The first agent to see her test shots booked her for a job in Morocco. "I always thought modeling was something you did if you couldn't do anything else," says Brinkley. "I discovered that it gave you great freedom." What she still wanted to do most was travel and paint, so on every trip she kept an elaborate journal that included detailed drawings of her surroundings.
"Once I was discovered," she says, "I did a couple of jobs, and that would be all the money I needed to go to Greece or Copenhagen, so I would pack up and leave for a week. I think the fact that I was gone so much created a demand for me.
"It took me a long time to accept that I was going to be a model," she continues. "I kept putting time limits on it. I told myself I would model for six months, earn a lot of money, then quit. When my agents wanted me to come to the U.S., my husband and I decided we would go just for three months, make as much money as we could, then come back to Paris."
One of the first people she met on her return was SI's swimsuit editor Jule Campbell, who was in the office of Brinkley's agent in Los Angeles. Brinkley strode in wearing her beret on top of a mop of blonde curls. "In Paris they had decided that curly hair was going to be the rage," says Brinkley. "So in Canc�n [in 1975, the first year she was in SI], I had this mess of a perm and, of course, the chubby cheeks."
Brinkley would eventually appear in six swimsuit issues and become the first model to have three consecutive covers (from 1979 to '81). "The first year with SI I was so chubby, and I dreaded doing bathing suits because they have no pockets," she says. "I didn't know what to do with my hands, so I was constantly squirming. It ended up being kind of funny because Jule was telling people, 'Look how she moves!' and all I was doing was trying to find a place to stick my hands."
One year she was photographed dangling 40 feet in the air from the spinnaker of a sailboat and skin-diving 35 feet underwater. "You don't get to do that if you're wearing high heels," she says. "There was a lot less cheesecake in SI then than there is now. A high percentage of the poses we did were quite athletic. I remember at the end of the day being really tired."
After her second SI cover, Brinkley, who by then was one of the top fashion models in the world, noticed that people began to treat her less like a mannequin and more like a movie star. "Being on the cover of SI puts a name to your face," she says. "Besides that, it introduces you to a whole segment of the population that doesn't pay much attention to women's magazines, so right away the SI cover doubles your recognition."
Brinkley, who is an avid photographer, got to meet some of her newfound fans in 1980, when Don King Productions assigned her to photograph the second Sugar Ray Leonard- Roberto Duran fight. Before the bout Duran invited her to watch him work out in a penitentiary near his camp in New Orleans. While she was shooting Duran, she was being photographed by Elle magazine, which sent her into the cellblock wearing a pair of gold lam� hot pants. This is what's known as taking a fashion risk.
Her interest in boxing started with Muhammad Ali, who got her a ringside ticket for his fight with Larry Holmes in 1980. "I was in tears when the fight ended," she says. "It was such an emotional experience. I was so devastated that Ali lost. When he took that first punch, he was stunned, and he knew from that moment on that he was never going to be as great as he had been."
Brinkley spent several years trying to learn how to photograph boxing, and she frequently found herself attracting as much attention as the fights she was covering. "I could never really be invisible the way a photographer should be," says Brinkley.