If stunning and statuesque supermodel Ashley Richardson had tried to break into modeling a decade ago, her measurements would have got her laughed out of New York. (For those keeping score she explains, "I'm 6'1", I wear a 36-D bra and I have 36-inch hips.") After all, a body like hers—with real hips and breasts—was rare in the world of high fashion. But thanks to the recent success of curvy predecessors like Paulina Porizkova, Christie Brinkley and Elle Macpherson, who triggered a boom at the top in the business, Richardson has emerged as one of modeling's fastest-rising stars. Earning as much as $6,000 a day, she expects to haul in $500,000 this year, which puts her among the Top 5.

"Paulina was the first voluptuous one, but I'm more beefy," says Ashley, whose cover credits include Elle, Cosmopolitan, Harper's Bazaar and New York. (She's also featured in Revlon's Unforgettable Women ad campaign.) Says Elle fashion editor Mary Russell: "It's old-fashioned to be anorexic. Ashley has a full figure, which is very womanly, feminine and healthy." Adds Francesco Scavullo, who has photographed all the supermodels: "I adore shooting Ashley. She has a great big fabulous body. No matter what she's wearing, you feel that under the rags there is something."

Other eyewitnesses can attest to that. Once, while filming a fashion video, Ashley playfully swooped up her dress and flashed a portion of her fanny. And legend has it that another time, during an Arizona shoot, she caused a minor accident when she exposed a breast as traffic whizzed by. Then there was her current commercial for Flex shampoo, in which she had to sashay into a nightclub. Squished into a strapless, clinging silk gown, she had trouble keeping the dress on. "I had to keep pulling it up because my boobs are so big," she recalls. "In one shot I just fell out."

All this is relatively new for Ashley. In her hometown of Sudbury, Mass., where her parents run a restaurant, she was known to high school classmates as the "Worm" and "Stick." Her one passion was ballet; she dreamed of becoming a prima ballerina. But after graduating high school at 16, she was rejected by the School of American Ballet in New York City. "They like flat-chested girls that look like men," she says. "I was thin back then, but I had more than the other girls had."

She moved to New York anyway and was accepted in the Juilliard School's dance program. But a first-semester injury to her Achilles tendon doomed her chances. She had no luck breaking into modeling then (the agencies said her "look" wasn't right) and finally took off at 17 for Paris, where she spent two and a half years getting lots of assignments—and attention. "I was a bit wild," she says, admitting to a self-indulgent night life. "I attribute that to being young and immature. I'd dance on tables and do things like that. People thought I was crazier than I was."

Older and wiser at 20, Ashley returned to New York and eventually landed with the Ford agency just as the full-figured look came into favor. When her career took off, she cut down on club-hopping. "I just got disgusted with it one day," she says. "I went to a club with a friend, and it was all smoking, drinking in terrible dark places and people trying to get laid."

Her one intense relationship was with Francis Warrington Gillette III, an investment banker and sometime actor, whom she met two years ago. "I'm not really much of a lady, or at least in the past I wasn't," she says. "When I met Warrington's family, I picked up the lettuce with my fingers and I don't think his stepmother liked it." Ashley eventually broke off the romance but six months later had a change of heart, sent him flowers and asked if they could get back together. He said no, and Ashley handled the rejection her way. When she spotted him with another woman in Nell's, a hot New York club, she emptied a glass of wine over his date.

Since then she's been down on dating, an unlikely victim of the much-publicized man shortage. "The kind of guy that's out there is disgusting," she says. "They're like sleazeballs. I meet a lot of guys, and I know what's out there. There's nobody."

Right now Ashley is moving into a 1,600-square-foot loft in downtown Manhattan. "I want to build a bathroom as big as a bedroom, with a double-size Jacuzzi," she says. That sounds like one size too many for somebody with dating trouble, but she's forever hopeful. She's looking for a man who is "very handsome, with a good body, basically hairless and no body odor. Sweet and trustworthy would be nice, too. I guess I have high standards," she muses. That, or "maybe I'm too strong and overpowering. Maybe I'm not sexually attractive." Somehow that doesn't seem to be the problem.

  • Contributors:
  • David Hutchings.