Lifestyle Feature
Most Entrepreneurial Supermodels
Kiri Blakeley 12.06.06, 11:45 AM ET

There’s no more highly paid model in the world than Victoria's Secret babe Gisele Bundchen. The lingerie company shells out around $5 million per year to the 26-year-old Brazilian beauty. But Bundchen doesn’t get a cut of every bra the corporation sells.

To pocket that kind of “passive” income, Bundchen turned to Brazilian shoe company Grendene, which markets Ipanema Gisele Bundchen sandals. The company slaps the model’s name and likeness on every box of sandals it sells, and in exchange Bundchen pockets around 7% of the wholesale revenue. Since the sandals sell approximately 20 million pair per year, a conservative estimate on her annual sandal windfall would be $6 million.

By its very nature, modeling is a short-lived career. Today’s model might start her runway and print career at 16. Unless she makes a name for herself, that career could be over in a season. Those who find themselves in demand by name designers and the editors of Vogue may or may not ever snag the brass ring--a multiyear (two to five years) contract with a clothing or cosmetics company.

Slide Show: Modelpreneurs

Only the superstars ( Kate Moss, Tyra Banks, Heidi Klum) can keep their careers going for much after they turn 30. Assuming she hasn't married a hedge fund tycoon or just wants to keep working, what's a supermodel to do?

The smart ones look ahead by banking as much money as they can by branding themselves as actresses or designers or talk show hosts--anything really--for those days when the modeling jobs dry up.

“We’re in the era of the entrepreneur. Whether you’re an actor or a model, it’s best for your earnings potential that you leverage your fame to do other things,” says Ivan Bart, a senior vice president of IMG Models, which reps modelpreneurs Bundchen and Klum.

Then there’s the competition. Being the prettiest face in the room is no longer enough--particularly as a model ages. Cosmetic companies want recognizable, Oscar-winning actresses such as Halle Berry and Susan Sarandon, who have both modeled for Revlon (nyse: REV - news - people ), or an actress/singer like Queen Latifah (Cover Girl) to represent their brand. For a model to bring in the big bucks--and bring them in long enough that she’ll have something to retire on--she needs to brand herself as far and wide as possible.

Acting has always been the backup plan for many models. But most end up with thankless nonspeaking roles such as those of Amber Valletta in What Lies Beneath and Esther Canadas in The Thomas Crowne Affair. Maybe that's for the best. When models get lead roles, bad things can happen. Take Cindy Crawford's 1995 stinker Fair Game. Bit parts, such as Tatjana Patitz's turn in 1993's Rising Sun, or turns on reality shows such as Janice Dickinson's season on VH1's The Surreal Life, often fail to launch acting careers. And unless you become an A-lister, the paycheck is far less than what a supermodel is used to.

One of the most successful model-turned-entrepreneurs is Kathy Ireland, whose face and figure sent millions of men's hearts fluttering during the ten years she appeared in every issue of Sports Illustrated's annual swimsuit edition between 1984 and 1994. After retiring from modeling, Ireland, who was featured in the July 5, 2004, issue of Forbes, revealed assets that couldn't be concealed in a bikini: her business acumen. Although she had been generating income from selling her own calendars and modeling for catalogues, she hit the big time by creating her own fashion line--for which she still models--and licensing her name and image to 16 manufacturers that sell her products at 50,000 locations in 15 countries. In 2005, she generated an estimated $1.4 billion in retail sales, netting at least $10 million of that.

It just goes to show that some models are a lot more than a pretty face.

Click here to see the most entrepreneurial models.

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