Published annually by Sports Illustrated magazine, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue has become a cultural phenomenon since it was first published in 1964. Not content to contain itself to the world of print magazines, beginning in the 1980s Sports Illustrated began allowing television specials focused on the famous annual issue. 1989 yielded an HBO documentary The Making of the Sports Illustrated 25th Anniversary Swimsuit Issue, 1992 saw Sports Illustrated Behind the Scenes:Official Swimsuit Video, and ever since 1995 Sports Illustrated has produced a yearly television special to accompany each annual issue. It even spawned a reality television show in 2005 entitled the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model Search.
It’s also viewed as somewhat of a career changer for the models who are selected to grace the cover. Looking back at all the beautiful women who can claim a Swimsuit Issue cover to their name (or, in the case of a few on this list, can claim several covers to their name) nearly all of them are household names. Particularly in an age where models are not as well known outside of the fashion world as they perhaps used to be, being a household name as a fashion model is quite an accomplishment. Once these women get the cover, they get a lot of recognition out of it and are catapulted to superstar status.
The formula is fairly foolproof – swimsuit, gorgeous woman, and beautiful exotic locale. How can you go wrong? The issue has been going strong for over fifty years and shows no signs of slowing down. The following list names just fifteen of the many bombshells who have graced the cover of the issue. From 1960s beach babes to modern man magnets, here are fifteen of the hottest Sports Illustrated cover models of all time.
15 Veronica Varekova (2004,2006)
14 Paulina Porizkova (1984, 1985)
Another Czech-born stunner, Porizkova got the cover of the Swimsuit Issue when she was a mere eighteen years old. She became the first woman from Central Europe to snag the cover. The staff at Sports Illustrated seemed to subscribe to the camp of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”: after the success of her 1984 cover, where she was clad in a bright pink one piece, she appeared again one year later, this time in a tiny blue bikini. Porizkova was a magazine cover staple in the 1980s and 1990s, and appeared on titles including Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, and Self. However, though she rocks a swimsuit, her stunning face is an integral factor behind her modeling fame as she won a six million dollar contract with Estee Lauder in 1988 (the highest paying contract ever, at that time).
13 Cheryl Tiegs (1970, 1975, 1983)
12 Irina Shayk (2011)
11 Beyonce (2007)
You would be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t know who Beyonce was, but a non-model landing the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is still a big deal. In fact, she was the first non-model and non-athlete to get a spot on the cover. They selected her in 2007 after the success of her movie Dreamgirls. Any subscriber likely fell crazy in love with the sight of the bronzed beauty in a cheery yellow swimsuit. Not counting her many accomplishments with girl group Destiny’s Child, as a solo artist Beyonce has had five hit records and shows no sign of stopping. The cover of the Swimsuit Issue is merely another stop on Queen B’s success train.
10 Marisa Miller (2008)
9 Christie Brinkley (1979, 1980, 1981)
8 Tyra Banks (1996, 1997)
7 Sunny Bippus (1966)
6 Brooklyn Decker (2010)
5 Bar Refaeli (2009)
4 Rebecca Romijn (1999, 2006)
3 Heidi Klum (1998)
2 Kate Upton (2012, 2013)
1 Elle Macpherson (1986, 1987, 1988, 1994, 2006)
There’s really only one thing to say – all hail the queen. Elle Macpherson broke all Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue records by gracing the cover an astounding five times over the span of twenty years. She had three solo covers, one “Dream Team” cover with two other models, and was of course one of the All-Star cover models on the 2006 issue. Looking at her various covers, it’s really no surprise that her nickname is “The Body.” Is she ready to abdicate her throne? Absolutely not. She caused quite the buzz a few weeks ago when she uploaded a shot of herself in a bikini to her social media account, proving that at age fifty she has the body that many twenty year olds dream of. Miss Macpherson, we are not worthy.
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