At 18, Klum wins a national modeling contest after she and a friend send Polariods of themselves to a German magazine ad. Sporting a bikini and teased hair in her picture, Klum wins the top prize: a three-year modeling contract, $300,000 and the title of Ms. Model 1992. She signs with International Metropolitan Agency and kicks off her modeling career in Hamburg, Paris and Milan. The following year, Klum moves to the U.S to pursue modeling, living and working in Manhattan.
After dating celebrity hairstylist Ric Pipino and accepting his proposal atop the Empire State Building, Klum weds him in front of 100 guests on a 50-acre estate in Stone Ridge, N.Y. At the nuptials, the couple engages in German traditions: Pipino climbs a ladder to retrieve a doll from a wooden stork placed in the window of their bridal suite (to guarantee children) and, together, Klum and her groom saw a log in half using a two-handled blade (to symbolize working together).
Klum snags the coveted cover spot on Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue, becoming the first German to do so. The voluptuous, 5' 9 1/2" Klum is known for her killer body, but tells PEOPLE, "My smile is my favorite thing."