Evangelista was born to Italian-Canadian parents and was raised in a working-class, traditional Roman Catholic family in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, where she attended Denis Morris secondary school. She knew she wanted to become a model when she was 12 years old. Evangelista got into the modeling industry when she was discovered by a talent agent at the 1978 Miss Teen Niagara beauty pageant.
Evangelista later moved to New York City and signed with Elite Model Management there. She then moved to Paris, France, to further her career. She also appeared in music videos with George Michael.
Evangelista uttered the quote, “We don’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day” (often misquoted as: “We don’t get out of bed for less than…” or “I don’t get out of bed for less than…”) Spoken in Vogue (1990) to Jonathan van Meter, talking about money and how she and a few other models were calling the shots and changing the game.
In the late 1980s, she cut all her hair off to brandish a little-boy-style haircut and was promptly cancelled from all the important runway shows that season. This was the first of many dramatic hairstyle changes. Within months, she appeared on magazine covers everywhere and many women emulated the hairstyle.
In 2007, she signed a multiple-year exclusive contract with the cosmetics company L’Oreal Paris. It was announced in early 2008 that she would be featured in the Prada Fall 2008 campaign seen in magazines internationally.
She is signed to DNA Model Management in New York City, and Models 1 in London.
Evangelista was married to Elite executive Gerald Marie from 1987 to 1993. She has also dated actor Kyle MacLachlan (1992-1998), French football player Fabien Barthez (1998-2000), Italian oil mogul Ugo Brachetti Peretti (2003-2004), and former Formula One driver Paolo Barilla (2005).
Throughout her career, Evangelista has expressed her desire to have children. On October 11, 2006, she gave birth to a boy, Augustin James. While pregnant, Evangelista appeared on the August 2006 issue of Vogue magazine. She was the first non-actress/singer model to appear on Vogue in over a year.