Simon Doonan’s Quest to Find the World’s Most Beautiful Woman. Send Him Nominations!

Notes from the fashion apocalypse.
Oct. 3 2013 12:47 PM

Who Is the Most Beautiful Woman in the World?

Not Gwyneth Paltrow.

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Enter Shakira Baksh. In 1967, the gorgeous Guyanese partook in the Miss World contest and the most beautiful woman in the (OK, Western) world was finally a woman of color. She placed third, which was an outrage since it was quite clear to everyone—even Phyllis’ seeing-eye dog—that La Baksh was the MBWITW. Michael Caine agreed. He tracked her down and married her, and they have been together ever since.

Shakira Baksh & Michael Caine
Shakira Baksh with her husband Michael Caine.

Photo by Monitor Picture Library/Getty Images

In the ’70s we were deluged with beautiful blondes like Margaux, Farrah, Cheryl, and Patti but nobody was buying it. Black was beautiful, and so was Latin: Diana Ross, Raquel Welch, Beverly Johnson, Pat Cleveland, Iman, and Bianca Jagger were clearly the most beautiful women at Studio 54, the world, and beyond.

Diana Ross, Bianca Jagger
Diana Ross and Bianca Jagger: two of the most beautiful women in the world, 1970s edition.

Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photos by Getty (2)

When the ’80s rolled around, Studio 54 closed, leaving the field wide open. In swooped lots of TV-star contenders with big shoulder pads, including Linda Gray, Diahann Carroll, Catherine Oxenberg, and Victoria Principal.* My vote for the MBWITW of the ’80s? Nastassja Kinski, star of Tess, and One From the Heart. Remember Avedon’s snake photo? Case closed.

Nastassja Kinski
Most beautiful woman in the world, 1980s: Nastassja Kinski.

Photo by 20th Century-Fox/Getty Images


In the ’90s we suddenly had beautiful women coming out of our asses: Cindy, Linda, Christy, Kate. The most beautiful? Naomi. And she’s still got it. During the recent fashion week the ferociously lovely South Londoner appeared on the Diane Von Furstenberg catwalk—it was a dramatic, unexpected, the-bitch-is-back denouement—and put those pale Ukrainian chippies to shame.

Naomi Campbell
British supermodel Naomi Campbell (above in August 1991) has still got it.

Photo by Terry O'Neill/Getty Images

Which brings us right up to date: Today those glamazon models have been replaced by the aforementioned dour, flat-chested, catwalkers. As a result our focus has shifted back to those plankton-guzzling movie stars. It is impossible for us, with our red-carpet obsession, to think that the most beautiful woman in the world might be anything other than an A-lister. Which means we are back in the 1950s, minus the decadent sizzle.

I think we can all agree that it’s time to look beyond the red carpet.  No disrespect to Gwynnie and her mugwort muffins, but I feel that the real MBWITW is still out there, skipping about in some improbable location, uncrowned and unfeted. I think we owe it to ourselves to locate her and give her a pat on the head and some kind of goody bag.

Let’s work together to find the MBWITW. If you feel you know who she is—your mother/sister/dog-walker/neighbor—then send me a picture. (That’s doonan.beautifulwoman at I will review the entries and pick a winner. The lucky lady will receive a signed copy of my new book The Asylum and a certificate, signed by yours truly, verifying her status as the MBWITW.

Correction, Oct. 4, 2013: This article originally misspelled Catherine Oxenberg's last name. (Return to the corrected sentence.)