Pity the poor supermodel. A decade ago she was stomping her way to $50,000 a day on the runways of New York, Paris or Milan. Today, all but the cream of the crop are likely to slink from the flashbulbs with little more than taxi fare and a few pairs of Manolo Blahniks. As for cosmetics contracts, long the province of names like Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford and Christy Turlington, those are going to Hollywood types like Scarlett Johansson and Eva Longoria, both with L'Oréal.
Fortunately, pretty faces never go out of style. A popular model with a few contracts under her belt can slap her name on fragrances, clothes, shoes and skincare lines. "Brands are still looking for that beautiful face or body," says Ryan Schinman, chief executive of Platinum Rye, which represents corporations that partner with celebrities. "Older models with household names are making more than they ever did as supermodels in the 1980s or 1990s. They are at the height of their earning potential."
While models-of-the-moment Daria Werbowy (the face of Lancome) and Natalia Vodianova (Calvin Klein's muse) dominate the pages of Vogue, they aren't known to the masses and have yet to bag those lucrative licensing deals. Meanwhile, veteran mannequins like Gisele Bündchen, Lauren Hutton, Heidi Klum, Kate Moss and others have blossomed into full-fledged fashion icons, reaping millions along the way.
Gisele is still the highest paid of the bunch, with an estimated $35 million in earnings last year. While her record $5 million a year Victoria's Secret contract has ended, she still banks big bucks by licensing her image to Brazilian shoe company Grendene; her sandal line, Ipanema by Gisele, accounts for about 20% of the company's $95 million sales. Annual royalty stream to quarterback Tom Brady's gal pal: about $8 million.
Former waif Kate Moss may have lost clients like Burberry and Chanel thanks to her 2005 drug allegations, but that edgy reputation has only stoked demand for her eponymous women's wear line with British retailer Topshop, launched last year and now sold in 29 countries. She designs much of the fetching collection--which includes dresses, T-shirts, bathing suits, jackets and jeans--and banks about $2 million a year for her efforts.
While established names can wangle the best deals, newcomers with strong images can make hay too. Twenty-six-year-old Erin Wasson--the edgy Maybelline beauty who makes her home in Venice Beach, Calif.--nabbed a sponsor in beach-lifestyle marketer RVCA while attending a surfing event in Australia. Her eponymous line of beach-inspired women's apparel is scheduled for sale in stores starting in the spring of 2009. Wasson also designs a line of body jewelry, LowLuv; pieces retail for $250 to $5,000 and are available at boutiques in Los Angeles, New York and Tokyo. But why stop there? She is also part investor in 100 Lafayette, a New York City nightclub.
But no modelpreneur can quite compete with Sports Illustrated favorite Kathy Ireland, whose branding strategy inspired the likes of Cindy Crawford and Heidi Klum. Ireland, featured in the July 5, 2004 issue of Forbes, slaps her name on everything from sofas and window blinds to jewelry and, yes, entire homes. (None of the single-family structures--slated to spring up in Florida, Indiana and Mississippi--are built yet, though land has been bought.) In 2007, her company, Kathy Ireland Worldwide, in which the green-eyed beauty holds a majority stake, generated $1.5 billion in retail sales. Ireland takes home at least $15 million of that.
Everyone knows it pays to be pretty. It's good to know that it pays even more to be savvy.