When God created Gisele, he broke the mold. To be in her presence is to be intoxicated. That face, that body, the energy, the joy of life: They just don’t make ‘em like her. So, when WSJ. Magazine asked me to interview her for the cover of the Innovators issue, I said yes with the giddiness of a schoolboy who found his father’s stash of dirty magazines. I stopped by the shoot in LA when she was carooning with Daft Punk, who I could tell had big smiles on their faces even through their trademark masks. And afterward we shared a green juice and talked about how she went from a bombshell in a bra to the world’s most successful supermodel.
GISELE BÜNDCHEN MAYbe the most powerful model in the world—but that’s not what she prefers to call herself. “I’m self-employed,” says the 33-year-old Brazilian. “[Modeling has] always been a business.” This year, she topped ‘s list of highest-paid models for the seventh year in a row, beating out the likes of Kate Moss and Miranda Kerr by tens of millions of dollars. The magazine reported that she made $42 million, though she rolls her eyes at the figure. “Who are they speaking to when they come up with these numbers? Not my accountant, that’s for sure.” Whether the number strikes her as high or low, she leaves unsaid.
How did Bündchen, who was scouted at a shopping mall in her native Rio Grande do Sul when she was 14, rise from mere model to multiplatform business tycoon? Selectivity, she says. After becoming the most in-demand face and body on the runways of Paris and Milan in the late 1990s—in 1999, put her on the cover and declared “The Return of the Sexy Model”—she developed a knack for taking exactly the right steps in her career at exactly the right times.
High risk yields high reward, and nothing was more risky than her decision to sign with Victoria’s Secret in 2000, making her one of the first in her field to bridge the once-taboo divide between luxury fashion editorials and commercial work. It was a canny maneuver that proved light-years ahead of the rest of the fashion industry, though such high-low blurring has since become the norm. After Bündchen signed with Victoria’s Secret, it ballooned from a prosaic bra brand into a lingerie powerhouse with a world-famous fashion show—ultimately helping to net her a reported $25 million per year. (She wore the company’s famed Angel wings for the last time in 2007.) She inked lucrative deals with luxury brands such as Chanel and David Yurman. Anne Nelson, her agent since she was 17, says that in Brazil, “she is a god.”
These days, Bündchen is picky about which jobs she takes not because she’s cultivating an image but because of domestic obligations. In 2009, she married Tom Brady, quarterback of the New England Patriots, and is now mother to Benjamin, 3, and Vivian, 8 months, and stepmother to Brady’s son, 6-year-old John Edward Thomas, from his previous relationship. “When you’re by yourself you only make decisions for yourself. But when you have a family, you’re making decisions for your whole family.” She now turns down multimillion-dollar jobs if they require her to leave the country or have obligatory personal appearance days in the contract.
When asked to describe how she manages the roles of wife, mother and supermodel, she offers a metaphor: Ginga, the basic back-and-forth swaying step of Brazilian martial art capoeira. “You’re always trying to balance everything, but it can’t be 100 percent all the time. Sometimes when you are a great mom, you’re not so great at your job. And then when you’re good at your job, you’re not so great of a mom or a good wife. It’s a dance that never stops. But it’s beautiful. I’ve never been happier.”
Bündchen’s packed days are meticulously organized on her iPhone with the Cozi app, which synchs the entire family schedule, from kids’ play dates to her press appointments to Brady’s football practices. Every single hour is accounted for and each family member is color-coordinated: She is purple, Brady is blue, and when the whole family needs to be at the same place, it’s in red. “I know what everyone is doing every second of the day,” says Bündchen.
Most mornings start around 6 a.m. Before heading either to her home office, where she works on her own fashion and accessories lines, or to a modeling job, she spends time with the children. (The couple has homes in Boston, New York and Los Angeles.) Vivian comes with her to photo shoots. “If I’m with my kids, I’m not answering my phone. You can’t reach me. With my husband, too. If I’m at work, then I’m at work. If I’m with you, I’m with you. I am in that moment, and there is nothing else.” The family prefers dinner at home, and Bündchen and Brady are rarely seen out at social occasions. One exception is the annual Met Costume Institute gala in New York City, where they are consistently one of the glossiest couples on the red carpet.
While work and family commitments dominate Bündchen’s schedule, she says her trick to keeping it together is her hour. “It’s important to me to have some time for myself. So one hour a day is mine. It may have to be at 4 a.m. or whenever the kids are napping or not home, but it’s in the schedule. I read a book. I meditate. I make something. I need to nourish myself in order for me to give to everyone else.”