Despite its reputation for pushing boundaries, the fashion world is playing it safe lately — at least when it comes to its models.
Blame the recession and media-advertising slump. After a punishing year of penny-pinching consumers and struggling stores, fashion houses and retailers have been loathe to risk spending big bucks hiring untested beauties to showcase their clothes. Even Victoria's Secret, which built its brand by introducing the world to an endless string of gorgeous women in its catalogs and runway shows, has not contracted a new "Angel" to join its lineup in two years. The last model to join its curvy ranks: Holland’s Doutzen Kroes.
"Companies want to know that if they're putting money behind a talent that she is recession-proof," says Ivan Bart, senior vice president and managing director of ING Models, which represents model superstars such as Gisele Bündchen and Heidi Klum. "We find that the experienced models continue to earn well."
A slump in magazine advertising has cut the opportunities for models looking to break into the A-list, too. According to the Magazine Publishers of America, magazine ad pages for apparel and accessories plunged nearly 12 percent between April 2009 and 2010 — after falling more than 20 percent over the same time a year earlier.
When companies do buy ads, they reserve the space for their proven talent. "With the exception of the top 20 girls, there’s less work and less money," says Edward Razek, chief marketing officer for Limited Brands — Victoria's Secret's parent company.
Despite the tough times, the world’s top models still raked in some serious cash during the last year. Both Gisele Bündchen and Heidi Klum retained their top spots in our annual list of the World's Top Earning Models. The models on our list were ranked according to estimated earnings from June 2009 to June 2010.
No. 1 on our list yet again is Bündchen, the 29-year-old Brazilian beauty married to NFL quarterback Tom Brady. She gave birth to the couple's first child in December, lost the baby weight seemingly that very instant and went back to work.
Hard to blame her. As the world’s most sought-out face and body, Bündchen made an estimated $25 million in the past year. Aside from starring in campaigns for True Religion jeans, Dolce & Gabbana, Bündchen has her own skin care line and her own lucrative sandals brand — Ipanema by Gisele.
German sensation Heidi Klum is second with $16 million. She parlayed her modeling career into a star slot on the lucrative television series Project Runway, now in its seventh season. Runway has even inspired a videogame (on Nintendo's Wii) featuring Klum’s voice. But modeling remains Klum's bread and butter. She continues to grace Victoria's Secret runways and starred in campaigns ranging from McDonald's in Germany to Volkswagen.
Kate Moss ranks third, with $9 million. Despite her well-publicized personal and professional ups and downs, Moss, 36, kept busy in the last 12 months. Aside from designing a fashion line for the British retailer Topshop, Moss released a new perfume, announced she's designing handbags for Longchamp and made headlines — starting a trend — by dying her hair with gray streaks. Moss remains the face of Versace, Longchamp and David Yurman, among others. In November she got flack from eating disorder support groups for telling Women's Wear Daily, "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels."
Also on the list: Kroes, Brazilian beauty (and new mom) Adriana Lima, rags to riches Russian model Natalia Vodianova, as well as Alessandra Ambrosio, Daria Werbowy and Miranda Kerr. The only American on the list? Carolyn Murphy, 36. Work with Estée Lauder, Roberto Cavalli and Anne Klein helped her earn $3.5 million, landing her in the 10th slot.
When the economy recovers, the fashion industry will have a fresh supply of new talent waiting for career-changing contracts, including Coco Rocha, Julia Stegner and Constance Jablonski. Former Calvin Klein Jeans model Lara Stone will likely vault onto our list of top earners in the next year. Whispers among fashion insiders suggest the Dutch beauty has landed seven-figure contracts with some of the industry's most prestigious brands.
Still, it’s unlikely that fashion’s next "It Girl" will ever earn as much as Bündchen did during the frothy days of 2008. Says Razek: "Things might snap back, but there’s definitely been some elastic taken out of the rubber band."
© 2012 Forbes.com