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THE LEGENDS PICTURES on the preceding pages were taken in October in a vast Manhattan studio. In them we see women who are the embodiment of the possibilities that come with appearing in the SPORTS ILLUSTRATED Swimsuit Issue, women who have gone on to become successful captains of industry, media moguls, social advocates and Emmy winners. Like elite athletes who need only a single name to be recognized (Magic, Michael, LeBron), these women are similarly identifiable (Kathy, Christie, Tyra), though these days they are more commonly addressed as Ms. Ireland, Ms. Brinkley, Ms. Banks. Boss works, too.
That same day, in that same room, the photo at the top of this page was taken. The two women on the right form the bridge from Swimsuit's modest, six-page beginnings to the 49-model, multimedia colossus that you hold in your hands. One in four American adults will see this issue before the first day of spring; it will reach more 18- to 34-year-olds than the Super Bowl. After walking into the aforementioned studio, Rich Cohen of Vanity Fair, in a 12-page opus that ran this month, wrote, "The legends are true! I whispered. I have found El Dorado!"
On the top, next to Tyra Banks, is MJ Day, who succeeded Diane Smith in the spring of 2012 as the fourth editor in the franchise's half century. The New Jersey native has overseen a period of rocketlike growth (may I point you to the Zero Gravity shoot on page 128?) during which Swimsuit has evolved from an almost exclusively print endeavor into a cross-platform giant. "Now we choose models who will not only create beautiful images, but also be the best possible ambassadors," says Day. "They are a part of so many different platforms—the magazine, SI.com, Twitter, television—and they have to possess the self-confidence to take on all those things."
On the bottom, next to Heidi Klum, is Jule Campbell, who beginning with the second issue in 1965, spent 32 years as editor, laying and solidifying the Swimsuit foundation. Her first location, in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, could only be reached by a bread plane that made deliveries once a week, and for years her models did their own hair and makeup. ("The first thing I'd do, especially with Christie, was give her a dozen lemons and say, 'Go squeeze these in your hair and sit in the sun,' " Campbell says. "Two or three days later she'd be almost platinum.")
By the time she retired, in 1996, Campbell had not just helped usher in the era of the supermodel, but she had played a massive part in defining it, in part by putting models' names on the cover. "Jule and SI humanized models," says Kathy Ireland, now the CEO of a $2 billion lifestyle company. "With other magazines, our job description was to shut up and pose. What Jule and SI did was give us a voice and an opportunity to speak."
That voice, that empowerment, is her legacy—and it is also why we're so excited to be taking our first steps into the next 50 years with the women on the pages that follow. "Everyone who touches Swimsuit has Jule to thank," says Day. "She's the one whose dedication and foresight established this franchise. If we hadn't stuck to the standards she set, Swimsuit would never have grown into the phenomenon that it has become."
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