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American Beauty: 50 Years of Homegrown Supermodels

July 3, 2014

Cindy Crawford Photo: Getty Images

When the Statue of Liberty struck a permanent pose on Liberty Island, she became the first in a long line of tall, gorgeous women to proudly represent Team USA. 128 years later, American bombshells have created and challenged beauty standards worldwide. This 4th of July, we salute these iconic beauties—and today, we love the ‘90s!

Cindy Crawford

How’s this for homegrown: Cindy Crawford was discovered shucking corn on the farm where she worked as a teenager. (Yes, really. A newspaper photographer snapped her picture, and the rest is fashion history.) At 17, she won Elite Magazine’s “Look of the Year” contest, and took local jobs in Chicago—but not at the expense of her schoolwork. When Crawford graduated from Dekalb High in 1984, she was class valedictorian, with an engineering scholarship to Northwestern. In 1986, she put college on hold to model in New York, where she quickly booked gigs for Maybelline, Clairol, Versace, and George Michael—she starred in his famous music video Freedom ’90. But that was just her jumping off point. Next, she made her own exercise videos, hosted MTV’s iconic fashion show, House of Style became the poster girl for Pepsi, and covered two issues of Playboy, shot by Herb Ritts. Crawford married Richard Gere in 1991 but they split four years later. She has two children with her current husband, hospitality baron Rande Gerber. Her 13-year-old daughter Kaia has already modeled for Diesel. But it turns out Crawford and her kids aren’t just fashion royalty—in 2013, Crawford discovered she was a direct descendant of King Charlemagne.

Niki Taylor

If you grew up in the ‘90s, you probably had Nikki Taylor’s photos posted all over your bedroom. The Florida blonde was a Seventeen favorite, and starred in campaigns for COVERGIRL, Gap, Pantene, and the prom dress empire Zum Zum. By 16, Taylor was on People’s Most Beautiful list, reportedly earning millions a year. In 1996, Taylor scored a major fashion coup when she booked six magazine covers—Allure, ELLE, Marie Claire, Self, Shape, and Vogue—in the same month. She was also a Sports Illustrated regular, and appeared with Ryan Gosling and Justin Timberlake on an episode of the Mickey Mouse Club in 1992. Taylor’s sister, Krissy, a fellow Seventeen cover girl, tragically died of heart complications in 1997. Today, Taylor is still actively involved in charity work, even winning $35k for the Red Cross on The Celebrity Apprentice. She lives with her husband, NASCAR champ Burney Lamar, and their four children in Brentwood, Tennessee.

Christy Turlington

This longtime Calvin Klein muse was part of fashion’s “Holy Trinity”—that would be Christy, Linda, and Naomi—that ruled runways, campaigns, and VIP parties worldwide. But Turlington wasn’t just a style princess. She was also a college student who graduated in 1999 from NYU with a degree in Comparative Religion and Eastern Philosophy. Turlington’s yoga expertise led to her own line of sportswear, Nuala, which she created with Puma. She also appeared on the “Yoga Issue” cover of Time. In 2002, Turlington went to Afghanistan to report on women’s education for The Today Show, and in 2005, she started working with CARE on improving maternal health worldwide. After studying at Columbia’s School of Public Health, Turlington made a documentary called No Woman, No Cry that shows the plight of pregnant women in developing nations. She launched her own organization, Every Mother Counts, to support maternal health organizations worldwide. An avid marathon runner, Turlington has been married to filmmaker Ed Burns since 2003. Together, they have two children. This year, Turlington was named one of Time’s Most Influential People because of her work on behalf of mothers worldwide.

Tyra Banks

Long before she taught the world to smize, Tyra Banks booked a Seventeen magazine shoot in Los Angeles, California—after being rejected by the first four agencies she approached. At 18, she moved to Europe and walked 25 runway shows during her first Paris Fashion Week, including Valentino and Chanel. After scoring campaigns for Ralph Lauren and YSL, Banks was the first African American model to cover Sports Illustrated, which led to a major coup: Joining Gisele as one of the first-ever Victoria’s Secret Angels. When she wasn’t being hailed as VH1’s “Supermodel of the Year,” Banks was acting opposite Will Smith in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. She also appeared on Felicity, and in Michael Jackson’s Black or White video. In 2003, America’s Next Top Model hit TV for the first time. Then Tyra went to Harvard Business School to further cement her empire… and the rest is booty-tooching history.