed, she is still down-to-earth and continually seeks to improve herself as a person. For us, she is our source of inspiration and good examples.
Today her priority is her family. Gisele is the mother of Benjamim and Vivian and married to Tom Brady, but she continues chasing her dreams and working to make them a reality. As she always says: “dreams drive us, that’s why it’s so important to never stop dreaming”.