Gisele Bundchen bid adieu to the catwalk Wednesday night, strutting her stuff at an emotionally charged show in Sao Paulo that she said will be her last runway walk in a 20-year career that has cemented her as a fashion legend.
The 34-year-old Brazilian mother of two, who is married to NFL quarterback Tom Brady, has said she wants to spend more time with her family but has also vowed to continue working in the industry. Brady was on hand for Bundchen’s final appearance, competing with his wife for the cameras’ attention as he took in the spectacle from the first row.
As the world’s highest-paid model, according to a 2014 ranking by Forbes magazine, Bundchen is the face of Chanel, Carolina Herrera, Pantene and other top brands. She also designs her own line of flip flops and lingerie.
A household name the world over, Bundchen rivals soccer legend Pele for the status of Brazil’s most internationally famous citizen, and her meteoric rise from a middle-class family in a small, rural town to superstar is the stuff of modeling legend.
In a post Wednesday on her Instagram account, Bundchen wrote, “Today after 20 years in the industry, it is a privilege to be doing my last fashion show by choice and yet still be working in other facets of the business.”
“I am grateful that at 14, I was given the opportunity to start this journey,” she wrote.
In an interview broadcast on the Globo television network Wednesday, she compared her life to a cup of water filled to the brim.
“If your cup is full, how are you going to put more into it?” she said in Portuguese. “I’m emptying my cup so I can put more things into it.”
Bundchen made her final catwalk appearance during Sao Paulo Fashion Week for Colcci, the Brazilian streetwear label she has represented since 2005. She made three appearances, opening the show in an A-line dress in white lace and knee-high black boots and closing it in a sundress with a full skirt in ivory and salmon stripes.
For the final bow, a bevy of models emerged in jeans and T-shirts printed with Bundchen’s image, and Bundchen herself wove her way through the pack, sporting painted-on jeans and a top depicting her in a yoga pose. Fighting back tears, she flashed her trademark broad smile and a thumbs-up.
In an interview earlier this week with the newspaper Estado de S. Paulo, Bundchen was quoted as saying she wanted her last runway experience to be in her native Brazil, “where it all started.”
She was born and raised along with five sisters, including a fraternal twin, in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, a center of German immigration to Brazil. Bundchen was discovered by a modeling agency at age 14 and she came in second place in a nationwide modeling contest, before moving to New York to work the fashion runways there.
By age 20, she’d become a fashion sensation, her freckled face and flowing dirty blond locks gracing the cover of top fashion magazines worldwide and her unique combination of legginess and curves causing a sensation during her runway appearances. Bundchen’s success with her healthy good looks was heralded as marking the end of the sickly skinny and bedraggled “heroin chic” look that had dominated runways for years.
Her romantic life was regularly splashed across gossip magazines, as she was romantically linked to a series of A-listers, from surfer Kelly Slater to actor Leonardo DiCaprio. In 2009, she married New England Patriots quarterback Brady. The couple has two children.
Last year, she out-earned Brady, netting an estimated $47 million through lucrative contracts, according to Forbes. The next highest-earning models on the Forbes celebrity list, Doutzen Kroes of the Netherlands and fellow Brazilian Adriana Lima, earned $8 million each, according to the magazine.