NEW YORK CITY: The first takeaway from a meeting with Olivia Culpo is she’s a whip-smart business woman. Every photograph is carefully curated, every brand deal is signed on the dotted line with purpose and every answer to a journalist is pensively measured. When we meet Culpo, it’s five days into the fall season State-side and it’s sweltering. But there, on a sun-drenched rooftop in Greenwich Village on a Thursday afternoon, the 26-year-old model – unfazed by the degree of heat billowing down on top of us – is wearing a knitted tracksuit pant and sweater combo. We soon learn this is her own design and one she will launch very soon. See? A little plug, a little teaser and a little organic cross promotion is always worth the heat.
It would appear Culpo’s deliberate approach and steady ascent to superstardom has paid off. This year alone, the former Miss Universe – a communications student from Rhode Island – has starred opposite Bruce Willis and Frank Grillo as a struggling mother and wife in the film Reprisal, landed a coveted Sports Illustrated cover, collaborated on a fashion line and starred in her own reality series, Model Squad. The latter follows Culpo, Devon Windsor, Shanina Shayk, Nadine Leopold and the likes as they navigate the fashion industry – with a very clear magnifying glass as an accessory.
However, it turns out these accomplishments aren’t the peak of 2018. Well, physically speaking anyway. A couple of weeks ago, Culpo shot GRAZIA’s cover in Los Angeles in a spot where the energy was high but the altitude higher. “It was in the absolute middle of nowhere, high, high up in the hills,” Culpo describes. “There were tonnes of roads with two-way streets but they were so tiny and it was up, up, up! It was beautiful.” Here we explore relationships, the realities of the fashion industry and not only having it all, but having it all at once.
GRAZIA: As a model, how do you prepare your body for a photo shoot?
CULPO: “I run a lot. I run about 25 kilometres a week and when my abs are on fleek, that’s when I’m running. The reason I’m in shape at the moment is because I’ve been on set in Jamaica in a hotel. So I’ve been able to use the gym alto in my off time. Crunches do help but t’s mostly just running. It works your core and its burning calories.”
GRAZIA: It’s commonplace for a lot of people to believe models don’t have a hard job. But Model Squad really drives home the message that working in fashion isn’t always as glamourous as Instagram makes it appear. What is attending an event really like?
CULPO: “Every event looks like it’s a party but it truly is work. A lot of the time, you’re at these events as part of a brand or you’re there promoting something that you’re working on and you’re trying to get the word out on a particular project. You need to think about your public image and your own brand. It’s not like you’re at a party with your friends and family. It’s definitely a brand building experience and you have to think about it like that.”
GRAZIA: Fellow model and friend Devon Windsor admitted designers have offered to give her in clothes in lieu of money to walk their runways. You’re trying to do more runway work, would you accept clothes as payment?
CULPO: “Yes I would, particularly if it was a brand I believed in. I think there’s so much more to brand relationships than what you’re getting paid. It says a lot about what your brand is and it’s a building experience for people to get to know who you are, what you support and pairing with powerhouses is one way to get people familiar in your interests. The prestige behind some of the most iconic brands in the world is priceless.”
GRAZIA: That’s definitely the answer of an entrepreneur…
CULPO: “Thank you!”
GRAZIA: Devon gets hired for the shows, you get hired to be Olivia. Tell me about each model experience.
CULPO: “It’s very different. I think Devon now is starting to build a little bit more of a brand but for a long time she was used to being more of a model. I have always been more of a brand. I’ve been doing things like the runway that she knows a lot about so we’ve been helping one another in that way.”
GRAZIA: What’s the most challenging thing about working in the fashion industry?
CULPO: “I think that’s there’s a mould that sometimes you feel a pressure to fit into. You need to come to an understanding with yourself that you are who you are and you’re never going to one thing. We’re all multi-dimensional and we all have to love and embrace the parts to ourselves that make us different.”
GRAZIA: SO much of your job is about networking. Going out for fashion week is really important. What is your best networking tip?
CULPO: “Be yourself. Be authentic, be kind, be somebody that you would want to hang out with [Laughs].”
GRAZIA: A sentiment that is touched on in the show is this notion that the fashion industry is made up of a lot of beautiful people but not a lot of interesting ones. Is that your experience?
CULPO: “I try and steer clear of people who have negative energy. I’m really lucky because I’ve developed friendships that will last so long and I feel comfortable because of that.”
GRAZIA: Can being in the spotlight become a lonely place?
CULPO: “I never get lonely because I always have so many people around me but I do think it’s important to take breaks and understand when you’re maxed out. I believe in quality over quantity so I don’t like to do too much and then not be able to give something my all. You don’t feel good about it and that absolutely translates. Understanding what you need to be the best version of yourself is important.”
GRAZIA: How intimidating are castings?
CULPO: “Castings are so intimidating. I will say for acting, castings can be very enjoyable, exciting and exhilarating. It’s definitely nerve-racking but when we’re done, there’s always a sense of accomplishment.”
GRAZIA: You grew up in Rhode Island. Tell me about one of your favourite family pastimes.
CULPO: “When I’m with my family, we cook a lot. I own a restaurant in Rhode Island so we definitely enjoy coming together to celebrate any sort of occasion with great food and great company. I also have a brand-new nephew, too, so we spend a lot of time with him.”
GRAZIA: Let’s talk about winning Miss Universe…
CULPO: “It was definitely a whirlwind experience. I had never done pageants before, I was studying communications and acting in college and I wanted an opportunity to work on my acting and stage presence. I wanted to get my foot in the door and learn to think on my feet and be quick-witted and up-to-date on events and there was nothing at the time in my area that was going to challenge me. Miss Rhode Island did that and 18 months later, I won Miss Universe.”
GRAZIA: Can you remember the moment you were crowned?
CULPO: “I was so excited. I looked down and saw my whole family in the front row. It was such a treat.”
GRAZIA: You’re an actress, model, designer, restaurant own and social media influencer, what does your future career look like?
CULPO: “I love doing it all. I would love to do more in the entrepreneurial space. I do though have something coming the design realm very soon. I also really enjoy acting, I’m working on a film in Jamaica where I play a bride-to-be who has a destination wedding that is re-routed to an unexpected location. So that’s very fun for me and challenging!”
GRAZIA: What drew you to acting?
CULPO: “I fell in love with acting when I had my first casting as a model which was when I was in college. It was for a coffee maker machine. I showed up and didn’t realise I had to act. There was a man in the room and we had to pretend we were doing this whole breakfast scene and I just felt so exhilarated afterwards. I had been put on the spot and I ended up getting that job. I realised at that moment there was so much more to modelling – there’s so much creativity behind the experience of having to tell a story and not just look good in front of camera.”
GRAZIA: What was it like working with Bruce Willis in your new film Reprisal?
CULPO: “It was really awesome, he’s so professional and so good at what he does. He walked on set and everybody kind of froze because he’s such an icon.”
GRAZIA: You recently publicly wished your ex-boyfriend, Nick Jonas, well after news came out he was engaged to Priyanka Chopra. Is it always a little bit hard when you realise an ex has moved on, even if you have as well?
CULPO: “I think that in life it’s really difficult to sometimes find true happiness and you have to really support one another. We’re all in this life together and if somebody is happy, that is unbelievably amazing. You have to celebrate that and champion that because people who don’t have that attitude are seriously suffering inside. I think the most afflicted people in the world are the people who cannot wish good on others.”