It’s no secret – most models have a very limited time span within which they can have a successful career. The average model gets discovered sometime in their late teenage years, around 16 to 18, has about half a decade of walking the runway and posing for world famous photographers, and then retires sometime in their mid to late twenties. It’s just the nature of the modelling industry. Of course, there are exceptions – certain models reach a level of notoriety that allows them to work well into their thirties, forties, or even fifties. However, not everyone can be a Gisele, Naomi or Heidi, a one name superstar. The reality is that supermodels seem to get younger and younger.
There are efforts to counteract this trend – for example, in October of 2014, the state of New York passed a law that grouped models under the age of 18 in with child performers. Just like child actors, these models had restrictions about how long they could work, how much time they should be spending on their schooling vs. career, etc.
However, it certainly cannot be ignored that many of the biggest supermodels to ever grace the runway got discovered and achieved huge levels of notoriety before even being allowed to legally drink. Having graced hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of covers between them, the models on this list have all definitely earned the ‘super’ status. Some went on to become icons, others retired after about a decade and live happy lives outside of the fashion industry. Here are 10 of the youngest supermodels over the past several years.
10 Gemma Ward
When Australian model Gemma Ward came onto the scene, the fashion world went absolutely crazy for her – with her giant wide-set eyes, she was the industry’s prized porcelain doll. Having been scouted at the age of 14, she debuted at Australian Fashion Week at only 15 years of age. She went on to be the youngest model to ever appear on the cover of American Vogue at 16, at 17 walked in countless runway shows and became the face of a Calvin Klein perfume, and at 18 was the first model to grace the cover of Teen Vogue. After several quiet years, she made a big of a return in 2014 walking the runway for Prada, she’s keeping her focus on a blossoming acting career.
9 Coco Rocha
Coco Rocha’s story is legendary – she was approached at an Irish dance competition when she was merely 14 years old, and slowly tested the waters in the modelling world. She became a hot commodity, but her true supermodel moment came at a Jean Paul Gaultier runway show when she Irish danced down the catwalk. The legendary moment, remembered by everyone in the fashion industry, cemented her status as a supermodel. Now 26, she’s done everything from creating her own book, Study of Pose: 1,000 Poses By Coco Rocha, to launching her own website.
8 Kate Moss
Everyone knows Kate Moss, and most know her infamous discovery story. Sarah Doukas, founder of Storm Model Management, discovered a teenage Kate Moss at John F. Kennedy airport when she was on a vacation with her family. Moss was only 14 years old at the time, and within two years was on the cover of The Face, a British magazine. She’s not a typical model, as she’s only 5’7, far shorter than the average model. However, Doukas’ instinct proved to serve her well, as Moss rose to supermodel-dom in the 1990s when her petite, waifish figure perfectly fit in the heroin chic look. She’s starred in ads for countless beauty and fashion brands and lately has begun venturing into the world of fashion design.
7 Barbara Palvin
If you’ve seen a Victoria’s secret ad or beauty commercial lately, chances are you’ll recognize rising supermodel Barbara Palvin. Palvin, who is Hungarian in origin, was spotted in Budapest when she was only 13 years old. Her first modelling gig, also at age 13, had her in the pages of Spur Magazine. She went on to model for countless brands like H&M and Victoria’s Secret, become an ambassador for beauty giant L’Oreal, and walk the runway for numerous high fashion labels. Her face is recognized around the world, and she’s still only 21 years of age. With her recent ventures into the world of acting, who knows what will come next for this supermodel.
6 Natalia Vodianova
While many models are discovered when they’re just walking on the streets (or in airports), Natalia Vodianova is a bit of a different story. The beauty, who was born in the Soviet Union and grew up in extreme poverty, decided at the age of 17 to join a modelling agency. It worked out pretty well - any brand you name, from Chanel to Yves Saint Laurent, Vodianova has walked in their show or lent her face to their gorgeous fashion spreads. Doubtful of her categorization as a supermodel? Just take a look at her infamous Calvin Klein deal, a staggering seven figures for an almost unheard of eight year contract. Though she’s now in her 30s, basically retirement age for models, she’s still landing gigs with ease.
5 Chanel Iman
Supermodel Chanel Iman didn’t get picked out of the crowd and carried to superstardom – she rose through hard work and dedication. At the tender age of 13, she was working as a child model with Ford Models. Determined to continue her modelling career, she entered Ford’s Supermodel of the World contest when she was 16 and managed to come in third place. She went on to appear on countless magazine covers and achieve the difficult task of pleasing both the high fashion world as well as the more commercial mark. Versace runway one day, Victoria’s Secret runway the next, there’s not much that this now 24 year old model can’t do.
4 Lindsey Wixson
Being 5’7 at only 12 years of age definitely got Lindsey Wixson noticed, and her distinctive and striking facial features certainly helped as well. After being approached by countless strangers and told she could be a model, Wixson decided to look into it and treat it as a career rather than a dream. She studied issues of Vogue, examined other supermodels, and eventually her parents made the decision to help their daughter by taking her from Kansas to Los Angeles when she was 15. Infamous photographer Steven Meisel saw her in a video on models.com and the rest is history – her first job as a model was the venerable Vogue Italia and she soon began the face of Miu Miu.
3 Lily Cole
With her doll-like face and flaming red hair, Lily Cole is someone you definitely remember after seeing her just once – which is likely part of what led to her success in the modelling world. When she was only 14, a talent scout approached Cole outside of a burger bar in Covent Garden. While initially skeptical, she eventually decided to explore her chances in the modelling world – and the modelling world embraced her, as she snagged the cover of British Vogue at 16. When she entered her 20s, Cole decided to cover all her bases and get a degree from the University of Cambridge. Now 27, she’s tried her hand in acting, continues to model, and always has an impressive degree to fall back on should she decide to take an entirely different career path in her 30s and beyond.
2 Karlie Kloss
While many of the general population may know Karlie Kloss as one of pop superstar Taylor Swift’s best friends, Kloss gained the respect of the fashion industry a long time ago. According to an interview Kloss had with Teen Vogue, she was discovered at a local benefit runway show. At 16, she walked 31 runway shows during New York Fashion Week, and 33 more in Milan and Paris. She skyrocketed to fame, both as an elite high fashion model and as a Victoria’s Secret angel. She’s been in campaigns for so many labels that it would be impossible to name them all. At only 22 years old, Kloss has years and years ahead of her and there’s no doubt that she could probably one-name it at this point. Heidi, Gisele, Kate… and Karlie.
1 Kristina Pimenova
Pimenova is an incredibly controversial figure in the world of modeling, but a list of the youngest supermodels would be incomplete without mentioning the Russian beauty. Pimenova is considered “the most beautiful girl in the world,” according to British newspaper the Daily Mail. She got her start at only 3 years old as a child model, and is becoming internationally recognized at only 9 years old, working with brands such as Roberto Cavalli, Fendi, Armani and more. It probably helps that her mother Glikeriya knows the ins and outs of modelling, being a former model herself. Many have debated whether it’s right for her to be in the modelling world at such a young age, but regardless of whether she continues modelling in her teenage years, she’s definitely one of the youngest supermodels ever.