May 9, 2011 -- The economic recovery has been good for the world's top-earning models. With consumers again cautiously spending on luxury goods, the 10 top-earning female models on the planet made a combined $112 million in the 12 months to May--up 30% from a total of $86.5 million over the previous year. Most of this gain was enjoyed by the top three: Gisele Bündchen, Heidi Klum and Kate Moss. The trio have transformed themselves from supermodels to business moguls, stepping off the runway and into the role of designers, entrepreneurs and pop icons.
Bündchen is an unparalleled force within the fashion industry and a brand name herself. Last month she got a shout-out in an unlikely forum: the third-quarter earnings call of Procter & Gamble. Why? P&G's Pantene shampoo sales exploded 40% in Latin America after Bündchen started slinging the suds.
"Gisele Bündchen is clearly in a class by herself, and has been for a number of years," says Edward Razek, chief marketing officer of Limited Brands, who worked with the supermodel during her Victoria's Secret career. "She's an international icon who can also move product--from shampoo to couture." The economic impact of a Bündchen-backed campaign has placed her far ahead of her peers, earning the Brazilian bombshell an estimated $45 million over the past 12 months. Her earnings climbed $20 million over the previous year, thanks to an economic boom in her homeland of Brazil coupled with a 10% surge in the value of the Brazilian real against the dollar.
Heidi Klum, the German supermodel and host and executive producer of Project Runway, trails far behind Bündchen at No. 2 on our list with estimated earnings of $20 million. Since ending her 13-year run as a Victoria's Secret Angel last year, Klum has become more of a businesswoman than a model. She's partnered with New Balance and Amazon.com to launch a clothing line and inked a 20-episode deal to host a new show on Lifetime, called Seriously Funny Kids.
While elite models are prospering, newcomers aren't scoring the same paydays as before the recession, with companies continuing to keep spending reined in. "People took a very realistic look at what they were paying models and what made sense," says Razek. "There was a substantial adjustment in rates--maybe not for Gisele, but for the daily working model--and most people found the world didn't collapse."
Victoria's Secret continues to launch some of the industry's most intriguing new faces. Among them: the blond South African beauty Candice Swanepoel, who debuts at 10th on our list with estimated earnings of $3 million over the past year. Swanepoel has caught the eyes of industry insiders, who say she could become the world's next top model.
Swanepoel recently was the subject of controversy, with critics saying she looked unhealthily skinny at a Victoria's Secret swimsuit event alongside curvier Angels Alessandra Ambrosio and Adriana Lima. The two Brazilian models and Victoria's Secret staples have been making their own splashy ad campaigns. Lima, raking in an estimated $8 million, recently starred in ads for Spanish luxury brand Loewe. Ambrosio, who pulled in $5 million over the last year, became the face of Brazilian sportswear brand Colcci together with Ashton Kutcher; the two costarred in a steamy denim ad.
Another new name on the top-earners list is current "it girl" Lara Stone. A longtime high-fashion favorite, Stone debuts on the list with earnings of $4.4 million after striking deals with venerable houses like Versace, Prada and a highly coveted exclusive contract with Calvin Klein.
Swanepoel and Stone replaced Australian model Miranda Kerr and Dutch model Doutzen Kroes, who both took time off to have children. Their lucrative contracts will continue once they're back on the runways, so expect to see these two fighting for a place on the Top Models list in 2012.
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