Gisele Bündchen: Earth Mother

The most famous model in the world and the most famous quarterback in America live in a small building in the center of Boston. A tiny elevator opens into a massive loft. Patricia, Gisele’s shorter, blonde twin sister, greets me with “Don’t look at her.” She’s pointing down at Lua, a bull-terrier mix who just might bite.

I can’t see Gisele Bündchen. In a wide living room, between two slate fireplaces, cradling a six-week-old baby in a deep armchair, is a slight, fine-boned woman. With skinny thighs in taupe jeans, socks that barely cover the ankles, UGG mules, and a cotton sweater, this is not the towering Amazon queen of fashion famous for her glare, mane, and swagger. She seems as ethereal as Audrey Hepburn when she was Rima the bird girl in Green Mansions, as expressive as Julia Roberts in mid-grin, as unearthly as a Na’vi. Her hair is pulled back into a careful pillbox of a bun, and her ears stick out a little. The pinup goddess who was the emblem of Victoria’s Secret is breast-feeding her baby and a little embarrassed about exposing her breast in front of me.

She talks in a low, grainy voice with a soft accent in a rush of words, interrupts her own flow to ask the baby, “O que é que foi?”-”What is it?” To which the baby happily replies in a well-modulated series of gurgles.

The baby is called Benjamin Rein: “I wanted him to be called River because I wanted something always flowing, immortal. My husband said, ‘There’s no way we’re going to call him River.’ But my father’s name is Reinoldo, so it’s a homage to him. And it’s like water.”

Benjamin was born at home, in warm water in a deep bathtub that overlooks the Charles River. “I wanted to experience the transformation,” says Gisele. A midwife friend of hers came in from Brazil as did her mother; her husband was there too. Gisele meditated through the birth. “It was the most amazing experience of my life, feeling him come through my body. And once he was born, I never felt so empowered as looking at him and thinking, Oh, my God, we did it together!”

She was up the next day, cooking and wandering around the vast apartment where her mother is staying in the guest room to help out-”I don’t trust anyone else with Benjamin.” She’s regained her figure, apparently instantly and with no more exercise than some yoga on a mat in the living room. “I think it’s muscle memory,” she says. Gisele has always been in shape: Born one of six girls in the German-speaking hamlet of Horizontina in southern Brazil, she spent her childhood outdoors, “like a little monkey, jumping from tree to tree in bare feet.” An athlete, she was captain of her volleyball team and hasn’t stopped. “I did kung fu up until two weeks before Benjamin was born, and yoga three days a week. I think a lot of people get pregnant and decide they can turn into garbage disposals. I was mindful about what I ate, and I gained only 30 pounds.”

Her idea of family is a big family. “I’m so lucky to have my little munchkin, and I have two because I also have John.” John, a.k.a. Jack, is her stepson, now two and a half, born to Bridget Moynahan after Moynahan’s breakup with Tom Brady. The press went wild last year when Gisele said she loved Jack as her own. He spent the end of the Christmas holiday with them. “We don’t see him all the time, unfortunately, but we’re building a place in Los Angeles to be closer to him.” For the last three years, she’s vanished with Brady each winter for a month into her house in the jungle in Costa Rica.

At 29, the last and richest of the supermodels has given in to her preference for the inner life. Gisele has sold her New York town house. “I’m really a Bostonian now,” she says, with all the sober, studious implications of that move: “I get to work on all my projects and have time to immerse myself in all the things I’m so passionate about.” Within the year she will have launched three beauty products designed to alter the self-image of young women-a line called Sejaa. Seja means “to be” in Portuguese. She added the extra a because, she says, “words have a vibration, and aaah! is an exhalation, what you feel when you let go.”

She’s been an activist for years: In 2003, having spent time with Amazonian Indians who were being sickened by runoff waters poisoned as a result of deforestation, she arranged with the Brazilian firm Grendene to produce a collection of flip-flops under her name. The profits go toward replanting the Amazonian forest. That endeavor still goes on, and so far 25,000 trees have been replanted. With her family she started Projeto água Limpa to clean up the river near Horizontina. An ecologically conscious comic book is also in the making: Gisele and the Green Team. Recently named a U.N. goodwill ambassador for environmental issues, Gisele is working those very problems into the story lines of the comic, whose profits will go to her foundation, the Luz. The foundation sponsors everything from yoga in schools to reforestation. Her Web site is already full of environmental advice, much of it dispensed by a cartoon version of Vida the Yorkie, her lapdog. Bündchen is contained, discreet, probably strategic but supremely elegant in her behavior. Not once in three hours does she mention that she has just given the Red Cross $1.5 million for Haiti.

Gisele has not left the apartment for six weeks. “Too cold,” she says, pointing her chin at the winter rain beyond the window. A fire crackles in one of the fireplaces; the possibly dangerous dog Lua settles at my feet; Vida the Yorkie flops onto the carpet. Patricia brings tea and cashew clusters; she is Gisele’s Brazilian agent and also runs the Web site, and she has come up for a few days to meet the baby. The place feels intimate, safe. Gisele’s mother is napping; Brady, recuperating from a knee operation, is at a charity event for the Boston Centers for Youth & Families, where he’ll alarm the press by announcing, “We’re all way overpaid.” He’ll be home in two hours.

Bündchen kept herself out of the public eye for months. “I felt like my pregnancy was a sacred moment for me. I stayed in Boston and I didn’t work apart from the contracts I have, and then I only let them use my face.”

Today she left the apartment and the baby for the first time to pose for one of her advertising clients, which explains the chignon. “I got to the studio and I felt like I was E.T.-whoa, what’s going on? Hair and makeup? I hadn’t looked at myself in a mirror for a month and a half. I’d been in my house, in a cocoon with my kids, my husband, my dogs. Usually, as I walk through the door into that atmosphere, I already feel different. There’s a button that goes On and I’m On. And when I go On, there is almost no me; there is just a character who is doing all this. This time it wasn’t like that. I’ve been really inside with my husband and my baby, and everything is changed. But the client still deserves respect and professionalism, and I got a little bit concerned because I wasn’t feeling it. Makeup was done, hair was done, and I looked in the mirror and I still wasn’t seeing the person who’s a model.”

“Who was the woman you saw in the mirror?” I ask.

“For the first time, I think I actually saw me-the inside-instead of the persona.”

The persona turned up for the second photo, much to the relief of the photographer David Sims and the Brazilian client.

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