Gisele Rides Again

To many of the world, Gisele Bündchen is a bona fide supermodel—so famous she doesn’t need a final name. But to nine-year-old Vivian, Bündchen is best often known as Mommy. And on a recent summer day in Paris, Mommy was as much as something strange. Bündchen brought her along to a fashion shoot for the primary time in years. This time, her youngest child was sufficiently old to soak up the whirlwind of activity that surrounds her mother’s unique skill set. “She saw me with all these different hairdos and makeup—she didn’t understand why,” Bündchen says, laughing in her distinctive, throaty timbre. “She’s like, ‘Mommy, you look a lot prettier without all that! Why are they touching you? Can they stop?’ ” Her response to her perplexed daughter was easy. “Listen, that is fashion!”

Bündchen tells me this story just a few weeks later, Zooming from a sunny terrace within the Bahamas. She’s on holiday along with her family and back in Mommy mode—no makeup or hairdos in sight. Her trademark honey-gold tresses frame her tanned shoulders.

The anecdote was her way of answering me after I asked if her kids (including Benjamin, 12, and stepson Jack, 15) were aware of just how good she is on the job that turned her into a worldwide celebrity. And by that, I meant—do they understand that she ushered in a recent aesthetic era for fashion when she was just a young person? That she signed record-high contracts and outearned all her peers for greater than a decade?

Coat, Burberry. Shorts, Free People, $68. Ring, Bulgari, $7,450.

Inez & Vinoodh

For many of her kids’ lives, Bündchen has purposely downshifted her fashion profession. She spent the 2010s living in Boston along with her husband, the unstoppable quarterback Tom Brady (formerly of the Latest England Patriots), and limited herself to only just a few promoting campaigns and magazine covers a yr. She likens the shift from the full-throttle pace of her twenties to the quiet family routines of her thirties to summiting a mountaintop after which descending right into a valley. Bündchen happily made the switch. “I’m so grateful to have been there in those moments that were really shaping who they’re as people,” she says of her children’s early years.

Now that her kids are older, nevertheless, Bündchen is prepared to begin climbing mountains again. So what’s a supermodel to do after conquering the world and growing a family? Her peers typically turn their global names into product lines after their initial runway years, launching skincare brands or lingerie collections. Bündchen dabbled in that stuff years ago, and it doesn’t interest her right away.

Jacket, Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello, $10,000. Tank, Tom Ford, $80. Jeans, Khaite, $420.

Inez & Vinoodh

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The first ambition for her next chapter is more urgent: the regeneration of our planet’s natural resources, especially in her home country of Brazil. Bündchen isn’t any stranger to environmental motion. Over the past 20 years, she’s donated a whole bunch of hundreds of trees to the Amazon; funded programs to revive water quality near her hometown in southern Brazil; served as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme; and appeared in conservation documentaries for National Geographic and Netflix (serving as an executive producer on the latter). And that’s along with a wider range of philanthropic work, like putting groups of youngsters in Costa Rica through school or funding humanitarian relief services in Brazil through the pandemic.

Bündchen’s latest focus is biomes, specifically Brazil’s varied eco-regions (probably the most famous of which is the Amazon rain forest). To mark her forty second birthday in July, she launched a recent initiative to fund seven organizations working to revive Brazil’s biomes. Next, she desires to bring attention to her country’s ecosystems by producing a travel series. As Bündchen starts to inform me more about how she envisions the series and its potential impact, and the way she wants kids to grasp what’s happening to their planet, she stops herself. “There are such a lot of things I’m working on, I’ll be here the complete day talking about it,” she says.

At that moment, I see her eyeing that mountaintop once more. “I feel very fulfilled in that way, as a mother and as a wife,” she says. “And now it’s going to be my turn. It’s not like I’m going to be within the valley endlessly.”

gisele elle cover shoot

Jacket, $7,800, top, $995, Prada. Rings, Bulgari, from $1,940.

Inez & Vinoodh

Growing up within the small rural town of Horizontina, in southern Brazil, Bündchen was all the time outside. A few of her favorite memories are of riding bikes along with her five sisters and eating fresh vegetables from her grandmother’s garden. However it wasn’t until she reached her midtwenties that she realized the natural world that brought her peace was in peril. Needing a break from her relentless runway-to-photo-shoot schedule, she spent 10 days in 2004 living with an Indigenous tribe within the Xingu River region within the Amazon. Bündchen was shocked to find that despite the fact that the community lived in complete harmony with nature, it was not resistant to the destructive impacts of the surface world. Mercury runoff from a mining operation miles away upstream and pesticides from agriculture runoff were contaminating their food sources.

Bündchen understood the issue was much larger than one river in Brazil. “In every major city, they’re putting toxins in rivers, and we’ve got to take into consideration what we’re doing, how we’re jeopardizing the very ecosystem that gives us life,” she says. “We’re all connected.”

gisele elle cover shoot

Overalls, Isabel Marant, $3,840. Bodysuit, Skims, $65.

Inez & Vinoodh

Her visit to the Amazon got here at a time in Bündchen’s life when she was in search of transformation. Professionally, she was soaring. Seven years earlier, she’d had her breakout moment on Alexander McQueen’s runway at only 17 years old. Topless apart from a slick of white makeup painted across her chest, she looked refreshingly different from other models. To place it bluntly, she had boobs and a butt. While admittedly being very slender, she was also muscular and athletic. She looked strong. Suddenly, she was the face of the moment, marking the tip of the infamous “heroin chic” era of the Nineteen Nineties, when photographers and designers favored extremely thin models.

The yr after that first McQueen show, Bündchen worked with all the highest photographers within the industry and starred in campaigns for major brands—Versace, Ralph Lauren, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, and on and on. In 2000, she became one in all Victoria’s Secret’s famous Angels, which soon became probably the most lucrative contract within the industry. Bündchen wasn’t just exceptionally beautiful; she was dedicated and driven. She analyzed her photos and studied her angles. On set, she was unusually animated, jumping and twisting like a dancer. Her dedication and verve made her a once-in-a-generation fashion star.

By the point she reached her early twenties, Bündchen was working 350 days a yr and on the verge of a crisis. “Looking back, I now see that I’d gone so numb I couldn’t see what was happening,” she wrote in her 2018 memoir, Lessons: My Path to a Meaningful Life, recounting her reliance on coffee, cigarettes, and red wine. “I used to be poisoning my body from the moment I woke within the morning to the moment I crashed at night.” She began having panic attacks.

gisele elle cover shoot

Jacket, bralette top, Dior.

Inez & Vinoodh

Bündchen still relies on the healthy habits she developed during this difficult period. She ditched the cigarettes and overhauled her eating regimen. She discovered yoga and meditation as a option to calm her mind and focus her thoughts. She pushed herself to look at her purpose in life and what truly made her comfortable. She became more discerning about her modeling commitments.

And after her eye-opening visit to the Xingu region, Bündchen saw a chance to assist and acted on it. She had a line of sandals with the Brazilian brand Ipanema on the time and asked the corporate to donate a percentage of the sales toward a nonprofit’s national campaign to guard and restore the river’s headwaters and surrounding forest. The proceeds from the road helped fund a seed bank.

Years later, when she decided to have fun her fortieth birthday by donating 40,000 recent trees to the Amazon, she thought again of the Xingu River region. The nonprofit organization told her the seed bank she helped start had restored 16,000 acres of land. “That just shows you [that] in life, you reap what you sow, literally.” (In the long run, Bündchen’s birthday campaign funded greater than 250,000 trees.)

gisele elle cover shoot

Shirt, $3,550, pants, $3,295, Chloé.

Inez & Vinoodh

Bündchen knows how easy it’s to feel discouraged by the damage we’ve got inflicted on our planet, but refuses to give up to such a mentality. “Many of the media chooses to give attention to things which are negative, so when you are tuning into that frequency, you are feeling hopeless,” she says. “My intention is to bring hope, to bring the chances, to point out the sweetness—to say, ‘Hey, we’re living in heaven, right here.’ ”

I ask Bündchen if she ever misses the runway, where her signature crisscrossing walk made an indelible impression. She decided to stop in 2015, with one final exception. Through the opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, she proudly represented her country on a 400-foot-long stage viewed by nearly 79,000 people within the stadium and thousands and thousands more all over the world. “There’s never going to be a moment or a runway like that,” she says. “Imagine me, every yr [designers] ask, ‘Please, Gisele, do the runway,’ ” she says, adding that she has “zero desire” to return to shows. They don’t give her the enjoyment and satisfaction that she feels working on set with photographers and stylists she’s known for a long time and considers close friends. Those special collaborators include Inez & Vinoodh, who asked her to channel biker-chic strength within the Hamptons backcountry for ELLE’s cover. “It’s very easy for me to go there and create a personality and play that role for the day,” Bündchen says. “It fuels me.… I feel inspired to go and create more beautiful things on the planet in alternative ways, too.” (The 2 say they enjoy working with Gisele as well: “She’s all the time learning, improving, and interested in all possibilities to succeed in our full potential.”)

gisele elle cover shoot

Jacket, Etro, $4,800. Tank, Tom Ford, $80. Shorts, Free People, $68.

Inez & Vinoodh

Today, Bündchen only desires to work with brands which are considering seriously in regards to the environment. She sits on the board of IWC Schaffhausen, the posh Swiss watchmaker that was the primary in its industry to release a sustainability report (Brady is an envoy for the brand). She is comfortable to see that the style industry is finally reckoning with its damaging environmental impact, even when progress may be slow. “Within the late ’90s and early 2000s, after I was having those conversations, [brands] probably thought I used to be insane,” she says. Now she may help by connecting corporations along with her own network of experts. She does similar work in advising roles outside of fashion, heading up environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives on the sports betting and gaming company DraftKings and cryptocurrency exchange FTX Trading Ltd.

For probably the most part, Bündchen now not keeps up with what’s happening in the style industry. (“It’s not even on my radar,” she says after I ask her for her thoughts on Victoria’s Secret’s inclusive rebrand.) She says she didn’t even give Brady any advice on the brand new apparel line he launched earlier this yr. He’s the clotheshorse within the family. “He loves fashion; it’s amazing.”

Her primary priority stays her family, which moved to Tampa when Brady switched teams to town’s Buccaneers in 2020. The query looming over the couple now could be when Brady will wrap up his decorated quarterback profession. Six weeks after announcing his retirement in February, he reversed course and committed to not less than yet one more season with Tampa.

gisele elle cover shoot

Jacket, Chanel, $8,650. Tank, Tom Ford, $80. Shorts, Free People, $68. Rings, Bulgari, from $1,940.

Inez & Vinoodh

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Although she and her husband have joked about his potential retirement for years, Bündchen is commonly depicted by the media as desperate for Brady to call it quits. I tell her the characterization seems sexist to me, and he or she agrees. “I feel that is the system we’ve been living in. That’s what society has accepted and what society hasn’t accepted.” Ultimately, she wants him to be comfortable and he or she knows higher than anyone how much he loves the game. “Obviously, I even have my concerns—this can be a very violent sport, and I even have my children and I would really like him to be more present,” she says. “I even have definitely had those conversations with him over and yet again. But ultimately, I feel that everyone has to make a call that works for [them]. He must follow his joy, too.”

Weeks after our interview, as the brand new NFL season approached, Brady made headlines when he took an unusual 11-day break from training camp in August, citing personal reasons. Various tabloids reported that the couple was taking a while apart, citing Brady’s profession because the flashpoint. Bündchen declined to comment on the speculation once we reached out in September.

What is obvious from our conversation, nevertheless, is that Bündchen is making her own plans for the longer term, content along with her chapter away from the highlight. “I’ve done my part, which is [to] be there for [Tom]. I moved to Boston, and I focused on making a cocoon and a loving environment for my children to grow up in and to be there supporting him and his dreams. Seeing my children succeed and develop into the attractive little humans that they’re, seeing him succeed, and being fulfilled in his profession—it makes me comfortable. At this point in my life, I feel like I’ve done a great job on that.” Looking forward, Bündchen goes to make extra space for her dreams, too. “I even have an enormous list of things that I even have to do, that I would like to do,” she says. “At 42, I feel more connected with my purpose.”

Then I tell her something I feel she’ll get a kick out of: While perusing fashion photography forums, I got here across a comment on a recent shoot of hers exclaiming, “YES SEXY GISELE IS BACK like i like and respect her embracing the entire nature mom identity, but my gosh is that this so refreshing and needed right away.” As Bündchen well knows, “Sexy Gisele” and the “nature mom” are interlocking parts of the identical identity. “I never enjoy being put in a box because I feel we may be anything we wish to be. Now we have so many various sides to us,” she says. “I feel very lucky I get to try this in my job, and I get to wear all these different hats and experience all these different features of myself.” And she or he hopes that when women see her, they know they will contain multitudes, too: “Let’s go, ‘I’m a mommy and I can still be sexy.’ Let’s do that.” ▪

gisele elle cover

Bündchen wears a jacket from Chanel, a tank from Tom Ford, shorts from Free People, an earring from Katherine Wallach, and a necklace from Claudja Bicalho.

Inez & Vinoodh


Lead Image: Jacket, $6,700, bra top, $670, pants, $2,950, Celine by Hedi Slimane. Earring (worn throughout), Katherine Wallach, $650 (for pair). Necklace (worn throughout), Claudja Bicalho, from $295. Boots (worn throughout), The Frye Company, $398. Backpack (throughout), Schott NYC x Duluth Pack, $330.

This text appears within the October 2022 issue of ELLE.

Chantal Fernandez is a fashion author living in Latest York City. 

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