It is difficult to pinpoint who really was the first supermodel. Naturally, various models have their partisans. However, in my opinion, Paulina Porizkova (born 9 April 1965) was the first model who took the entire high fashion modelling profession to the next level, and I will explain why below.
Paulina is from Prostějov, Czechoslovakia, but she was still an infant when her parents fled Czechoslovakia to Lund, Sweden during a Soviet invasion. While that makes it sound as if Paulina also went to Sweden, not so fast: they left her behind Czechoslovakia in the care of her grandmother.
|For some reason or another, certain women seem to photograph better in black and white than color - and I would place Paulina in that category.|
The Czech authorities, being of the Soviet persuasion, did not look too kindly on the idea of people fleeing to the West. Paulina became a celebrity as a child due to the various devious maneuvers they launched to claim her. The family ultimately was reunited in Sweden when Paulina was 10 after the Communists finally gave up their opposition. The whole thing turned to ashes shortly thereafter, though, when Paulina's father left the family soon thereafter and married a Swedish woman.
Paulina developed very definite ideas about the world during this time. She noticed that women were treated differently in Czechoslovakia, France (where she was soon visiting) and Sweden, and had vastly different roles in each of those lands. In Sweden, she found that women were "masters of the universe," and she liked that, and she found that women always had a great degree of power in each country, though they wielded it in different ways. Paulina concluded:
For better or worse, in those countries, a woman knows her place.That place, in Paulina's view, is pretty much at the top of the heap.
Paulina, though, found that things were different and especially tough for women in the United States:
I joined the women around me who were struggling to do it all and failing miserably.Paulina concluded that the problem for women in America, what kept them from having real power, was that they kept their sexuality private. Basically, sex is power for women, she explains, as long as sex is out in the open and understood. Thus, the reasoning goes, more openness about sex in the United States would make women more powerful there. Paullina decided to do something about that.
It soon became obvious that Paulina was growing into a beautiful young woman. One of her girlfriends took some test shots in order to show off her own photography skills, but when she sent them into Elite modeling agency, John Casablancas himself noticed the subject of the shots rather than the skill of the photographer, which supposedly was their purpose, and hired Paulina. At the age of 15, Paulina was off to Paris for good.
The list of Paulina's modelling accomplishments is virtually endless. She was the face of Estée Lauder for a decade, became the cover model for the 20th Anniversary issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine in November 1985, was the face of Escada, and graced the November 1999 Millennium cover of American Vogue. Her other international covers include, among many others:
Australia: 'Cosmopolitan' - June 1983; 'Cleo' - June 1987; 'Marie Claire' - April 1997
Canada: 'Flare' - November 1988
France: 'Madame Figaro' - January 18, 1986; 'Photo' - July 1987; 'Vogue' - October 1988;
Germany: 'Vogue' - August 1987; 'Vogue' - September 1988; 'Funk Uhr' - August 14, 1992
Greece: 'Cosmopolitan' - February & April 1983; 'Cosmopolitan' - December 1985; 'Cosmopolitan' - July 1986; 'Cosmopolitan' - March & July 1987; 'Cosmopolitan' - February 1989; 'Cosmopolitan' - January 1992
Italy: 'Grazia' - March 16 & May 11, 1986; MODA' - October 1987
Malaysia: 'Her World' - March 2012
Spain: 'Harper's Bazaar' - April 1984; 'Harper's Bazaar' - 1988
Sweden: 'Starlet' - #33, 1985
After that, Paulina's rise to fame followed the usual pattern, though with a special twist because she was the first one to blaze the later-common trail. Starting out in Paris, the people at Sports Illustrated noticed her and brought her over to appear in the 1983, 1984 and 1985 editions (the latter two on the cover). She pressed her fame further with an artful appearance on the cover of Playboy Magazine in August 1987, and put out extremely popular calendars in the following two years.
Paulina became a celebrity who transcended the modelling profession. She was listed in People Magazine's Fifty Most Beautiful People for 1990 and 1993, and other magazines such as Harper's Bazaar also listed her as a top beauty. Paulina was the face of Estee Lauder for a full decade, finally being replaced in 1995 by Elizabeth Hurley. She broke records for the value of her modelling contracts and so forth. Basically, Paulina was in demand and named her own price.
With all of her fame, Paulina was a natural to try her hand at acting. While that is a well-worn path by now, back in the 1980s it was much rarer. People did not take models seriously as actresses, and when they did appear in films, it would be as a model or something close to home. Reviews of her performances weren't universally good by any means, but she appeared in a string of high-profile films such as "Her Alibi," "Anna," "Arizona Dream" and "Knots," and on television shows such as "Desperate Housewives," "Dancing with the Stars" and "America's Next Top Model." Paulina also co-authored a children's book, "The Adventures of Ralphie the Roach," and published a novel, "A Model Summer." She became a true multimedia star.
Paulina, it turns out, has a lot of opinions. She has very definite views about the current state of the modelling business:
I feel really sorry for the girls that are modeling now. Their work, their business, their opportunities are maybe not a fourth of what we had in the ‘80s. The market has been taken over by celebrities. I also keep saying this: Adobe Photoshop killed the model. Before Adobe, you had to look perfect on the photo in order to be able to be in a magazine. You couldn’t have wrinkles. You couldn’t have pimples. You couldn’t have cellulite.Paulina currently serves as the face of anti-aging skin-care line Rx Genesys.
|Paulina and Ric with Marco Glaviano at the Jazz & Models Exhibition Opening held at Palazzo Morando on October 4, 2010 in Milan, Italy.|
|Paulina and Ric on their wedding day in 1989. They are ageless.|
Paulina married Ric Ocasek, lead singer of The Cars, and they have two sons. Any marriage of that sort which lasts 25 years or more, as is the case with them, is quite rare and suggests that Paulina is very down-to-earth. A friend of mine used to see Paulina in the dog run in Greenwich Village in New York when they were visiting the city from their home in upstate New York (Woodstock, Dutchess County). She found that there are no airs about this supermodel.
I mentioned above that I would make the case that Paulina was the first true supermodel. Christie Brinkley undeniably was a huge celebrity, preceding Paulina on the cover of Sports Illustrated and becoming an iconic figure. Cindy Crawford also was a huge, almost ubiquitous, presence during the '80s. However - and this is the essence of the case - Paulina established herself overseas and only later came over to the US to become the premier US model of the day, and she did it during the years when the term "supermodel" first came into use. That is the key distinction - Paulina was global, and she helped turn modelling into a global phenomenon.
While Christie Brinkley and some others were huge, huge phenomena in the States, Paulina became a household brand around the world and showed that modelling fame was fungible across national boundaries. She transcended place or national origin. Paulina was a global supermodel, while Christie Brinkley and the others at the time were more of a US, or perhaps US/UK, phenomenon.
Paulina's true competitor for the title of first supermodel is probably Elle Macpherson, but Elle came along a few years later. Erin Gray was another top model who starred in some of the most enduring campaigns of the '70s ("All my men wear English Leather or they wear nothing at all), but Gray came along before the term "supermodel" was coined and didn't last into the true supermodel era (she turned to acting with great success). Heck, you could even go back to Twiggy during her Carnaby Street days in the '60s and say she was a supermodel, but that was not the age we recognize as that of the supermodel. So, it's more a right-time-at-the-right-place thing that gives Paulina at least an equal share of the title as the other ladies, and perhaps pre-eminence. She was there, and she did it.
In any event, there is no question that Paulina becoming a first-name celebrity, an honor formerly reserved for pop stars like Cher, was huge for models. She was probably the first model to earn that kind of celebrity (Twiggy could make that claim, but Twiggy was not her actual name - and you probably don't even know Twiggy's real name, first or last, unless you are a fashion expert. Incidentally, the two have a connection, as Paulina replaced Twiggy as a judge in the tenth cycle of America's Next Top Model).
The bottom line is that Paulina broke so much ground that she should be recognized as the first true supermodel.
Paulina can still make news. On 10 June 2017, she published an essay in the New York Times, "America Made Me A Feminist." In it, Paulina sets forth her views on gender relations based upon her personal observations. In a nutshell, she thinks such relations in the United States are poor relative to the other places she has been - and she's been quite a few places.