Yvette Sylvander held the small shell in the flat of her hand so that it caught the afternoon sunlight, and she peered inside the empty chamber. "I have eight more exactly like this one," she said, running her finger along the hard spiral that framed the shell. It pleased her that the sea could duplicate its treasures in this way.
"Isn't it beautiful?" she said, and handed the speckled shell to her sister, Yvonne. Yvonne, who's Yvette's identical twin, looked at her sister, and it was obvious that not only were these two bodies from but a single zygote, but they also were two minds with but a single thought. Yvonne held the shell to her lips and whispered, "Are there any more at home like you?"
Yvette and Yvonne were on the cover of SI's 1976 swimsuit issue. Standing in the turquoise surf off Mexico's Baja California peninsula, they formed the perfect bookends for two generations—Yvette on the left in a one-piece bathing suit, Yvonne on the right in a bikini. The daughters of a Swedish ship captain and his mate, Sten and Eivor Sylvander, the twins were 20 and had almost no experience as models when they appeared in SI, yet they are among the most popular of the magazine's swimsuit cover models ever.
"Everybody remembers the twins," says SI senior editor Jule Campbell, who is in charge of SI's annual swimsuit shoot.
The Sylvanders never made a career of modeling after their one appearance in SI. They took a trip to New York after signing with Ford Models, but when the first photographer they encountered told them to take off all their clothes so that he could evaluate their prospects, they said no, thank you, and climbed on the first plane home to Miami. They did some occasional modeling for swimsuit catalogs and boating magazines in South Florida, but most of the time they supported themselves as waitresses in a Miami health food store.
"We got a few jobs from being in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, and we always wanted to do more," says Yvonne, "but I think we were too scared or too shy to go for it. We had one book [modeling portfolio] for the two of us, and if we got a call that was for just one person, we would flip a coin to see who would go. A lot of times it would end up being whichever one of us happened to be in the mood that day."
"I don't think at that age we knew what we wanted to do," says Yvette. "People always said we should model, the way they tell boys who are tall they should play basketball, so we just sort of fell into it."
Though the twins' shimmering blonde hair, tawny skin and gleaming smiles would seem to make them ideal for a life in front of the camera, indeed the Sylvanders' egos aren't suited to the job. Modeling requires a well-developed sense of who you are, and as filmmaker David Cronenberg—whose recent movie, Dead Ringers, explored the dark side of twins' psyches—told The New York Times, it's not always possible to know exactly who you are when there's more than one of you. "I think most of us first feel our identity through our physical uniqueness," said Cronenberg. "But, of course, if there's someone standing next to you who looks exactly like you and is mistaken by everybody for you, then suddenly you have to look elsewhere for your uniqueness."
Many twins grow less alike as they get older, and some even develop a pathological hatred for this duplication of themselves. But as time went by, the Sylvander twins kept getting more and more alike.
"If I don't see my sister for a few days, I feel as if a part of me is lost," says Yvonne. "It's like a battery that needs to be regenerated. Separately we're split personalities, and together we're a whole person. It's sort of funny when we go places together. People stop and stare at us. Sometimes they just start laughing. It can make you feel a little insecure. You start to think, Do we look that weird?"