Brazil is a Top Model Land

Gisele Bundchen

© Shutterstock

March 06, 2016 18:10 EDT

In Brazil’s extreme south, a tiny region is home to the country’s most beautiful and iconic top models.

Brazil receives international praise for its gorgeous women. In fact, it’s often the first thing people associate with the country—maybe only second to football. What the world doesn’t know, however, is that much of this praise is earned by a tiny region in the extreme south.

Located on the border of Argentina, Horizontina is to Brazil what Brazil is to the world in terms of beautiful people. Its 19,000 inhabitants wouldn’t fill the Madison Square Garden for an NBA game, and yet it’s nearly impossible to read a fashion magazine without seeing at least one top model from the region. It is a true “Top Model Land.”

Its most famous native is none other than catwalk legend (and wife of NFL star Tom Brady) Gisele Bündchen. But Bündchen, the highest-paid top model in the world—who made $47 million in 2014 alone, according to Forbes—is only the biggest name in a series of beauty legends coming from Horizontina. While this region represents less than 1% of Brazil’s vast territory, it accounts for 40% of Brazilian international top models.

Such is the case for Alessandra Ambrósio, the world’s eighth highest-paid model. Born in Erechim, a mere three-hour ride from Horizontina, Ambrósio was discovered by an agent at the age of 11. Now, she is one of the major faces of Armani, Ralph Lauren and Victoria’s Secret. In 2015, her earnings totaled $5 million between catwalks and ad campaigns.

Yet Top Model Land’s tradition of launching some of the world’s most gorgeous women didn’t begin with Bündchen or Ambrósio. Also coming from the region is Brazil’s first-ever international top model, Shirley Mallmann. Discovered as a teen while working in a shoe factory in the mid-1990s, Mallmann quickly became a worldwide sensation. She has lent her image to campaigns including Dolce & Gabbana, Valentino, Dior and Prada. In 1999, her silhouette was immortalized in Jean-Paul Gaultier’s Classique perfume bottle.

You might be wondering how such a tiny region can produce so many top models. Something in the water, perhaps? The man who discovered most of Top Model Land’s fashion stars, Dilson Stein, has a theory: “The deep miscegenation we have in Brazil gives us the world’s most beautiful people.”


© plus55

In fact, beginning in the early 1800s, Top Model Land experienced large waves of immigration from European countries, especially Germany, Italy and Poland. Combine that heritage with Brazil’s African and Portuguese population, and the results are Bündchen, Ambrósio and Caroline Trentini, another model discovered by Stein.

The 28-year-old was born in Panamabi, 144 kilometers from Horizontina, and Stein spotted her while she was crossing the street. With her European and Brazilian traits, Trentini was one of Versace’s biggest stars on the launch of last winter’s collection.

Yet these beauties are not the only fashion discoveries credited to Stein. In fact, he claims to have launched the careers of over 5,000 models during his 30 years in the business. His company operates in 23 of Brazil’s 27 states.

But most tellingly, his headquarters are not located in São Paulo, the country’s economic heart, or in Rio, its most emblematic city. Stein remains in his hometown of Horizontina, in the heart of Top Model Land. You can guess why.

*[This article was originally published by plus55, a partner institution of Fair Observer.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: S_Bukley / / plus55

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