Czechoslovakian supermodel Paulina Porizkova rose to become a top model in Paris in the early 1980s, and became the first woman from Eastern Europe to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue. She was chosen twice by People magazine as one of the "50 Most Beautiful People in the World," in 1990 and 1992. She made her acting debut in 1983's Portfolio and has since appeared in a number of films.
Cold War Childhood
Supermodel. Born on April 9, 1965, in Prostejov, Czechoslovakia, Paulina Porizkova experienced a traumatic childhood strongly impacted by the international politics of the Cold War. When the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia to quash the 1968 "Prague Spring" reforms of Czechoslovakian leader Alexander Dubcek, Porizkova's parents fled to Sweden, temporarily leaving the 3-year-old Paulina behind in the care of her grandmother. When the new Czechoslovakian authorities refused to let Porizkova leave the country to join her family in Sweden, her parents endured a well-publicized, but ultimately unsuccessful, hunger strike to regain custody of their daughter. After the hunger strike failed, Porizkova's mother returned to Czechoslovakia on a secret rescue-mission, but was caught by Czech police and sent to prison.
By 1974, reuniting the Porizkova family had become a minor cause célèbre throughout Europe. Porizkova finally won her escape later that year, when Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme refused to visit Czechoslovakia until she was granted amnesty. As an adult, Porizkova says the image of crossing the Iron Curtain with her mother is still seared in her memory: "I do remember holding my mom's hand and waving goodbye down a long, straight road, mine fields on both sides of us, and my dad waiting on the Austrian side of the border."
Stumble into Modeling
As a teenager in Sweden, Porizkova stumbled into modeling by accident. In 1980, Porizkova's best friend, an aspiring fashion photographer, took several photographs of Porizkova and sent them to the Elite modeling agency in Paris. Elite head John Casablancas was wowed not by the photography, however, but instead by the strikingly beautiful 5-foot 11-inch brunette in the pictures. As Porizkova remembers it, her friend sent the pictures and "I was in Paris four weeks later." Only two weeks after arriving in Paris at the age of 15, Porizkova landed on her first magazine cover—20 Ans, a popular monthly magazine for young French women. Naïve to the world of modeling, Porizkova had no idea that she was on the fast track to superstardom. She remembers, "I thought everybody did covers when they first started modeling. I didn't think there was anything amazing about it."
Porizkova's modeling career kicked into high gear in 1984 when, at the age of 19, she became the youngest model ever to appear on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Over the next several years, Porizkova went on to grace the cover of virtually every major fashion magazine, including Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Harper's Bazaar, Elle, Vogue, Us, Self, Mademoiselle and Playboy. During the late 1980s, Porizkova also featured in her own swimsuit calendars, photographed by Mario Glaviano. The calendars sold hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide, and pioneered a new trend in the modeling industry.
In 1988, Porizkova signed the largest modeling contract in history at that time—a $6 million deal to become the face of cosmetics company Estée Lauder. The elegant black-and-white photo shoots for Estée Lauder transformed Porizkova's image from sexy teenage swimsuit model to sophisticated European supermodel. American Photo called her "the model of the 1980s," and People magazine named her as one of its "50 Most Beautiful People" in both 1990 and 1992.
Despite being one of the most distinguished supermodels on the planet, Porizkova remained unsatisfied with her career as "eye candy." Asked whether she liked modeling in a 1989 interview, Porizkova responded, "People are shocked when I say I love the money and hate the job, but it isn't very creative to stand in front of a camera all day." Porizkova has also made scathing comments about her colleagues in the modeling business. "A pretty big percentage of models are stupid," she once declared.
Unsatisfied with modeling, Porizkova began taking her career in new directions. She made her acting debut in the 1983 film Portfolio, a mockumentary about the modeling industry. She has since in appeared in such films as Covergirl (1984), Anna (1987) and Her Alibi (1989). More recently, Porizkova has featured in several stints as a TV personality. She competed in the celebrity dancing show Dancing with the Stars in 2007, and served as a judge on the modeling competition America's Next Top Model in 2010.
Porizkova is also remaking her career as a writer. In 1992, she published a children's book called The Adventures of Ralphie the Roach. Then in 2008, Porizkova authored A Model Summer, a novel about a young Swedish girl's introduction to the modeling world; the book is part coming-of-age tale and part exposé of the modeling industry. The highly literary debut novel—Porizkova packs in allusions to Balzac, George Sand and Kafka—received mixed reviews. In addition to novel writing, Porizkova also gained renown as a blogger when she began writing regular columns for the Huffington Post in 2009. She has earned praise for her columns candidly and insightfully discussing her transition from international celebrity to self-described "has-been."
Porizkova married Ric Ocasek, lead singer of The Cars, in 1989. (The two had met while filming a Cars music video in 1984.) They have two sons, Jonathan and Oliver, and Porizkova often describes her marriage as perfect. "It's the old, you know, rock star and model thing—except in our case it actually worked out," she says.
Paulina Porizkova says that she is very thankful for the timing of her modeling career. "It was a perfect time to be a model," she recalls about the 1980s. "The industry has clearly changed for the worse. The sample sizes are now double-zeroes. Nobody but anorexic-looking 'coat hangers' will fit into that. Either you're naturally ridiculously thin or you have to really diet to get a job. And that's not a good thing."
While Porizkova admits that she occasionally misses the fame she enjoyed as one of the biggest supermodels of the 1980s, the bookish beauty believes she may have found her true vocation as a writer. "My [husband] thinks I lost my true calling to be a librarian," she once joked. However, Porizkova says she always intended on becoming a writer: "I did always mean to eventually write. Modeling and acting just got in the way."
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