Gisele Bündchen is writhing on the sheets of a bed in one of those airplane-hangar-sized New York City photography studios. It's the last setup of the day, and she's wearing a black bra along with something skimpy, satiny, and dark that she will later describe to me, with a straight face, as "boys' underwear." She works really quickly. Her fluid poses are a kind of rapid sex-symbol Tai Chi—fingers pass through hair, arms extend above head—and she moves from one into the next without making a single awkward gesture. Her expressions, though, are really something. I don't know how she manages not to cross the line into camp when she puts on a smoldering look, but she does. At one point, I find myself in her line of vision and our eyes meet, and while I'm only stating the obvious here, I must say, I am not man enough.
A few minutes later, we're sitting in swivel chairs in front of an enormous hair-and-makeup mirror that's bordered by a million tiny lights, the kind of mirror normal people shun like a staph infection if they know what's good for them. Gisele has changed into jeans and a gray T-shirt with an elaborately draped neck, and she is holding court. The sweet nothings, the air kisses, the swooning straight out of Versailles. At one point, a sleepy-talking French makeup guy approaches and—I can't even describe it:
Gisele: How does that [photo] look, the last one?
French makeup guy: I want a preent.
Gisele: You want a print?
FMG: I want a preent.
Gisele: [to me] He is the best.
FMG: No, she ees the best.
Gisele: [almost sadly] No.
FMG: She ees.
FMG: Well, look at this peecture.
Gisele: Do you like the last one?
FMG: It just confeerms what I'm saying—
Gisele: Oh, please.
FMG: …you are to die for.
Gisele's own accent can best be described as "Continental." She seems to have learned English from Italian designers, German hairstylists, and French makeup artists. Her enunciation is equal parts Donatella, Hans and Franz, and Maurice Chevalier. Right now she's studying a model-release form someone has just handed to her. "I have my own release form," she announces in a firm but friendly tone. "Just ask my agents; they'll send it to you."
Do you have a signature expression, like Zoolander's "Blue Steel," that you use when you want to be extra-seductive?
A photo is a story. Who will be this woman? Who will be wearing those sexy tops with boys' underwear? I try to understand. Who is she? What kind of mood is she in? Like, whatever, I'm in my bedroom. I'm like, my boyf—
And here she has the presence of mind to cut herself off. But we'll get to her boyf later.
It's possible to locate the exact instant when Gisele Bündchen became the globe's reigning icon of feminine perfection: an April 7, 1999, shoot in the studio of the legendary photographer Irving Penn. That shoot marked the demise of fashion's so-called heroin-chic phase and the advent of a new, commercial era, in which models would dream of walking the runway for Victoria's Secret as much as they would for, I'm spitballing here, Alexander McQueen. Penn, 81 at the time, photographed the 18-year-old Brazilian gazing enigmatically over her shoulder, her hair thickly tangled, her body completely nude. In its July 1999 issue, Vogue used the black-and-white photo to illustrate an editorial called "The Return of the Curve.' Gisele would appear on five of the magazine's covers in the next year and would ignite an international fever for Brazilian models, and a more localized one in Hollywood for flip-flops and radioactively golden skin. Her Photoshop physique—volleyball-player limbs, Modigliani torso, actual breasts—would drive thousands of her countrywomen to seek implants (I'm not making this up; it was in The Wall Street Journal) and would help transform a cheesy mall-store company, Victoria's Secret, into a cheesy megacorporation. Today Gisele says simply, "I was there at the right time, I guess. I was the Girl Who Did That Picture, you know?' In Penn's photograph, she seems to be glancing backward at fashion history even as her angled waist carries her off the far edge of the frame. A print of the picture sold at auction at Christie's this past spring for $193,000.
Has any man ever turned you down? Do you have any reason to believe any man ever would?
I've always been in serious relationships. I meet someone and date him for a long period. I don't sit there thinking, like, "I wonder if I can seduce that guy.' I have other things in my mind.
I'm going to take that as a no.
It's funny, I don't even know how I meet those guys. It kinda happens.
The Relationship of Bündchen and Leonardo DiCaprio was evidently a stormy one, if the gossips are to be believed. The tabloids had her both pregnant and engaged at one point, but unable to marry because her Victoria's Secret contract forbade it. Apparently there was also an emergency consultation in the rain forest with a "sexual healer.' The couple broke up in 2005.
In 2002 you told an interviewer that you'd never had your heart broken. Is that still true today?
[briefly stumbles over her words] I've had my heart broken. But I think you can have your heart broken by your friends that you trust, or by—I don't think it necessarily has to be… I think sometimes you have high expectations for people because you have high expectations for yourself.
It was reported that after your breakup with Leo DiCaprio, you were so despondent that you cut off all your hair, à la Britney. Is that true?
Oh, my God. That's ridiculous.
How about that you needed an escort of forty-four bodyguards and an armored van to get to a fashion show in São Paulo?
No, that's crazy. But people are unbelievable. The other day a girl on my plane was pulling my hair. She was like, "I just want to check if—' This is all my hair, by the way. I did not have extensions, let me tell you.
That was going to be my next question. Let me just regroup here.… Forbes has reported that you made $35 million last year, more than twice as much as any other model in the world.
Do you think that's important to me? Look, this is my job. I take pictures. There is no big deal. I would like to know who this reporter is finding out all of these amounts. And I would like him to talk to my accountant and figure out where is the cash that's missing. Because I haven't seen it.
Did you feel ridiculous walking the runway for Victoria's Secret in underwear and a pair of giant wings?
[flashes a complicit smile] I never had the really big ones. Would I have that idea? I don't think so, but you have to respect it. It's a dream, right?
In December 2005 at a New England Patriots game at Foxboro Stadium, the newly single supermodel was shown a photograph of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Her take, as published in the Boston Herald: "Tom Brady, definitely not too shabby. He's cute, but if he has a girlfriend, he's gay to me." On a Boston radio program, Brady was told of her remarks. "Oh, jeez, that's a little harsh," he said.
Were you using the media to tell Brady you wanted to date him?
Look, I'm Brazilian. I had never seen football before. I'm freezing, and all I'm thinking is, When can I go back to New York City? I didn't understand why they were all hitting each other. Now I do, but I didn't. I just wanted to get out of there, so I'm just gonna say what you say to get out of a conversation. If he had been any other guy, I would have said the same thing. We met through a friend who knew us both for a long time. Believe me, I didn't even remember [the picture of Brady]. Our friend knew that we would like each other. And we did. So I guess he was right.
As a kid, you'd planned to become a professional volleyball player. Is this shared affinity for sports an important part of your relationship?
[softly and carefully] I think we have a lot of things in common, and I think he is a really great person. He really, genuinely doesn't have a bad bone in his body. And he is a very positive person.
After the Patriots lost the Super Bowl—and their chance at an undefeated season—you and Brady went on a lengthy tour of Latin America and Europe. Was he distraught about the loss?
All I have to say about that is that I was really proud of him. Winning eighteen games in a season, I think it's amazing. I mean, I'm talking for myself. I can't talk for him, okay?
You're a worldly supermodel; he's an athlete from San Mateo, California. Are you teaching him about things like Riesling and seviche and langoustines?
Your questions are funny. Look, all I'm saying—do you want some ChapStick?—is I'm not teaching anybody anything. Everybody learns from traveling. I think we all do. I really don't know how to answer that question, I'm sorry.
What you are to Vogue, Brady is to GQ, in a way. He's a regular in this magazine. He's also done some advertising work. My editor wondered if you've advised him at all in his modeling career.
Oh, my God. I want you to tell your editor that that's a very stupid question. It's private. And—nah.
In 2005 you told another interviewer that you'd never been proposed to. Is that still true?
Yeah, it's true.
In early 2007, when she was asked about women and eating disorders, Gisele said, "I never suffered from this problem because I had a very strong family base. Parents are responsible, not the fashion industry.' A s---storm ensued, with media across the globe condemning her for the icy hauteur of her remarks. "Excuse me," she'd said, "there are people born with the right genes for this profession."
Do you stand by those comments today?
If they have a problem, they have to talk to my parents. Because they're the ones who made me. Look, I've never met anyone who has it.
Really? In ten years in your industry, you've never crossed paths with anyone who—
Not that I've seen. I don't think it's something that people go around talking about. I do think what saved me is that I've been very athletic since I was very young. I think your body has muscle memory.
(In their willful obliviousness, her remarks remind me acutely of something, and after a minute I've got it: Talking with Gisele Bündchen about eating disorders is like talking with a pro athlete about steroids.)
This might sound like a bizarre question, but it seems to me that your photos express something very different from the photos of, say, Kate Moss. They're not very self-revealing. If they express any longing or need, it's for luxury goods.
[laughs] Because that's what they're selling!
I wondered if something deeper might be going on, though. Why do you never look vulnerable in photos? Do you consciously avoid this?
I think I am actually so much more that.
I am so that.
So vulnerable, you mean?
But I just don't show that. When you are out there with the wolves, you gotta play with the wolves, you know? In the beginning, maybe I was a lot more like that, but I learned pretty quickly. I burned myself.
How did you burn yourself?
I'm not gonna—I think it's very personal, but I went through things in my life. I choose not to show that side, because how many people would try to take advantage of you if they think you're vulnerable?
Can you remember the last time someone took advantage of you?
Look, I know who I am, and I know where I come from. I think there is danger obviously when you're really young and they make you all glamorous and you start thinking you are that. I have been here for a while, and I do see girls.… You're playing a role. The important thing for me that helped save me is that I never believed… This is exactly how I would describe my work: I get there, I put on the clothes, I leave it on the hanger, and I go home. And that's what I do.
The July issue of GQ goes on sale on June 24, 2008.