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Hot Girl: Gisele Bundchen

The bearable burden of being the most beautiful girl in the world

Gisele BundchenGisele Bundchen

Gisele Bundchen on the runway at the Victoria's Secret fashion show benefit for amfAR, Cinema Against Aids 2000 at the Cannes Film Festival, May 18th, 2000/

Frank Micelotta/Getty

THE LORD SAID, “Let there be light.” We say, “Heat.” Let there be heat, and plenty of it. Without heat, all is stale, dull, flat and lifeless. So let there be gadgets and toys and starlets and boys with their shirts off and sex books and TV that doesn’t suck and freaks who’ll do anything for the camera and everything else your mom said you couldn’t have. All in one place. Turn the page. Baby, it’s hot inside.

GISELE BUNDCHEN, who at the age of twenty makes about $7,000 an hour and $5 million a year as the world’s most sought-after fashion model, wants to see fireworks.

She wants reds and whites and oranges to bloom and pulse in front of her eyes, and thunder-crack explosions to pound from her ears all the way down to the curling, clear-coated tips of her toenails. She wants to shiver with excitement. Only this will delight her. “I do love fireworks,” she says breathlessly,” and I have missed them before, and I can’t miss them again – oh, that would be horrible!”

There is a problem, however. The problem is that she is in Brazil, her home country, working a fashion show in Sao Paulo, and the fireworks are tomorrow in Los Angeles, home of her beloved bungalow Number Eighty-five at the Chateau Marmont hotel, as well as of Leonardo DiCaprio, who at the moment is still her beau. Those fireworks are a long way off, and time is running short. But it’s her last day on the job here, and maybe she can catch the last plane out. It leaves in eleven hours. “I’ve got to catch that flight,” she says. “I am not losing those fires.”

So that’s her plan, to get to L.A. in time for fireworks. But, really, like anyone else with a plan, she will just have to wait and see what happens. 

WHAT’S HAPPENING NOW TO GISELE is happening inside the W Cabeleireiros beauty parlor at the Patio Higienopolis shopping mall in Sao Paulo. An arty-looking guy in yellow-tinted shades is fooling with her hair, and a glum-looking woman in a white smock is laboring over her feet, near a bowl of foot water. She is surrounded by a number of other people, including her Brazilian agent, Monica Monteiro, and two of her five sisters: handsome Raquel, who is older, and beautiful Gabby, who is younger. And there sits Gisele, laughing in that throaty Brazilian way of hers, babbling away in Portuguese, holding her fingers up to scissor in on a pre-lit and passed Marlboro.

Sao Paulo is where Gisele got her start in the modeling business. It’s a great big, honking, stinking city, but they love her here. She’s been in town for six days so far, living out of a hotel, modeling bikinis on the catwalk at night and playing the rest of the time. Briefly, she gives an accounting of her last forty-eight hours. Two nights ago, she went dancing until 5:30 in the morning. She struggled out of bed four hours later, exhausted, and drove to the beach. She beached all day long, then returned to her hotel room and “just sat there like a peeg, eating.” At midnight, she fell asleep; after rising this morning around 9:30, she brushed her teeth, ordered breakfast and began packing to make her Los Angeles getaway.

“I think it’s going to be a little bit of a rush,” she says speculatively, “but I do so want to make it.”

Silent for a moment, she takes a drag on her cigarette and allows as how she’d much rather be smoking a Parliament but that the brand is hard to find in her country.

She speaks quickly, melodically, charmingly, volubly, dizzyingly, jumping from thought to thought. Soon she is holding forth on her sleeping habits. “Sometimes when it’s too hot,” she says, “I just sleep in my underwear. If it’s colder, I sleep in pajamas. I don’t like to feel closed in. I like no pillows. I like very fluffy beds. I sleep on my stomach and sometimes on my side, but never on my back. Now, if I have my boyfriend with me, I kick him out of bed, because I move around a lot. I’m the worst person. I steal blankets.”

Suddenly, the arty fellow pops up in front of Gisele proffering a fresh and evidently quite rare pack of Parliaments.

“Oh, my favorites!” cries Gisele, snatching them.

Leaving her chair, she stands in front of a mirror, one hip cocked, giving herself the eye. She has plump pink lips, a fine array of freckles, a wild tangle of chestnut brown hair and mellow, mischievous blue eyes. She also has the longest legs, the trimmest torso and a bosom most sizable. She’s looking at herself like she’s quite a package – and she is. According to the fashion world, her presence alone at a fashion show automatically makes it a success. She has just about got it all, and it’s immediately apparent whenever she hits a runway, all aeronautic gloss and pneumatic thrust. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had a model that can walk,” says Harper’s Bazaar editor in chief Kate Betts. “Plus, she has a great personality, she’s funny and sophisticated, and she has a great body.”

Indeed, it’s that body that really sets her apart – specifically, her breasts. Those breasts of hers have been credited with putting an end to the miserable reign of modestly endowed waifs like Kate Moss. Consequently, they’re also said to have ushered in the Return of the Sexy Model, as Vogue put it on a recent cover deeply illuminated by Gisele. They are, in other words, a sensation (one fashion writer dubbed them “global superstars”), though not a sensation that anyone but Gisele’s intimates will ever get to see in their entirety, because Gisele, it seems, is not that kind of model.

“I don’t wear transparent,” she likes to say. “If the designers ask me to wear see-through, I say no. I simply won’t do it. I don’t feel comfortable about people seeing my nipples.”

AFTER THE TOE, HAIR, FINGERNAIL AND MASSAGE work is complete, Gisele and her companions are ushered into a side room, where a restaurateur from downstairs in the mall has put on quite a spread. There’s a mountainous crispy salad for Gisele, followed by a rack of lamb for Gisele and the tenderest kabobs of beef for Gisele, all of which she consumes with gusto.

She has ten hours until her plane leaves. The plan, she says between mouthfuls, is to stay in Los Angeles for five days, then she’s off to South Africa for four days on safari and three days exploring the beaches, then she returns to New York, where she has an apartment in Manhattan and a boondocks cabin near Woodstock.

In the midst of this air-puffed chitchat, Gisele’s agent Monica coughs discreetly and begins talking to Gisele in Portuguese. Words flap back and forth, and suddenly it seems that Gisele, blue eyes shining, is no longer going to South Africa strictly for fun. It turns out that maybe she has a modeling job in South Africa, and that’s the reason she won’t be able to attend the haute-couture shows in Paris, which will be going on at the same time and will somehow have to survive without her this year.

The feeling seems to be that if Gisele simply skipped those shows for something as frivolous as a vacation, she would be in danger of a thrashing at the hands of the world’s unnecessarily Gisele-deprived designers.

“Oh, they would be so pissed off!” she says. “Like, they’re going to kill me. They’re going to be like, ‘Gisele, you can’t do that to us!’ If they discover I’m taking time off to go to Af-ri-ca!!” – she shouts the word – “they’re going to come after me and kick my ass.”

She shrieks with laughter, puts down a lamb bone and in a quieter voice says, “Anyway, I don’t like Paris so much, and it’s only eight shows. I mean, don’t tell them that, of course. But everyone always thinks they’re so important. And I’m sure they are. But to me, my happiness is more important.” She smacks her lips and returns to her food.

AS IT HAPPENS, SHE HASN’T BEEN ENTIRELY happy of late. For one thing, everywhere she goes, the press is sure to follow and turn it into a big deal. In the U.S., the press didn’t care so much when she was going out with model Scott Barnhill, or when she dropped him for helicopter-owning Brazilian billionaire Joao-Paulo Diniz, who is seventeen years her senior. But it certainly is paying attention to her love life right now.

One recent report: “The other night, [Leonardo DiCaprio] showed some Titanic passion with supermodel Gisele Bundchen at a club. All the guys were hitting on her, and DiCaprio just sat back and watched. Finally, he went for the kill, walking over, and the two of them started necking right in the middle of the room. No one was more amused than Puff Daddy, who, cell phone in hand, was giving a blow-by-blow description of the events to someone….”

Another: “The other day, the couple, who’ve been caught canoodling all over town, were spotted exiting the W Hotel together. Last week they were at Lotus with friends when rocker Lenny Kravitz tried to hit on her, but Bundchen stuck by her man….”

Gisele sighs. “It seems like I go out much more than I do,” she says, “because every time I go out, people talk so much shit about it. When I read it, I’m like, ‘Wwwhat? Did I do what? What did I say? With whom did I what? What the fuck is this!’

“Everywhere I go, nothing happens,” she continues in her distress. “I’m just chilling. But it’s always like, ‘Gisele passed out!” or ‘Lenny Kravitz is after Gisele!’ It can never be just like, ‘Gisele went out with her friends to have fun.’ Remember that newspaper that said I passed out and had to be carried from the place or whatever? See, I went to the bathroom, I was pee-peeing, I was going to wash my hands, and these five crazy girls were like, ‘Autograph! Autograph!’ Then they were just watching me, which I hate. So I told my friend that I’m going to leave and put my head down, and the next morning I wake up and read, ‘Gisele gets carried out of the place by five people!’ What? What the fuck? And they said I passed out on champagne. I don’t even drink champagne. I might have one vodka-and-cranberry with a lemon squeeze. But there’s nothing I hate more than champagne.”

It used to be that after reading something like this, Gisele would cry, but no longer. Now, she gets angry and occasionally, in her wildest dreams, thinks about getting out of the modeling racket. So many people want so much from her. The arty guy who cut her hair and produced the pack of Parliaments – now he wants his picture taken with her. And the restaurateur who put on the lavish spread – now he wants Gisele to come down to his joint so he can take pictures of her there. And he goes so far as to march her down. And she follows behind, with a large smile, for that is the Gisele way.

But inside, almost secretly, she is beginning to despise it all.

FIVE YEARS AGO, SHE WAS NOTHING MORE THAN a happy, healthy, tall, skinny, volleyball-loving, animal-adoring fourteen-year-old living in the south of Brazil, in a small village of 10,000 people called Horizontina that did not even have a shopping mall. Her mom was a bank teller, her dad a business consultant who once wrote a pop-psych self-help book titled Building Yourself! She has five sisters, one of whom, Patricia, is her twin, though not identical, and on a nice, leafy tree-lined street they all lived in a three-bedroom house that Gisele filled with pets – two dogs, a rabbit and fourteen cats. It was, it seems, a perfectly pleasant life in which Gisele and the girls wore uniforms to school, and went to church on Sundays, and never swore, and never got in any real trouble, and learned well the Tony Robbins-like attitudes set forth by their dad. “Always trust yourself,” he would tell them. “Always go after what you want.”

Every night, Gisele would throw open her bedroom window and step outside onto the small balcony. There, as taught by her grandmother, she would fall to her knees and look up at the stars and choose one to be the focus of her prayers.

At the time, Gisele had not yet developed, and among her classmates she was known as Olive, as in Olive Oyle, for how flat-chested she was. This stung Gisele but didn’t really hurt her. She was going to be a professional volleyball player. That was her plan. But because she was tall and tended to slouch, her mom also sent her to a modeling school to learn how to stand up straight. One day in her fourteenth year, Gisele and forty of her classmates took their first big trip out of the village of Horizontina, to the biggest city in all of Brazil, Sao Paulo. They ended up at a McDonald’s, and just as Gisele took her first bite of her first delicious Mickey-D burger, up to the table eased this cat with a bit of patter. He was a model’s agent who’d been tipped off about the gathering of girls. He asked Gisele if she would like to be a model.

“No way!” Gisele said, because she knew what models were. They were prostitutes. That’s what she’d learned at home. And this fellow had to be a pervert. Even so, she took his card, returned to her village, one thing led to another, and pretty soon she found herself entering the annual Elite agency worldwide model-search contest, held in Ibiza. She came in fourth, packed herself up back in Horizontina, and left her mom, her dad and her sisters behind. She arrived back in Sao Paulo after a twenty-four-hour bus ride, decided to save on taxi fare by taking her first subway ride, was pickpocketed, lost all her money, ended up in the streets in tears, fending off perverts. Three years later, she was deemed ready for New York.

Her first night in New York, she threw open her bedroom window and tried to find a star outside on which to pray. She was there for hours, thinking, “There must be one star in this fucking sky, so where is the star?” And when she finally gave up, she thought, “This is bullshit!” And the next day, she went right out and got a star tattoo on the soft skin on the inside of her left wrist.

Two weeks later, she decided she could not live without a dog (“I need it, a little animal, a little something”), so she bought a teacup Yorkshire terrier and named her Vida. She takes the animal everywhere. That animal is always underfoot, yapping and yipping.

And then after a brief struggle – she arrived on the modeling scene at the height of heroin chic and was thought too sexy, too busty – she rose right to the top, right to the point where, say, Tommy Hilfiger reportedly would gladly fork over $15,000 for about thirty seconds of her time on the runway. And where, when she left one talent agency for another, the jilted party, sucking air in the sudden billable-hours vacuum, called her an ungrateful, pushy, greedy, selfish, manipulative bed-hopping gold digger.

“Vida, Vida, Vida, come up here, Vida,” Gisele says now, and Vida leaps into her lap.

“I think I’m going to cancel my flight to Los Angeles and stay here,” she says to the dog. “Oh, but I can’t miss the fireworks! I can’t miss them! And you want to see them, too, don’t you, baby?”

Vida wags her tail and looks pretty pleased to be right where she is. But Gisele doesn’t see it that way. When she looks at Vida, all she can see are worries and concerns.

“Baby, what’s up?” she says to the dog. She says, “What’s the problem?”

OUTSIDE THE SHOPPING MALL, SAO PAULO IS PRETTY much a sewer. Kids in the streets have no shoes, and their parents live in the flapping, tattered remains of lean-tos. Everyone sulks in shadows and corners. Everyone chokes on the hideous fumes of all the crappy cars. It’s an odd thing. Coming into town from the airport, you won’t see a single Mercedes, BMW or Lexus. All you see are dented-up, side-swiped shit cans, spewing fumes, poisoning the city.

On the way to Brazil’s Global Network Studios for an interview on a talk show, in a chauffeur-driven putt-putt, with Vida in her arms, Gisele explains why this is.

“If you have a fancy car, they put the gun on your head,” she says, looking out the window. “You don’t want to show people here that you have money. The difference between the rich and the poor is so great – who has a lot of money and who doesn’t, has none at all. These people are really angry. The rich people are afraid, but they’re the ones who make it that way. They want to get it all.” She sounds disgusted by the rich people, though, of course, she is now one of the rich people herself. “Oh, look!” she says, laughing, and points out a huge billboard. It’s got her face and body on it, wearing some designer’s clothes, looked pretty darn hot, doing what she does that makes her so rich.

Then she arrives at the TV studio. Vida pees on the dressing-room carpet, and elder sister Raquel cleans it up, and they all head for the taping room. The big, fat, humorous host and the studio audience clap madly as Gisele ambles up in slink-slink hip-hugger jeans. Gisele spends a few minutes bantering with the big guy, when suddenly on a giant overhead screen appears a photograph. It’s of Gisele and Leo, strolling on a Malibu beach. Leo is bare-chested, wearing a backward-turned baseball cap. Gisele is in a bikini top. And what the host wants to know is if Leo is really Gisele’s boyfriend.

Quick on her feet, Gisele bats the question aside. She says, “Wow, you know, actually I’ve been looking for a boyfriend — and you could totally be my boyfriend!”

The host and the audience break up and wipe tears of laughter from their eyes.

Afterward, in the no-smoking dressing room, Gisele enters the bathroom, clambers up on top of the toilet seat and lights a Parliament. She blows the smoke into a ventilation screen in the ceiling.

“In Brazil,” she says, “because of the traffic, people have helicopters just to get around. If you look in the sky, you always see, like, twenty helicopters. The people who have helicopters also have airplanes and mansions. And the poor people have no fucking food.” She exhales, and a stream of smoke is sucked up the vent, twisting and churning. “Anyway, the only way I can make it to the airport is if my friend talks to my friend who has a helicopter. Then maybe I get there on time.”

WORLDWIDE, SHE HAS VARIOUS NICKNAMES – the Boobs from Brazil, the Body and the Perfect Ten. In Paris, her fans wear shirts that read FREE THE GISELE TWO.

She eats like crazy, never gains a pound and loves meat. “Ah, mm, I love meat,” she is fond of saying. “I was raised eating meat every day. Meat is the best.”

Her Woodstock cabin has a guesthouse, a pond, a stream trickling under a bridge. Vida loves it there, but she’s not much of a guard dog, and it is “very dark in the woods,” Gisele says, and if she needed the police, it would take them twenty minutes to find her, so her plan is to buy a German shepherd.

“At school,” says Raquel, “she was one of the best students in her class, so a couple of months ago, when our twelve-year-old little sister wasn’t doing so well, Gisele said to her, ‘Rafaela, you have to study more, otherwise you will darken our name. All the Bundchens were good students. You cannot be the only one not to be. We have a reputation to uphold.”‘

According to little sister Gabby, when the Bundchen girls were young, they would go to their grandparents’ farm and play with the chickens. They would pretend the chickens were their kids. “Oh,” Gabby says, “the poor chickens.”

According to Raquel, before becoming a model Gisele never used to swear; their father wouldn’t allow it. And she never ever even thought of smoking a cigarette. In fact, it’s a secret that she smokes.

“Yes, my parents don’t know about it, so you can’t tell them,” Gisele says, “but I can’t stop smoking now.”

“Listen,” she once lectured a group of obnoxious photographers. “I’m human. My hair is mine. And you cannot fucking come in here and think I’m like a machine or an object you can just touch and fucking grab. What are you thinking? Would you like me to go around fucking grabbing you and thinking you’re like world property? Leave me alone!”

In the night, she still prays on her knees. She thanks God for all his blessings. She thanks him for protecting her.

“OH, GOD, LOOK AT THIS TRAFFIC,” Gisele says, back in the thick of it in downtown Sao Paulo. Suddenly, a car pulls up next to hers, and a woman with a camera begins shouting at Gisele. Gisele’s driver floors it, and a chase is on.

“Oh, fuck, fuck, fuck, help me,” Gisele says, clutching Vida.

The car bounds through a parking lot, bounces out the exit and pulls up short in front of a gate that swings open, admitting Gisele to the staging area of the fashion show. Photographers are everywhere here, too, but Gisele, smiling and laughing and carrying a bunch of flowers thrust her way, threads through them, quickly entering the large room where the models get ready. Gisele, the most popular model in the world, is the only model here to have a little area curtained off for her, for privacy. She slips inside and digs the card out of the flowers. Her nose wrinkles. “They’re from a guy,” she says. “So many guys. Let me tell you, they don’t give up. I don’t know what they are thinking, these people.”

She goes out to have a look at the runway. Photographers and journalists swarm her, closing, pressing. “It makes me nervous, all these people,” she says afterward. She goes to have her makeup done, and she sits in a chair, and on either side of her sit other models. The other models look glum. Occasionally, they slide their eyes in Gisele’s direction. You can’t tell what they’re thinking – if they’re jealous of Gisele, or what. Photographers gather around Gisele, snapping. Security shoos them off. Guys show up out of nowhere and hover close to Gisele, smiling at her, showing points of teeth that glitter and clatter like knives and forks.

Gisele finally makes it back to her little curtained area.

“I don’t think I have many years left,” she says, “people always sucking everything out, your energy, your everything.” Sitting on a stool, she lights a Parliament and taps its ashes into a plastic water cup. “I’m sure all the girls here are much happier than I am, because they can fucking walk around free, and I have to stay inside of this room, with black curtains, because otherwise I am attacked.

“The Leo business hasn’t helped any,” she goes on. “Some people are saying we’re a great couple in terms of marketing. That’s stupid. He doesn’t need me. And I don’t need him. Because I got where I am without him, and he got where he is without me.” Vida hops up onto her lap. “I mean, what the fuck. You know what I mean? It just doesn’t fucking matter!

“Oh, I don’t like this stuff!” she says, suddenly seeming very distraught. “I mean, I’m just a model. What’s the fucking big deal? I’m just a person, and like everyone else, I want to have my secrets!”

She strokes her dog. “Vida,” she says, “please help me. Vida, give me my life back.”

“Oh, look at Vida,” she says. “Vida’s like, ‘Mommy, why are you always so crazy? Why are you always so crazy?”‘

Vida jumps to the floor.

“Vida,” Gisele says sharply. “Where are you going?” 

THE SHOW ENDS LATE, AND GISELE misses her flight, even though the plane waits at the gate for her for an extra eight minutes. Then she learns that the first plane of the new day will be leaving in just four hours. So this is what happened to her plan. Nothing so terrible. She will not miss the fireworks. “My life is coming back tomorrow,” she says, taking a deep breath. “As soon as I get to L.A., it’s all good.”

A few days later, however, there’s yet another report in the newspapers: “Leonardo DiCaprio is crushed after his new girlfriend, Gisele Bundchen, ran back into the arms of her former beau, Brazilian supermarket heir Joao-Paulo Diniz. Last month, she was caught sneaking out of his apartment building. A friend of Di-Caprio’s says, ‘Leo’s heartbroken.’ Diniz is worth an estimated $1.5 billion, and, says the friend, ‘Leo’s going to have to cough up some major dough and do something really spectacular if he wants to impress Gisele and win her back.”‘

Will it never end?


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