An aspiring photographer friend took pictures of Porizkova and sent them to the Elite modeling agency in 1980, hoping they would notice her own photography skills. However, instead of taking the photographer on board, Elite head John Casablancas noticed Porizkova's physical beauty and potential, and offered her a ticket to Paris.
She quickly rose to become a top model in Paris during the early 1980s, and her fame spread to the United States when she posed in swimwear for Sports Illustrated. She appeared on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue in 1984 and again in 1985 (her first appearance as a model in the magazine was in 1983). She appeared on the cover of Playboy magazine in August 1987 to preview her new (non-nude) swimsuit calendar. Both of her calendars in 1988 and 1989 by photographer Marco Glaviano sold hundreds of thousands of copies