Unlike most issues of the magazine, the May issue of Vogue is hotly anticipated. The reason? There be models. On the cover. A whole passel of them. And we think we know who they are.

Vogue's May issue is in honor of the Met's annual Costume Institute Gala, a to-do that editor in chief Anna Wintour always supports. This year, the Costume Institute's exhibit is all about the model as muse — and for months now, rumors have been flying about a multi-model Vogue cover exploring the model/muse theme. It is said to celebrate Wintour's picks of the current top girls, and be shot by Steven Meisel.

Kind of like the November, 1999, cover, which featured Kate Moss, Lauren Hutton, Iman, Gisele Bundchen, Naomi Campbell, Stephanie Seymour, Claudia Schiffer, Amber Valletta, Christy Turlington, Patti Hansen, Lisa Taylor, Paulina Porizkova, and Carolyn Murphy. The photographer was Annie Leibovitz, and I have to say, the image has aged rather well.

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The last time Vogue did a models cover, for the May, 2007, issue, an image of it leaked in early April, which rather dulled the suspense, if not the excitement of seeing Hilary Rhoda, Doutzen Kroes, Lily Donaldson, Sasha Pivovarova, Coco Rocha, Chanel Iman, Caroline Trentini, Raquel Zimmerman, Agnyess Deyn, and Jessica Stam together under the tagline "The World's Next Top Models."

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It's safe to say that this time, Condé Nast won't mistakenly upload the cover early to Style.com, or do anything else to let its secret out of the bag. And so American Vogue, the commercial monthly that perceives boundless reader enthusiasm for what Cathy Horyn called "the 'villa in Tuscany' story," natural home of the humiliating beauty writer first-person piece, originator of the suggestion that we prick our body fat with needles, overall the safest and plainest of the world's fashion tomes, finds itself the object of a fever pitch of fashionistas' speculation. Anna Wintour, this is not the Twilight Zone. This is merely what happens when you pick good models and good photographers, and trust them to do good work.

What we think we know about this issue

Word is, the key to understanding May Vogue and its casting is: Steven Meisel. In addition to the cover girls and their inside editorial, there is said to be an editorial spread dedicated to the kingmaker photographer's all-time favorite muses — models like Karen Elson, Naomi Campbell (who mentioned shooting something "top secret" with Meisel earlier this year), Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Jessica Stam, Gisele Bundchen, Daria Werbowy, and Coco Rocha are all tipped to be involved. There is also rumored to be a third editorial all about Meisel's current crop of favorites, which would basically be a consolation prize for the models who didn't make the cover.

What would be a nice surprise? Seeing some new work from Irving Penn. Although he's now 95, the great photographer does still shoot — and Vogue under Anna Wintour has always made itself an eager venue for his work.

Kate Moss is co-chairing this year's Costume Institute gala, so it's hard to imagine the issue could roll out with no content relating to her — and her name has not been mentioned as one of the cast for the cover. If she doesn't have a standalone editorial, or a spot among Meisel's all-time favorites, she'll almost certainly be pictured in association with an article about the gala and/or the exhibit.

As Far As We Know, The Cover Is Likely To Feature

Caroline Trentini, Brazilian. Chances: Shoo-in

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Trentini confirmed her position on the cover in an interview she gave at Sao Paulo fashion week earlier this month. Trentini is a longtime favorite of Wintour's, and she can be seen jumping in head-to-toe runway looks against a variety of studio backgrounds in basically any issue of American Vogue from the past four years. She went on a long holiday this winter, and only interrupted it for two very special jobs — walking in the fall/winter Yves Saint Laurent show for Stefano Pilati in Paris, and shooting the May cover of American Vogue in New York. Trentini said there were a total of nine models at the shoot, and called the photo "historic." She also confirmed Isabeli Fontana and Raquel Zimmerman were shot for the cover. Trentini was on the last Vogue cover that featured models, and by this point, Anna Wintour's patronage of her makes Trentini's supermodelhood a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Isabeli Fontana, Brazilian. Chances: Shoo-in

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Why would Trentini lie to us? Isabeli Fontana is well known as a Victoria's Secret girl and all-round sex bomb. She's stalked the runway for years, and did time as Donatella Versace's muse, which fits the issue's theme.

Raquel Zimmerman, Brazilian. Chances: Shoo-in

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Besides being confirmed during Trentini's little sit-down with the hometown press, Zimmerman is a Wintour favorite in her own right. Like her freckled compatriot, Zimmerman was on the last multi-model cover, and the Vogue editor's attitude towards her has not appreciably changed since.

Natalia Vodianova, Russian. Chances: Strong

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Brazil's RG Vogue named the Russian model — a longtime face of Calvin Klein, who has been extensively featured in American Vogue — among the cover stars. (The same source confirmed Zimmerman, Fontana, Natasha Poly, and Liya Kebede.) Potential problem? RG Vogue said in its story, dated February 13, that the cover would feature eight models, and all subsequent intelligence, including the Trentini interview linked above, points to it having nine. (This would be logical, as there were actually nine muses: Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, Melpomene, Polyhymnia, Terpsichore, Thalia, and Urania. But you knew that.) How much that crucial counting difference actually casts RG Vogue's source in doubt is up to you.

Liya Kebede, Ethiopian. Chances: Strong

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Liya Kebede, in case you haven't noticed, is black. Anna Wintour has borne the brunt of (well-deserved) criticism as of late for featuring black models so rarely (not to mention that atrocious LeBron James/Gisele Bundchen cover). This year, Vogue has made sure to up its game: the ladymag has run editorials depicting Jourdan Dunn and Chanel Iman, and the past two covers have featured black women, Michelle Obama and then Beyoncé. How much you wanna bet Wintour would be the type to bolster her publication's some-of-our-best-friends-are-black defense by putting Kebede on her cover and calling it three in a row? To point it out as a cynical maneuver on the part of Wintour is not to impugn Kebede's worth as a cover choice: in fact, she has gotten the cover of American Voguesolo once before, and her work dates back to the 90s, when she was a favorite of Tom Ford. Just this past season, as if to prove she's still got it, she opened Balenciaga and took the Paris shows by storm. She's earned this cover, as a model and a muse, many times over already.

Natasha Poly, Russian. Chances: Strong

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If you believe RG Vogue's source, she's in. Poly opens and/or closes every runway show, everywhere, always. She's walked for more designers for more seasons than any other model can shake a stiletto at, and frankly, being the reigning catwalk queen should count for something.

Jourdan Dunn, British. Chances: High

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Dunn became the first black model to walk for Prada in over ten years when she was cast in its fall/winter 2008 show. (Then Prada, having done its bit for diversity, promptly went back to never using non-white models.) Dunn has been in American Vogue before, so she wouldn't be entirely unexpected, even though she is a newer model. Besides, Trentini says she's in.

Anna Maria Jagodzinska, Polish. Chances: Fair

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Jagodzinska is definitely one of Meisel's current favorite models, and she's been featured in the pages of Vogue before. (What, you didn't remember this story?) Jagodzinska's bagged 12 campaigns this season. But I couldn't find a source exactly confirming her presence on the cover — although her name keeps coming up in online discussions, and ONTD thinks she's in.

Lara Stone, Dutch. Chances: Dicey

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Back when speculation about this cover was only just beginning to brew, The Imagist claimed it had on good authority that the eight-model cover would feature "one very unexpected choice sure to send the fashionspot nation buzzing. It must be nice for a girl to make her US Vogue debut on a cover, no?" Stone, a fashion favorite who has never been in American Vogue, fits that description perfectly. But if the 25-year-old Dutch beauty is known for being anyone's muse, aside from the designer Ricardo Tisci, it's definitely Caroline Roitfeld, the Vogue Paris editor and Wintour's ultimate frenemy. (Roitfeld dedicated an entire issue of her magazine to Lara's beauteous form only this February.) Would Wintour really want to implicitly nod to her rival's good judgment? Also, a more recent rumor has surfaced that one of the original girls was cut from the cover photo following her appearance in an editorial that Wintour thought distasteful. That could well be this one.

Karlie Kloss, American. Chances: Slim

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Kloss would be the only American national on the cover, if she were to be featured. When the Lara-spiking rumors started to swirl, Kloss's was one of the first names to surface as a potential replacement. The lithe St. Louis teen is a confirmed favorite of Meisel's, and Wintour loves to be able to say she's down with the next big thing — plus, Kloss fills Stone's same niche in the lineup as the industry insiders' choice, not the mainstream girl. Kloss walked over 60 runways in a single season before even turning 16, and she's been in American Vogue several times this year already.

Arlenis Sosa, Dominican. Chances: Slim

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Sosa is another model whose name has been bandied about as a possible new Stone. (Replacing girls on covers is not unusual — normally magazines shoot several cover options, and there may have been several different configurations of models shot for this one. Sometimes, airbrushing is used to just re-arrange people — rumor has it, Amber Valletta was shot separately and added later to that November '99 cover.) Why this might be unlikely? Sosa is, in case you haven't noticed, also black. And while Wintour seems increasingly keen to prove her magazine's diversity cred, she'd probably think two black cover models — Kebede and Dunn — were just plenty. Moderation in all things, that's Vogue to a T, after all.

The velvet curtain will be gently tugged back as soon as the issue hits newsstands, which should be April 21, but generally happens earlier in the major US cities. The cover will be released online a few days beforehand. For once in my life, I actually can't wait to get my hands on an American Vogue. You win this round, Anna.

SCOOP DU JOUR: US VOGUE MULTI-GIRL COVER BREWING [The Imagist]
Naomi Campbell, Vogue, Caroline Trentini [Fashionologie]
Super 8, Vogue America [RG Vogue]
SPFW Entrevista: Carol Trentini [Sao Paulo Fashion Week]
Cover Girls for May 2009 American Vogue [ONTD]

Earlier: New York Times Bets Against Anna Wintour & American Vogue
Vogue's Not Racist, Three Black Models Prove It
Is Vogue's Lebron/Kong Cover Offensive?
Self Reflection: A Bizarre & Macabre Short Story, Brought To You By Vogue