Kate UptonKate Upton has blithely conquered lad mags, YouTube, Twitter, and even high fashion, which sniffed a bit at her Dougie-dancing, bikini-rocking emergence as the 21st-century Betty Grable. Now that Upton has wrapped her latest film role, in The Other Woman, alongside Cameron Diaz and Leslie Mann, Annie Leibovitz turns her into a V.F. classic, while Jim Windolf hears about her life in orbit.
Kate Upton is the people's supermodel. The 21-year-old bombshell has more than a million Twitter followers to go with her YouTube fame as the most enthusiastic dancer of the Dougie this side of Michelle Obama. And over the last year or so, in an unusual move, she has risen from her position as the bros' favorite swimsuit queen and has broken down the gates guarding the cloistered world of high fashion.
She got her start in 2008, at the age of 15, when she signed with Elite Model Management fresh off a Miami casting call. When her contract ran out, in 2010, she went to meetings with various other agencies. "I'm not going to name names, but one agency told me, 'You're too American, and everybody knows American women are lazy,' " Upton says. "I was so offended! I've never been so offended! I was like, 'You know that you're in America, right?' And it wasn't 'American models'-it was 'American women are lazy,' period! I feel like a lot of women would disagree with that. A lot!"
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She walked out of there and into the Park Avenue offices of the powerful International Management Group, home to Gisele Bündchen, Kate Moss, and Karlie Kloss. "I walked in and they said, 'You're so American, which is great! You're exactly what we're looking for!,' " Upton says. "A totally different response, and I was like, 'That's who I'm signing with.' "
Under the guidance of her new team, she made the 2011 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, with a "bikini" painted onto her curvy, five-foot-ten frame. Other men's publications immediately took a liking to her, to put it mildly, with Esquire dubbing her "The Woman of Summer," and GQ naming her "Body of the Year." (Her eyes are up here, guys.) Her fame increased when she was captured, on video, doing the Dougie at a Los Angeles Clippers game, which caused the Internet to fall in love.
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Hollywood called. Upton had a cameo in Brett Ratner's Tower Heist and played a sultry nun with a heart of gold in the Farrelly brothers' The Three Stooges. Her loveliness was especially evident in the latter film, given that one of her fellow nuns was played by Larry David. Sports Illustrated had the good sense to make her the cover girl of its 2012 and 2013 swimsuit specials, and she did the television rounds, bantering with Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, David Letterman, Ellen DeGeneres, and Daniel Tosh. Her Web presence increased when another Upton-related video went viral. This one was made by a Los Angeles high-school senior named Jake Davidson, who invited her to his prom. "I'm Jewish, five-nine on a really good day, and I can't dance," he said.
She became the face of Guess and the feet of Sam Edelman, but the rulers of the catwalks approached somewhat cautiously. Was she too much woman for an industry long infatuated with stilt-like legs, bony torsos, and sunken cheeks? When New York Times fashion writer Guy Trebay weighed in on the Upton phenomenon last year, he could not resist saying that she resembled "a pinup, but with the legs of a W.N.B.A. point guard." Me-ow! In the same article, Sophia Neophitou, who has a role in casting Victoria's Secret runway shows, was quoted saying that she "would never use" Upton, despite the fact that the model had already posed for the brand's catalogue. Neophitou, the editor of London's influential 10 Magazine, was also quoted in the story likening Upton to "a footballer's wife, with the too-blond hair and that kind of face that anyone with enough money can go out and buy"-remarks that went well beyond the usual fashion-industry cattiness and into the realm of Friars Club roast, hinting at the Establishment's discomfort with a woman who is something like an all-American version of Sophia Loren.Read the full story exclusively at VanityFair.com
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