She was one of the original ‘supers’, has created a multi-million pound business and is now the savvy presenter of Britain’s Next Top Model
When you meet a supermodel in the flesh, especially one dubbed The Body, it’s inevitable that you’ll spend the first 10 minutes fixated on their visage.
Especially when it’s poured into the kind of wet-look, jet black jeggings that look like they require a small team of dressers to get into. But an hour later, as Elle firmly shakes our hand, it’s not her beauty tips or her endless legs that have left the biggest impression. On the contrary, her style of surf-chic beauty fades into the background when you’re face to face with Elle The Businesswoman.
Because, after meeting Elle, you swiftly realise that building a business empire worth around £60m requires the kind of brains, straight talking attitude and scarily intense attention to detail that this woman has in spades.
In the past Elle Macpherson has been accused of being a little prickly in interviews. It’s true, she is direct, retaining a steely eye contact throughout. And it’s also obvious she works hard to retain strict control over her public image, which isn’t really surprising when you consider
Elle made herself a brand (Elle trademarked The Body after she was given the moniker by the press in the Nineties) long before the Beckhams or J-Lo realised the financial power of selling their image. That brand name has since come in very useful as she uses it for her own line of skincare products.
Elle’s always had a strong business sense. In 1990 she struck a pioneering licensing deal with a company in New Zealand, and her hugely successful lingerie line, Elle Macpherson Intimates, was born. In 1994, when the other ‘supers’ were lapping up the million-dollar contracts, Elle quit her place at one of the world’s biggest modeling agencies – Ford Models – and launched her own business, Elle Macpherson Inc.
Some people accuse me of being scheduled out of my mind, but there’s nothing wrong with having a plan
And illustrating the tenacity that’s so evident sat across from the 47 year old in the Lord Byron room at London’s Brown’s hotel today; 30 years since she enrolled at a Sydney modelling agency, she’s juggling the expansion of her businesses with preparations for the live final of Britain’s Next Top Model on Monday, 4 October, alongside her roles as a spokesperson for Invisible Zinc – an Australian sunblock she swears by – and Revlon, the iconic US make-up brand she’s here to talk about today.
When Elle isn’t putting Lord Alan Sugar to shame she’s a doting mum to two boys, Arpad Flynn Alexander, 12, and Aurelius Cy Andrea, 7, from a previous 10-year relationship with French financier, Arpad Busson. She also happens to speak fluent French, pretty impressive Italian and Spanish. So just how does the supermodel turned powerhouse do it?
Elle, you look amazing.
(Laughs) I just got back from America with my kids. We stayed in the desert and went ATV-ing, which is like motor cross on quad bikes. I got to take a break because we’re up to speed with filming for Britain’s Next Top Model.
Have you enjoyed hosting the show and mentoring the girls?
Definitely. We mustn’t forget it’s TV, and it’s been a combination of creating good TV and pulling together a show that’s amusing but that still has integrity. Finding challenges for the models to do that can open the public’s perception of the industry is important to me, and it’s great that we can draw attention to causes and initiatives I support, such as (RED) and anti-bullying campaigns. We also pulled in Revlon as an official partner this year, which has been fantastic.
Why doesn’t it surprise us that you’ve been so involved with everything?
(Laughs). People have mentioned that. For me, it’s about understanding the projects I undertake. It doesn’t mean I have to do everything but I want to contribute to all aspects in some way. It’s why I only take on a few things.
What attracted you to becoming a spokesperson for Revlon?
I love the brand and use it because it’s iconic and high quality. But at the same time, it’s accessible – any girl can go into Boots and buy it. Being a spokesperson is a huge, gratifying job that encompasses so much – things like supporting mutual philanthropic projects.
After 28 years in the modelling industry, you must have some good advice to dispense…
It’s always ‘keep it simple’. I drink about three litres of water a day, and use good sun protection. I also believe every woman should wear different types of foundation according to her day. The type I use can completely change if it’s the day, evening or if I’m doing business and I’m putting on a work face…
I won’t eat this piece of chocolate because I’m The Body
Do you still get nervous about big business meetings?
Do I get nervous? I care. I like to be clear about what I want to achieve before a meeting. And I usually go with a game plan.
Would you say you have a natural business brain?
If I don’t know how to handle a situation I’ll call someone. A lot of people find it humiliating to ask for help but I find it liberating. When I was younger the thing I found most frustrating was that I had ideas that I didn’t know how to put into play. It was only when I left my modelling agency and started up on my own that things changed.
Was it a daunting experience, leaving a major company and going it alone?
It was scary with my lingerie business in the beginning and it certainly wasn’t very financially rewarding at first. A lot of people thought it was a stupid thing to do because back then it was pretty unorthodox in the sense that I didn’t take a fee up-front, I took a fee at the back end. Models didn’t do that – someone wanted you so you showed up and they paid you. I didn’t realise at the time I was being entrepreneurial.
What was it that drove you?
I was willing to take a risk and try something new because I wanted a different type of future. I didn’t want to depend on being ‘in fashion’ or making sure I was the girl of the moment in order to get work. I wanted to create something that would keep generating income whether I was in bed or out of bed that day. Not that I was ever in bed (laughs).
How has modelling changed since when you first started?
There’s a lot of human intervention in photographs today. When it was just film there was only the photographer, the model, the light and the moment. But it was a different era. Wall Street was booming. America was booming. Guys showed their financial successes and models were huge and statuesque. We had shoulder pads back then, for God’s sake (laughs).
Why do you think the supermodel became such a success?
A lot of it came down to a lull in the film industry. Women in the movies at that time didn’t see how beauty and glamour and intelligence could come together and make them feel valued. In the Fifties and Sixties you had Marilyn Monroe and Betty Davis, women that played up their sexuality. Come the Eighties, women didn’t want to be so contrived and so there was a thirst for glamour. Models didn’t just do runway or beauty anymore; they were celebrities that did talk shows and music videos. There was a blending of all these things and that was the supermodel and everyone knew her name.
Do you still see many of the girls?
I see Claudia (Schiffer) every day. Her son goes to the same school as mine. I keep in touch with Paulina Porizkova, who was my roommate when I started modelling.
What’s the secret of juggling work commitments and raising a family?
I don’t know (laughs). Some people accuse me of being scheduled out of my mind, but there’s nothing wrong with having a plan – you can always break it. Work is important but first and foremost it’s raising my boys.
How do you unwind?
Hanging with my boys, reading and listening to music. And I like sport. I’m like a jock, the kind of person that will get up on holiday at 6am and surf, paddleboard, then go snorkelling, then go for a run, then do a yoga class. I just love the community of sport. I often go to an old-fashioned men’s sweatbox gym where you just do circuit training and sit-ups and push-ups – that’s really fun.
Is there a pressure to stay slim when you’re known as ‘The Body’?
If only it was as easy as that. “Oh, I won’t eat this piece of chocolate because I’m The Body!” (laughs). No, The Body’s important to me because I built a business around it. And also, The Body is the mind, the spirit and the soul. It doesn’t have to be 20 years old – it’s just me, making the most of the woman I am today.
See the final of Britain’s Next Top Model on Monday, 4 October at 9pm on Living TV