I don't care what my teachers say
I'm gonna be a supermodel
And everyone is gonna dress like me
Wait and see
When I'm a supermodel

- Jill Sobule, "Supermodel"

A highly-paid, internationally recognized fashion model who has found consistent work in the world of high fashion runway shows and print advertisements. In short, a model with celebrity status.

The Word

Most would probably agree that the term entered the fashion lexicon in the eighties and nineties, but in the book Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women, author Michael Gross maintains that the term was coined by an agent named Clyde Matthew Dessner in a 1948 guide to modeling. Janice Dickinson claims to have both originated the term and been the world's first supermodel, but neither appear to be true.

The Women

Lisa Fonssagrives is said to be the first real supermodel, and with a twenty-year career, beginning in the thirties, that included her appearance in almost every major fashion publication, it's hard to dispute. She was even featured in magazines without fashion as their central focus, such as Vanity Fair and Time. She made the cover of Vogue two hundred times, more than anyone else in the entire history of the magazine. Others that were considered supermodels in the forties and fifties were Carmen, Dorian Leigh, Suzy Parker, Dovima, Jean Patchett and Delores Hawkins.

A 1968 article in Glamour listed fifteen of the most well-known models at the time, including Cheryl Tiegs, Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton and Veruschka, as supermodels. The term most likely came back into favor because of Andy Warhol's use of the term superstars. The seventies produced some very memorable supermodels as well, such as Christie Brinkley, Gia Carangi, Jerry Hall and Janice Dickinson, who erroneously crowned herself the first supermodel. During the eighties, the number of supermodels increased tremendously, with some of the more notable ones being Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, Elle Macpherson, Kathy Ireland and Paulina Porizkova. The so-called "era of the supermodels" began in the nineties and churned out more famous faces than ever before: Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, and Christy Turlington, (referred to as the "trinity" because all three were often featured together on magazine covers and in photo shoots) Helena Christensen, Eva Herzigova, Tyra Banks, Heidi Klum, Shalom Harlow and Kate Moss, to name a few. This "era" is largely thought to be over - these days magazine editors and fashion designers seem to prefer to use actresses and other non-model celebrities on magazine covers and in advertisements. However, many models are still thought of as supermodels today.

The Work

Being in the top echelon of modeling is extremely lucrative: Linda Evangelista once declared, "I don't get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day," and indeed the top models make upwards of that for a mere day's work. A photo shoot that's used several times can earn them hundreds of thousands of dollars. Supermodels often use their celebrity to become actresses or spokesmodels, or participate in other business endeavors. And if all else fails, they can always star in a music video.

Comprehensive Listing*:

*Much like the definition of the word supermodel, this list is highly subjective. If you feel there's someone I should add, please /msg me.

Sources:
List of supermodels. http://www.answers.com/topic/list-of-supermodels.
Mini Mad Mod 60s. http://groups.msn.com/minimadmod60s/sixtieslinks.msnw.
Supermodel. http:/en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supermodel.

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