10 Supermodels of the 1980s by Georgia Gordon
10 Supermodels of the 1980s
10 Supermodels of the 1980s

10 Supermodels of the 1980s

Words by Georgia Gordon

Tatjana Patitz

German born model Tatjana Patitz, entered Elite’s ‘Elite Model Look’ competition at aged 17 in 1983. Elite’s founder John Casablancas placed her third based just on a polaroid. She won a contract with Elite and moved to Paris to pursue modelling. By the end of 1985, Patitz modelled for the cover of Vogue and gained more recognition from around the world. This led her to New York where she worked with a number of well-known publications and photographers including Irving Penn, Helmut Newton and Denis Peil. As well as acting, Patitz has done a lot of charity work and in recent years has featured in a number of articles referencing 80’s and 90’s supermodels including ‘Who Was Tatjana Patitz, The Most Mysterious of the Original Supers?’ in Vogue. Photographer Peter Lindbergh and Patitz worked together for over 30 years. In his book 10 Women, he wrote "I admire Tatjana because she always stays herself. She's very soft, but at the same time she's very strong and knows how to stand up for what she thinks, and it's always very enriching to be with her. It's impossible not to admire her and over the years not to be just a little bit in love with her."

Brooke Shields 1981

Brooke Shields

New York born Brooke Shields made her start as a child model and actor, first gaining major recognition for her role in Pretty Baby, aged 12. Just two years later, she become the youngest model to grace the cover of Vogue. Shields quickly became one of the most recognised models in America, often facing controversy for appearing in sexually explicit movies and campaigns at such a young age. Despite this, Shields successfully juggled a career in both modelling and acting throughout her life, scoring a role in her own sitcom titled ‘Suddenly Susan’ in 1996. Since, Shields has had two daughters with husband Chris Hench and currently does a lot of charity work. After 20 years with no modelling representation, Shields recently signed to IMG Models in September 2020, aged 55, showing the world that she’s still got it.

Christie Brinkley, 1996

Christie Brinkley

Supermodel Christie Brinkley was first discovered in 1973 by an American photographer in a post office in Paris, where she was studying art. After meeting with Elite Model Management in Paris, Brinkley returned to California to pursue modelling. After appearing on the cover of Glamour multiple times, Brinkley landed a 25-year-long contract with CoverGirl, which is known to be one of the longest contracts in modelling history. Some of her most iconic work includes multiple covers of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issues. In 1998, Playboy magazine readers voted Brinkley as one of the 100 Sexiest Women of the 20th Century and she was ranked 3rd in AskMen.com’s Top 10 Supermodels of All-Time. 

 Iman leaving venue with David Bowie 1990s


Somali-American supermodel Iman was famously discovered by photographer Peter Beard whilst studying at university in Kenya. This prompted a move to America to pursue modelling and just one year later, Iman found herself on the cover of Vogue. From here, Iman modelled for the most prestigious designers including Gianni Versace, Thierry Mugler, Calvin Klein and Yves Saint Laurent. In 1994 Iman launched her own cosmetics line aimed at providing makeup in difficult-to-find skin tones. The company still continues today. In 2010, Iman received the Fashion Icon lifetime achievement award from the CFDA. The award is given to “an individual whose signature style has had a profound influence on fashion”. Alongside her philanthropy work and some movie and video game appearances, many know Iman as the widow of British musician David Bowie. The pair married in 1992 and have a daughter, Lexi Jones (Alexandria Bowie), who is now 20.

 Elle Macpherson Valentino SS 1995

Elle Macpherson

Australian supermodel Elle Macpherson found her fame in New York, where she signed with Click Model Management. After studying law in Sydney for one year, Macpherson dropped out and pursued her modelling career. After appearing in a Tab commercial in America, Macpherson quickly rose to fame throughout the 80’s, appearing on the covers of magazines such as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire and Maxim. Macpherson is also known to have graced the cover of Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue a record-breaking 5 times which led to her having the nickname ‘The Body’. In 1994, Elle founded her own modelling agency ‘Elle Macpherson Inc.’ and in 1999 she appeared in 7 episodes of Friends as Joey’s roommate-turned-girlfriend. Alongside other appearances in movies and tv shows, Macpherson has also been a host on several occasions for Britain and Ireland’s Next Top Model and NBC’s Fashion Star.

 Carol Alt for Sport Illustrated 1982

Carol Alt

Carol Alt was first noticed whilst waiting tables at aged 18 in Long Island This led to her doing modelling as her summer job, then at 19 she got her big break when she landed the cover of Harper’s Bazaar. She became even better recognised however after appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue in 1982. Throughout the 80’s, Alt appeared on over 500 magazine covers, quickly becoming one of the best-known supermodels of her time. Life Magazine dubbed her ‘The Face’ as she worked with huge names from Vogue and Elle to Givenchy, Pepsi, and Cover Girl. From 1986, Alt also appeared in a number of movies, including Snakehead Terror, The Protector, and Amazon.

 Paulina Porizkova, 1990

Paulina Porizkova

At age 13, Paulina Porizkova had her makeup done by a friend who sent her headshots sent off to Paris in the hopes of being hired as a makeup artist. The result was Porizkova receiving a call from a modelling agent who invited her to Copenhagen to meet famed modelling scout John Casablancas. Upon meeting her, Casablancas invited in her Paris to become a model and that was that. In 1984, Porizkova became the first women from Central Europe to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue at just 18 years old, appearing on the cover again just one year later. Porizkova went on to model for Vogue, Chanel, Versace, Cosmopolitan and Hermes to name a few and in 1988, she scored what was then the highest-paying modelling contract ever of $6,000,000 with Estée Lauder. Porizkova appeared as a judge on America’s Next Top Model starting in Cycle 10 and also a number of movies including Anna, Her Alibi, Arizona Dream and Thursday. 


Inès de La Fressange AW 1987

Inès de La Fressange

French model Inès de La Fressange’s career began at aged 17 in 1974. Nicknamed “the talking mannequin” as a result of her tendency to voice her opinions on fashion and the modelling industry to journalists, La Fressange was already modelling for Elle and Thierry Mugler at the tender age of 18. In 1983, La Fressange was chosen by Karl Lagerfeld to become the first ever model to sign an exclusive contract with Chanel. This was due to her resemblance to Chanel’s founder, Coco Chanel. It is believed that Lagerfeld and La Fressange had a dispute over her lending her likeness to a bust of Marianna – the “national personification” of the French Republic. Lagerfeld reportedly said that Marianna was “the embodiment of everything that is boring, bourgeois and provincial” and that he “would not dress up historic monuments”. La Fressange broke her contract with Chanel in 1989. Two years later, in 1991, La Fressange opened her own boutique under her name, selling perfumes and more. The shop was a huge success in France, America, and Japan but she sadly lost the company to shareholders 8 years later. After a break from modelling, La Fressange returned at age 51 to model for Jean Paul Gaultier who sent her down the runway in 2009 to break age barriers. In 2011, La Fressange appeared to have mended her relationship with Chanel when she walked for their Spring/Summer show.

 Farida Khelfa, 1985

Farida Khelfa

French/Algerian model Farida Khelfa was born in Lyon to a strict Muslim Algerian family. She ran away from her family aged 15 and moved to Paris where she befriended none other than shoe designer Christian Louboutin who gave her somewhere to stay. At age 16 Khelfa was working in a Parisian nightclub when she was discovered by photographer Jean-Paul Goude. Goude introduced Khelfa to Azzedine Alaïa for whom she became a muse. Khelfa was also a muse to designer Jean-Paul Gaultier. Speaking of her first fitting with Gaultier, Khelfa explains she was “volumptuous and curvy with large breasts”, assuming she wouldn’t fit into the clothing. Thankfully, she did and went on to model for Thierry Mugler after that. After a successful modelling career throughout the eighties and early nineties, Khelfa was Alaïa’s studio director from 1996 – 2003, then a couture director for Jean Paul Gaultier. More recently, Khelfa acts in and directs films. One the world’s first prominent Arab supermodels, Khelfa’s most recent project is a documentary about celebrating women in the Middle-East, titled The Other Side of the Veil. Through her marriage to Henri Seydoux in 2012, Khelfa is the step mother to stylist Camille Seydoux and well-known actress Léa Seydoux. The couple also have their own sons, Ismaël and Omer.

 Kim Alexis, 1990

Kim Alexis

New York-born Kim Alexis began modelling when she needed to earn extra money for college. In 1978, Alexis was accepted onto a pharmacy programme at the University of Rhode Island. To make money to help her through university, she joined a modelling agency then a scout sent her photos to Elite Model Management in New York. Alexis was immediately signed at just 18 years old and just two days after arriving in New York, she was flown to Rome and Paris where she modelled for Harper’s Bazaar. Alexis proceeded to become one of the biggest supermodels of the 80’s, gracing over 500 magazine covers, appearing in Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issues multiple times. Alexis also often worked with famed photographer Richard Avedon, posing for his Versace campaigns in the 80’s. In 1983, Alexis replaced Lauren Hutton as the face of Revlon’s Ultima II line before focusing mostly in acting throughout the nineties, appearing in Body Bags and Holy Man, as well as hosting multiple TV shows. Now a mother and an author, Alexis’ life in recent years has been fairly low-key.

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