Gisele Caroline Nonnenmacher Bündchen was born on July 20, 1980 in the Brazilian town of Tres de Maio to Vania Nonnenmacher, a bank clerk pensioner, and Valdir Bundchen, a university teacher. She grew up in Horizontina, Rio Grande do Sul, with her five sisters: Raquel, Graziela, Gabriela, Rafaela and Patricia, who is Gisele’s twin and younger than her by only five minutes. The region in Southern Brazil where Gisele is from has a large population of Brazilians of German descent. Gisele herself is of distant German descent on both her maternal and paternal sides: she had great-great grandparents who came to Brazil from Germany, and she maintains that she belongs to the sixth generation of her family in Brazil. She was raised as a Roman Catholic, speaking Portuguese as her first language and English as her second, though she learnt some German in school but admits to unfortunately forgetting most of it.
Gisele originally wanted to be a professional volleyball player and supposedly toyed with the idea of pursuing it by playing for the Brazilian national team. In 1993, though, at just 13, she and two of her sisters were encouraged by their mother to enroll in a modeling course. The next year, the 14-year-old was discovered in a shopping mall by a modeling agency and was later selected for the national Elite Look of the Year contest, where she came in second place. She went on to be placed fourth in the world contest, in Spain, and moved to New York City in 1996 to debut her modeling career at Fashion Week.
The last few years of the 1990s saw Gisele really burst into the fashion arena and her debut on the cover on the July 1999 issue of Vogue was supposedly seen as “The Return of the Sexy Model”. The accompanying editorial suggested that her success heralded an end to the ‘heroin chic’ image of models that had pervaded the catwalks of the 1990s. She won the joint VH1-Vogue award for Model of the Year in 1999 and a cover on the January 2000 issue of Vogue allowed her the rare achievement of three consecutive Vogue covers. She has since graced the covers of numerous publications multiple times, including ELLE, Vogue, Esquire and Marie Claire. Moreover, she has also been seen in publications that reach a broader platform outside of fashion and glamour, including Time and Newsweek. Gisele frequently works with famous photographers such as Mario Testino, Annie Leibovitz and Karl Lagerfeld and rivals the late Princess Diana for the largest number of magazine cover features in the world.
As well as gracing the covers of magazines worldwide, Gisele has multiple endorsements which keep her modeling career thriving. She is the face of numerous high fashion advertising campaigns such as Christian Dior, Dolce and Gabbana, Versace, Louis Vuitton and Victoria’s Secret, to name a few. She recently finished her contract with Victoria’s Secret but chose not to renew it. Gisele insisted that this was because she wanted to move onto other things, and was not a matter of payment disagreements. Other business ventures include Gisele’s own line of flip-flops, Ipanema Gisele Bündchen, which can sell for as much as $230 for one pair. The model also owns the Palladium Executive, a hotel in Southern Brazil. Forbes magazine names her as the world’s top earning model in the World’s Top Earning 15 Supermodels list in 2007.
It is not just Gisele’s stunning face that people are interested in, but her personal life too. Numerous controversies surrounding her and her career have delighted the press who are consistently interested in this breathtaking supermodel. In 2002, the model was made the target for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) anti-fur protestors, when she was signed to be the new face of Blackglama, a trademark of a fur farming cooperative. At the Victoria’s Secret annual fashion show, four women rushed the stage with placards that read: ‘Gisele: Fur Scum’ along with the PETA logo. She tried to ignore the protestors while security guards rushed to control them. Gisele later told CNN that the protest was unnecessary as the show only featured faux fur and that she was one of the biggest animal lovers in the world. Despite her claims that the interruption was unwarranted, she later admitted that it was a poor decision on her part and that she no longer wears fur. Curiously, though, she was later pictured on the cover of a 2005 issue of Chinese Vogue wearing fox fur.
Gisele encountered another controversy when she appeared on the Annie Leibovitz-shot cover of the April 2008 issue of Vogue with LeBron James. The basketball superstar who was the first black man to feature on the front of Vogue, but the cover was immediately criticised for conveying James in a light they deemed as racist, as he and Gisele had been positioned in a pose reminiscent of the famous movie poster for King Kong, where King Kong is carrying Fay Wray. Further criticism arose when one website compared it to the World War I propaganda recruitment poster entitled ‘Destroy This Mad Brute’, though all allegations of a racist depiction have been dismissed by the magazine officials.
Gisele dated actor Leonardo DiCaprio for five years, during which time they featured on numerous magazines’ ‘most beautiful couple’ lists. They broke up briefly in 2002, only to reunite until a final break-up in 2005. While together the couple had bought a dog, Jango, and now share custody over the pet as if it were a child. Gisele has remained close to Leonardo’s family, particularly his mother, much to the delight of the tabloids, which see this as an indication that the actor’s family still want to see the two together. Leonardo DiCaprio later began dating Israeli model Bar Refaeli, who, at the beginning of their relationship, was depicted as a Gisele look-a-like by the press.
Gisele has been dating Tom Brady, the all-star quarterback for the New England Patriots American football team, since just before Christmas 2006. One US newspaper reported that the Brazilian supermodel was spotted waiting for Brady outside of the Patriots’ locker room after a game in early January, 2007. The relationship became bigger news after it was revealed that Brady had ended a three-year romance with actress Bridget Moynahan – best known for her role on Six Degrees and as Mr. Big’s glamorous wife on Sex and the City – around the time that she became pregnant with their child, Brady Thomas. Bündchen and Brady spend most of their time at their home in Back Bay, Boston and continue to lead a relatively low key lifestyle together.