By now, you’re probably used to seeing all your favorite supermodels on the runways and in the season’s hottest campaigns, but you probably don’t know how they each first got their start. From the most iconic supermodels of the ’90s to today’s runway stars, we’re taking a look back at the model discovery stories that launched some of fashion’s greatest careers.
This article originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR US.
Before Crawford graced the runway and the covers of all major fashion magazines, she was a girl living in the small town of DeKalb, Illinois. She recountedhow a poolside photo that a local photographer took of her piqued her interest in modeling. From there, she traveled to Chicago and signed with the modeling agency Elite.
Forbes‘s longtime highest-paid model in the world was discovered while shopping in São Paolo, Brazil, The Independent reported. After walking her first runway at the age of 14, Bündchen went on to become the breakout supermodel of the late ’90s and early 2000s, after making her big break at Alexander McQueen’s spring 1998 show.
She has since dabbled in acting, appearing in movies like The Devil Wears Prada and Taxi, and most recently wrote a memoir, Lessons: My Path to a Meaningful Life.
The iconic supermodel was only 15 when she was spotted by Pennington Models scout Beth Boldt.
“A woman came up to me and asked if I’d ever thought of modelling. It was Beth Boldt, head of the Synchro agency. My immediate reaction was surprise and excitement,” Campbell told The Guardian. “My mum wanted me to stay on at school and finish my exams. But I wanted things my way, so a few weeks later I went to see Beth on my own. On my first visit, she parted my hair in the middle, did my makeup and took me up on the roof in my school uniform to take a few black-and-white pictures. Eventually, Mum decided I could model, so long as it didn’t interfere with my school work or exams.”
In January 1990, Campbell was declared “the reigning megamodel of them all” by Interview. Most famously, she was also part of The Big Five supermodels of the ’90s—going on to become a runway icon and the face of endless major fashion campaigns.
Renowned model scout Sarah Doukas found a 14-year-old Moss squabbling with her father at JFK Airport in New York. Doukas got on their flight to England and approached them in-flight as soon as the seat belt sign turned off, Business Insiderreported.
In the ’90s, Moss’s collaborations with Calvin Klein brought her to fashion icon status after debuting the “heroin chic” look. Moss spent the decade dominating runways, campaigns, and editorials as one of the supermodels to watch.
Passing the torch along, Moss founded the Kate Moss Agency in 2016 for young models and creatives.
While horseback riding in Florida at the age of 14, Turlington was spotted by a photographer. Just one year later, she was making her way to Paris, she revealed in an interview with Harper’s BAZAAR.
While dominating the ’90s fashion world as one of The Big Five supermodels, she appeared in major campaigns for Calvin Klein, Chanel, Versace, and more while also walking every major runway show. In 2014, she was named one of TIME‘s 100 Most Influential for the philanthropic work she has accomplished since.
“I took a modeling course in my hometown, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada. It was sort of a scam. In order to work as a model, you had to pay for the classes. My mom paid for me. They sent me there at 16, and I was chosen by a Japanese agency to go over to Japan for the summer to work,” Evangelista told Interview in 2013.
“My parents were strict Italians who didn’t let me go out past 10 o’clock, and I had to choose between going out Friday or Saturday night and was not allowed to have a boyfriend. But they said okay. I got there and it was a catastrophe. They wanted me to take my clothes off and shoot me naked. It was a nightmare and I panicked and basically the Canadian Embassy helped me out. I was there about two days and went home, saying, ‘I don’t want anything to do with this ever again.’ But how I got my start was that my modeling agency insisted I enter the Miss Teen Niagara Pageant.”
Gigi inherited her modeling chops from her mom, Yolanda Hadid, and started her career when she was only two years old. She was first discovered by Guess cofounder Paul Marciano as a toddler and appeared in a Baby Guess campaign. As a teenager, she relaunched her modeling career and signed with IMG in 2013.
After landing her first major fashion editorial in the December 2014 issue of Harper’s BAZAAR, Gigi’s modeling career skyrocketed both on and off the runway. She has since walked just about every major fashion show, starred in a multitude of campaigns, and collaborated with Tommy Hilfiger for three seasons on the Tommy x Gigi brand.
Harlow was first discovered by Tyra Banks on Instagram, who cast her as a contestant on America’s Next Top Model. Harlow placed sixth overall in the competition, after winning a second chance following her original elimination.
Since then, Harlow has walked runways for the likes of Marc Jacobs, Tommy Hilfiger, and was just cast as Victoria’s Secret’s newest model. She has also been a spokesperson for vitiligo and gave a TED talk in 2014 called, “My Story Is Painted on My Body.“
Delevingne’s close connections, including older socialite sister Poppy, helped launch her into the modeling world at a young age.
“I’ve been best-friends with Genevieve Garner, daughter of Sarah Doukas [CEO of Storm Model Management] since I was five. Sarah saw me when she came to our school and Gen introduced us. I had never thought about modeling before, and it just happened,” she told The Telegraph in 2011. Delevigne was signed to Storm Model Management in 2009 and landed her first campaign for Burberry at 18 years old.
Delevingne quickly went on to dominate the runways and won Model of the Year at the 2012 British Fashion Awards.
Christie Brinkley has her dog to thank for her modeling career. In an interview with WWD, Brinkley revealed that, while calling a veterinarian for her sick dog in Paris, she met a photographer at the telephoning office who saw her potential. He asked to shoot her for a project, and Brinkley has since graced photoshoot sets worldwide. Merci, pooch!
Ambrosio started taking modeling classes in Brazil at the age of 12. She continued with the contests, and by the time she had turned 14, she was chosen as a finalist for the countrywide Elite Model Look competition. The rest, as they say, is history.
Along with appearing in major fashion campaigns for brands like Balmain and Dolce & Gabbana, the model has been most known for her work with Victoria’s Secret. As one of the most recognized VS Angels, Ambrosio walked an astounding 17 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Shows, making last year her final walk for the annual show.
Long before walking the biggest shows at fashion week, Kloss walked a charity fashion show in her Missouri hometown. Then, at the age of 15, she made her New York Fashion Week debut on Calvin Klein’s runway.
“I was discovered at 13 in a mall in St. Louis. I had never been on an airplane, actually.” she told CBS in 2015.
Since, Kloss has walked every major runway in New York, London, Milan, and Paris—along with starring in campaigns for brands like Oscar de la Renta, Versace, and Diane von Furstenberg. In 2015, she partnered with Flatiron School and Code.org to create a scholarship program, Kode with Klossy,which supports young girls who are interested in computer science to become leaders in tech.
Instead of getting scouted by surprise, Smalls actively pursued modeling in Puerto Rico, where she was born and raised. Though she lost the competitions she entered as a young girl, she earned a much bigger prize later on. After moving to New York, Smalls signed to IMG Models in 2009 and focused on runway work. She got her big break walking at Givenchy Haute Couture in 2010, courtesy of Riccardo Tisci.
In 2010, Smalls began modeling for Victoria’s Secret and has walked in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show since. But aside from the VS runway, she’s also walked just about every major fashion show including Gucci, Chanel, Prada, Tom Ford, Versace, Balenciaga, Saint Laurent, and Louis Vuitton.
The model was first discovered by British agency Profile Model Management when she was just 15 years old and signed to its New Faces division.
Whiteley made her runway debut at Vivienne Tam’s New York Fashion Week show in 2004. She has appeared on dozens of magazine covers; graced campaigns for Givenchy, Dolce & Gabbana, Burberry, and Balmain; and became a Victoria’s Secret Angel in 2010.
EmRata’s dream of acting and modeling came true when she signed with Ford Models at age 14. Between small modeling jobs, she dipped her toes into the acting world and once appeared on Nickelodeon show iCarly, according to The New York Times. She dropped out of college after one year to pursue her modeling career and got her big break in 2011 when she appeared naked in Robin Thicke’s music video for “Blurred Lines.”
Today, Ratajkowski has appeared in hundreds of magazines and even landed key roles in movies such as Gone Girl, Entourage, and I Feel Pretty.
Cool girl Woods was actually discovered by another model, Ash Stymest.
“I was literally at a bus stop in L.A. and Ash Stymest runs up to me and he’s like ‘Oye!’ and I’m like, ‘What the f**k? Who is this?'” she told CR Fashion Book in 2016. “So we got close and he ended up being one of my best friends for a minute. And then Dave [Mushegain] started taking pictures of me. And then I came to New York and The Lions signed me. I’ve been working with them for a couple months and then they finally signed me a week ago or something like that.”
Woods has appeared in campaigns for Moschino and Calvin Klein and was named one of the faces of Fenty Beauty by Rihanna in 2017. In fact, the model is a regular muse to Rihanna herself and most recently walked her Savage x Fenty runway show at New York Fashion Week while nine months pregnant.
According to an interview with The Guardian, Dunn was spotted “mucking about”—not shopping, she corrects—in a Primark store when she was 15. She was approached by an agent from Storm Management, the same agency responsible for discovering Kate Moss. By 16, she was already walking in shows for Ralph Lauren and Marc Jacobs.
Dunn has appeared as the face of Maybelline and in 2013, she was named Model of the Year at Harper’s BAZAAR UK’s Women of the Year Awards.
Aldridge was at her school carnival when she was discovered at the age of 16, according to Tatler. Her first job was a campaign for Abercrombie & Fitch.
Since then, Aldridge has appeared in campaigns for Rag & Bone, Bobbi Brown, Coach, and been named a Victoria’s Secret Angel, walking in the brand’s runway show each year.
The sweet-faced model got her claim to fame when she won a modeling contest for Dolly magazine at the age of 13 years old. Afterward, she moved to Brisbane to finish school and started modeling for Billabong. In 2004, she signed with NEXT Model Management and eventually signed a contract with Maybelline, later becoming the first Australian Victoria’s Secret Angel.
The South African bombshell was unexpectedly discovered while shopping at a flea market. By the time she was 16, she was already modeling in Paris, according to Business Insider.
Along with being named a Victoria’s Secret Angel in 2010, Swanepoel has walked the runway for several major designers including Fendi, Dolce & Gabbana, Michael Kors, and Chanel. In 2018, she launched her own swimwear line, Tropic of C.
Iman said she had wanted to be a model her whole life. After turning 13, she and her aunt visited various modeling agencies around her home city of L.A. In a matter of weeks, she found herself signing with Ford.
In 2010, Iman became a Victoria’s Secret Angel and starred in several of the company’s campaigns. She’s also appeared in campaigns for Dolce & Gabbana, DKNY, Bottega Veneta, Ralph Lauren, and many more.
Teigen’s popularity reached viral status after she posed for Sports Illustrated, but Teigen was first scouted at a surf shop she worked at in Huntington Beach, California. Even then, she was not convinced. “For someone as insecure as I was, it didn’t seem possible,” she once told Vegas magazine.
In 2010, she was Sports Illustrated swimsuit Rookie of the Year and later appeared on the 50th anniversary cover. Now signed to IMG Models, she’s also a New York Times best-selling cookbook authorand the host of Lip Sync Battle.
When Kroes was an 18-year-old living in Holland, she sent photos of herself to an agency to earn some extra cash and was signed immediately.
“I felt super-young coming from the north of Holland, and I went to Amsterdam only once before I went to New York. It was a really big adventure to go there,” she told The Telegraph.
In 2008, Kroes become a Victoria’s Secret Angel and has been a regular on the runway since. She’s also landed campaigns for brands like Valentino, Balmain, Mugler, and Stuart Weitzman.
“I wasn’t discovered as such, my mum called Premier Models after seeing The Model Agency on Channel 4 and Carole White, Premier’s founder signed me up straight away!” she told i-D in 2014.
That same year, she became the first black model in 19 years to score a Prada campaign—the last one being Naomi Campbell.
Firth has walked in shows for Jean Paul Gaultier, Bottega Veneta, Marc Jacobs, and made her Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show debut in 2013.
“I was in Cape Town on vacation with my grandmother and grandfather. We went to the grocery store after church and this guy came up to me and asked if I was a model and wrote his number on a piece of paper and my grandfather was like this is so shady,” Prinsloo told Fashionista in 2009. “So we went home and told my parents about it and never did anything. And then the next time I was in Cape Town, Noelle [Doukas, daughter of Sarah Doukas, founder of Storm] came up to me and asked me to come into the agency. So I finally went in and signed with Sarah right there. I spent the summer in Cape Town and it went really well so they shipped me off to London.”
Prinsloo first debuted as a Prada/Miu Miu Exclusive. She became a Victoria’s Secret Angel in 2009 and later designed the Behati Loves Pink swimsuit capsule collection for the brand. She has appeared in campaigns for H&M, Nina Ricci, DKNY, and Nine West.
“I was discovered at an Irish dance competition when I was 14. I was sitting with my friends and this older man came up to me and said, ‘Have you ever thought of modeling?’ I actually thought he was one of the security guards or someone who worked at this dance competition, and he was going to tell me to remove my feet from the fancy tables. All of us thought it was some kind of joke — or that this man needed glasses,” Rocha told BuzzFeed in 2013.
Since then, Rocha has faced a number of campaigns including Versace, Chanel, Dior, and Dolce & Gabbana.
Heatherton started modeling after an unexpected run-in at the beach. An Abercrombie & Fitch scout approached her—not really “approached” as much as “ambushed”—from his cab and asked who represented her.
“Modeling is not a normal career path in Skokie. I was embarrassed that he hadn’t asked my friend to model, too, but my friend’s mom was there and got his information. Later that year, I was in New York meeting with agencies, and that’s when I began with Marilyn,” she told Michigan Avenue Magazine in 2011.
Heatherton has since walked for Stella McCartney, Chanel, Tommy Hilfiger, Michael Kors, Christian Lacroix, and more. She began walking in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in 2008 and has become a featured face of the brand.
In an essay published in Vogue, Iman recounts sitting for her first-ever shoot in Kenya with photographer Peter Beard. Beard later took these photos back with him to New York, and his reputation as a fashion photographer gave Iman the credence and exposure necessary to be catapulted into supermodel stardom.
Although Banks is one of the most well-known supermodels in fashion today, it didn’t start out as breezy as she can make it seem on the runway. She initially received rejections from different fashion agencies, some even saying that they “already have a black girl.” Eventually, she signed on to Elite Model Management while she was still in high school. And the rest is history.
Although Bella originally moved to New York City to study photography at Parsons School of Design, she ended up dropping out after one term when her modeling career began to skyrocket. She was signed on to IMG and made her New York Fashion Week debut in 2014.
While strolling around an outdoor market in London in 1995, a Models 1 scout spotted Wek. After appearing in a Tina Turner music video later that year, she was signed on to Ford Models.
For the Chinese supermodel, her runway life began when she entered a modeling competition in China at 17 years old. Although she had no prior training, she ended up winning the contest.
In 2006, Palvin was walking on the streets of Budapest with her mother when someone from Icon Model Management saw her and asked to take test shots of her. Since, she’s strutted down the catwalk and graced magazine covers. It doesn’t get more serendipitous than that.
At the encouragement of her mother, Wen entered a modeling contest when she was only 17 years old. Although she lost the contest, she continued to model and quickly rose up the ranks.
In her early teen years, Karl Lagerfeld awardedSimmons with a modeling contract for the luxury fashion house Chanel. Her modeling career quickly gained speed after that.
Ribeiro’s modeling career began with rejections from local fashion shows “because she wasn’t curvy enough,” reported the Daily Mail. However, she was catapulted to the world stage after participating in a national competition. She gained immediate recognition and eventually moved to New York to further her career.
The supermodel has been pursuing a modeling career since she was barely a teenager. At 13, Lima entered a modeling competition in Brazil. By the time she was 15, she had placed second in the Ford Models Supermodel of the World Contest. Eventually, Lima signed on with Elite.
Although the London native was originally scouted for modeling when she still in high school, Gill officially broke through the industry when she landed a Burberry campaign at just 19 years old. It helped her popularity that this campaign was her first job ever, according to ELLE, and that she became the first Indian model to pose for the fashion house’s ads.