The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition needs no introduction. Even if you’re not a regular subscriber to the publication, there’s inevitably one moment each year when you find yourself picking up a copy and hoping your girlfriend is in a good mood that day. The list of lovely ladies featured on the cover includes everyone from supermodel legends like Heidi Klum, Tyra Banks and Elle Macpherson, to more recent names like Kate Upton, Irina Shayk, Bar Refaeli and Brooklyn Decker. This year the SI Swimsuit Edition is celebrating is 50th anniversary, so we’re celebrating it as one of our Essential Classics.
Sports Illustrated owes its most legendary issue to a Frenchman named Andre Laguerre, who edited the magazine from 1960 to 1974. Laguerre found himself facing a minor editorial problem: there were no compelling athletic events to cover during the winter months. In 1964, he was hit with a brilliant solution to his problem: he could substitute sports for skin. A young fashion reporter named Jule Campbell was hired for the job and Babette March was selected to be the inaugural cover model.
Compared to today’s covers, the debut swimsuit edition was tame, but it marked an important moment in modelling. Campbell opted not to feature the reigning archetype of female beauty – epitomised by the notoriously tiny model Twiggy – instead choosing to highlight California women who were “bigger and healthier.” She also printed the model’s names with their photos, an almost unheard of move at the time, which turned their names into brands and ushered in a new era of the supermodel.
The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition hit its next milestone in 1978, when Cheryl Tiegs took the coveted cover spot. Tiegs posted in a white fishnet top that exposed her nipples for a throwaway shot – and unexpectedly, the shot ended up being the cover of the magazine. Outrage followed. Angry letters poured in and more than 340 subscriptions were cancelled, but the swimsuit issue reached new level of infamy and it’s never left.
The SI Swimsuit Edition remains both popular and controversial. The Edition still features the world’s biggest models, but it has widened its reach to include athletes, male and female, and famous sporting couples. Since 2007, Sports Illustrated no longer automatically sends the swimsuit edition to its subscribers, instead giving them a one issue credit to extend their subscription by a week if they choose to opt out.
In Popular Culture
This year Sports Illustrated celebrated the golden anniversary of its most notorious issue, and it’s been quite the ride. The Swimsuit Edition has been credited with transforming the worlds of modelling and fashion, and even with popularising the bikini as a legitimate piece of apparel. Any model featured between its pages becomes an instant celebrity. And yes, it’s had its fair share of scandal and criticism from those who feel it objectifies women, but there can be no doubt that Laguerre’s risky gimmick worked. Thanks to his flash of inspiration, Sports Illustrated is one of the most read magazines in the world.
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