Image: Volkswage CEO and Klum
Reuters
Trading in her heels for tires on the runway, Heidi Klum showed off her famous face at the LA auto show in November to introduce VW's new Eos. CEO of American Operations Jonathan Browning was along for the ride.
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updated 12/27/2010 7:38:27 AM ET 2010-12-27T12:38:27

Add another beautiful creature to the endangered species list: the supermodel.

With Tyra Banks, Gisele Bündchen and Heidi Klum all hanging up their Victoria's Secret wings, and the fashion industry relying mostly on unknown teenage waifs for the runway and celebrities like Drew Barrymore (Cover Girl) and Eva Longoria (L'Oréal) for cosmetics ads, the supermodel has become as rare as the giant panda.

Save your tears for Tyra and crew. While it pays have a pretty face, the real money is in slapping it on fragrances, clothes, shoes, skincare lines, food and television shows.

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Not long ago the retired runway set may have jumped at bit parts on "Love Boat." Now the craftiest are more likely to morph from mannequin to modelpreneur. Even lesser established beauties, such as Victoria's Secret's Marisa Miller or Maybelline's Erin Wasson, are collaborating with companies to move merchandise.

"Models are getting a lot more savvy," says Ryan Schinman, chief executive of Platinum Rye, which represents corporations that partner with celebrities. "They're saying: 'If I'm helping people sell products, I want skin in the game too.'"

The trick to this game is aligning a model's assets with the right product line. "If you've built enough of a persona around yourself, you can do well," says Schinman. "If you say, 'I'm a model, but I'm also a mom,' then you target moms. The DNA of your brand has to match up with the product."

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That's why Miller, an all-American type and spokesmodel for the NFL, has aligned herself with sportswear company Vans. Elle MacPherson, nicknamed "The Body," has a line of body-enhancing undergarments. And Kathy Ireland — former Sports Illustrated swimwear hottie and mother of three — is now the face of a $1.5 billion (sales) empire, Kathy Ireland Worldwide, which bears the motto "Real solutions for busy moms."

To avoid oversaturation, some models are striking deals with partners that reflect their personal passions. Example: Estée Lauder model Elizabeth Hurley, owner of a 400-acre organic farm, markets healthy foodstuffs. Cover Girl face Molly Sims, long a collector of vintage jewelry, decided to start a line of vintage-inspired pieces.

A proliferation of retail sales channels has created even more opportunities. Cutting a deal with Wal-Mart Stores or Kmart, while nice, isn't the only way to reach a sizable, hungry audience. Now there's QVC and HSN, infomercials and the Web.

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"Retail is evolving so much, and if you're the right personality for the right brand, there's still a lot of deals happening," says Nicole Esposito, executive vice president of Full Picture, which represents Klum, Molly Sims and Iman in corporate partnerships.

Klum, for instance, who has worked with Full Picture for 13 years, recently launched a line of sportswear co-branded with New Balance and sold exclusively on Amazon.com. Full Picture has also started Modelinia, an online warehouse of supermodel news, pictures, Tweets, videos and, of course, product information.

"If you look at the most successful models, they are not just beauty," says Esposito. "They are brains too." Now that's a formidable combo.

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© 2012 Forbes.com

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