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Elle Macpherson: Unabashed Passion, Ageless Beauty & Creating the Next Fashion Star
By Allison Kugel, Senior Editor - December 20, 2011

Elle Macpherson
Elle Macpherson
Elle Macpherson, the toned and tanned athletic girl from Australia who rose to supermodel glory with five Sports Illustrated Swimsuit covers, is expanding her brand as co-creator and host of NBC’s new fashion design competition, Fashion Star.

With a nickname like “The Body” and a thriving lingerie and skincare empire, clothing may seem superfluous to Macpherson’s perfectly proportioned equation. The average red blooded male prefers her in the buff, after all. But according to Macpherson, fashion, like any other art form, is about self-expression, and Elle lights up when she talks about her love of all things artistic. On Fashion Star, Elle Macpherson will do her part to showcase talented, emerging fashion designers with the help of celebrity fashion moguls Jessica Simpson and Nicole Richie, and menswear designer John Varvatos as mentors. Throughout the competition series, fashion design contestants will be treated with kid gloves by the show’s resident celeb mentors, while retail heavyweights like Macy’s, H&M and Saks Fifth Avenue will serve as judges, offering up straightforward critiques of the contestants’ work. Each week’s winning designs will be available for purchase one day after the episode’s airing, a new interactive concept that Macpherson expects will set Fashion Star apart from other reality show competitions.

According to Fashion Star producers, “what viewers see on TV that night will be on the streets and in stores the very next day.” Indeed, the show promises a peak behind “the curtain on what it really takes to launch a major national brand,” as it will incorporate the retail distribution process into its fold.

As I spoke with Elle from her London home where she overseas her lifestyle conglomerate (including “Elle Macpherson Intimates” and her “The Body” skincare line) and raises her two boys, Macpherson reflects on the impact that her modeling career has had on both the fashion industry and on standards of beauty, the world over. Elle Macpherson’s insights about her appearance and fashion sense were quite surprising, deliciously disarming and playful.

PR.com (Allison Kugel): As an executive producer for Fashion Star, what was your role in creating the concept for the show?

Elle Macpherson: Co-creating and producing Fashion Star with Ben Silverman and the guys from Electus (Ben Silverman's production company), Five by Five Media, and NBC has been a brilliant experience. It's the first time that a fashion related show has come to network TV. In the past, fashion has been confined to cable. Fashion Star is big and glossy, but at the same time quite approachable. It's also a new concept, because the viewers at home can buy the clothes, immediately, at the end of each episode or directly from retailers: Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue and H&M. Fashion Star is just as much about the shopping as the fashion, and everyone loves to shop!

PR.com: Will you, Jessica Simpson and Nicole Richie be wearing the contestants’ designs on the show?

Elle Macpherson: No. The contestants' designs will be shown on the runway in a fun, entertaining and exciting way.

PR.com: In the past, fashion has been presented as an exclusionary club. You had to be a certain height, a certain weight, and you even had to have a certain budget to be able to afford much of the designer clothing. Would you say that a show like Fashion Star makes fashion more inclusive and attainable to people of different shapes, sizes and budgets?

Nicole Richie, John Varvatos, Elle Macpherson & Jessica Simpson in Fashion Star on NBC
Nicole Richie, John Varvatos, Elle Macpherson & Jessica Simpson in Fashion Star on NBC

Elle Macpherson: Fashion Star is different from other design competitions in that its goal is to make clothes that are specifically designed for the public to buy immediately. I believe Fashion Star is about everyday clothes for everyday women who want to look spectacular. Anyone who tunes in to Fashion Star will be really surprised that they'll be able to buy fashion for different shapes and sizes and budgets.

PR.com: How was working on Fashion Star with Nicole Richie and Jessica Simpson, who are two successful designers in their own right?

Elle Macpherson: I loved working with Nicole, Jessica and John [Varvatos]. They mentored the young designers with such grace. They brought their many years of experience to the contestants, and the star quality of their critique and guidance is undeniable.

PR.com: Were you allowed to mentor or put your two cents in at all with the design contestants, or do you have to stick to your role as host of the show?

Elle Macpherson: I chose to host the show. We have three fantastic mentors, and then, of course, we have the three retailers: Saks, Macy's and H&M. I am the liaison between the models, the designers, the mentors, the audience at home, and the retailers.

PR.com: How has your physical beauty helped you professionally, and in what ways has it been a liability for you?

Elle Macpherson: I've been working in the fashion industry for thirty years, and I started working when I was very young. My entrée into the fashion industry was my beauty. I have sustained my business with great advisors and some interesting creative decisions. I am so lucky to work in the industry; first as a model, and then as a creative director of Elle Macpherson Intimates, my lingerie brand, global spokeswoman for Revlon cosmetics, or producing and hosting Britain's & Ireland's Next Top Model which I have been doing for three seasons, and now Fashion Star for NBC. Not to mention all the other wonderful opportunities I've had in film, television and in fashion. I would never consider beauty to be anything other than a blessing, but it needs to be backed up with discipline, commitment, courage and creativity.

PR.com: Did you ever feel a sense of relief in having two sons, because a daughter might have felt a need to live up to what you are?

Elle Macpherson: I've been fortunate to provide my children with a very grounded, family oriented and academic upbringing here in London. I am sure that this wouldn't have changed if I had had a girl, and I hope she would be as well balanced as my boys who I encourage in their individual passions and gifts.

Elle Macpherson
Elle Macpherson

PR.com: I logged on to your personal website (ellemacpherson.com) a few times over the past couple of days. Each time I was treated to a beautiful quote by a famous philosopher or artist. You have these great inspirational quotes that pop up on your website’s homepage. That tells me that you’re philosophical and spiritual. That being said, what philosophy do you subscribe to that gives you a sense of peace and balance?

Elle Macpherson: I had so much fun creating my website. It took me two and a half years. The quotes that were gathered, the photographs, the layout of the website, the content, it's really years of work. So when you log on and you notice things like the quotes of the day, that means a lot to me. As far as any one philosophy, I don't think it would be fair to make a sound bite that encapsulates forty-eight years of [life] experience (laughs). I am a spiritualist, but not a religious fanatic.

PR.com: I’ll tell you what I got from it. You’re a thinker. You take the time to notice and think about what each of the moments in your life mean to you. You don’t just drift unconsciously through your life, like so many people do.

Elle Macpherson: I thank you for that. The most important thing to me is being clear and conscious in my journey throughout this lifetime. And parenting has been hugely important to me. I enjoy watching my boys grow and become independent, responsible, creative, heart-felt young men. It's been a true gift.

PR.com: I can see you want to share that part of your life with your fans, because you posted pictures of your pregnancies and your children on your personal website to connect with people on a more intimate level.

Elle Macpherson: Intimate is one of the key words in my brand. It's really important to me as a woman. My company is called Elle Macpherson Intimates. I choose intimacy in my life in every way possible whether it be in my personal relations or in my relationship with my children. I really treasure intimacy. I don't want to go through my life numb, and I don't want to go through my life without connecting with people, places, philosophies, art, music, literature; things that stimulate me or interest me. I want to appreciate it and give it the time and space it requires. I want to slow down in life and just be present.

PR.com: Many celebrities launch fashion lines focused on upscale casualwear or eveningwear, yet you chose to create a lingerie line (Elle Macpherson Intimates). Why did you go into intimate apparel?

Elle Macpherson: I have always loved lingerie since my mother bought me my first bra and knickers as a young teenager. Coming from Australia I never had a passion for fashion. It wasn't something that was very relevant in Australia. We had surf gear and sports gear, but fashion wasn't something that we were dependent upon as a culture. When it came to modeling I found it really difficult because I didn't really know how to model clothes. First of all, I didn't wear many clothes (laughs). Give me a bathing suit and cowboy hat and I knew exactly what to do. Couture or fashion, I had no idea. I had never even worn heels before I moved to New York when I was seventeen years old. I learned through watching others, work and studying photographs.

PR.com: Were you that much of a tomboy?

Elle Macpherson
Elle Macpherson

Elle Macpherson: No, I wasn't really a tomboy. I loved sports and I still do, so I dressed practically, for my beach lifestyle. Today I like to snow ski, water ski, play tennis, hike, ride horses, but I don't think that makes me a tomboy. When it came to modeling swimwear or beachwear I was fine, and when it came to lingerie I just knew exactly what to do. I have a body where the proportions work really well for that kind of clothing. I would just put my hair all over my face and somehow it worked.

PR.com: So when they put you in high fashion you didn’t know what to do with yourself.

Elle Macpherson: Yeah, I didn't know what to do with myself (laughs). I would start laughing. I felt like those girls who dress up in their mother's clothes!

PR.com: Do you always wear your lingerie under your clothes?

Elle Macpherson: Always, and always matching. If I get dressed and then I decide to change my shirt and I have to change my bra because of the color, I would have to take off my pants and change my knickers as well. I can't be miss-matched. It's like wearing odd socks! I have a younger sister who makes fun of me and says, "It is so old-fashioned to wear matchy-matchy," and I say, "I don't care. I'm nearly fifty. I'm going to keep wearing matchy-matchy…"

PR.com: (Laughs).

Elle Macpherson: She wears different bottoms and different tops, and she says that’s much cooler.

PR.com: Personally, I don’t usually wear underwear, because I find you either get a panty line, or with a thong you find yourself with a permanent wedgy for the day. How do you make the underwear work underneath your clothes?

Elle Macpherson: I'll have to give you some of my lingerie. They're very comfortable, and you might just change your mind and say, "Actually, I really like wearing these." The lingerie that we design is French style with an American fit. It's comfortable, beautiful and sexy, and no VPL (visible panty line).

PR.com: Tell me about the Elle Macpherson Obsidian lingerie line.

Elle Macpherson: Obsidian is a sophisticated collection; it's elegant and subtle with fine lace, fine detailing, and usually black.

PR.com: Are you more of a bra and panties girl, or are you into the corsets and garters and things like that?

Elle Macpherson: I think it is interesting that a lot of American women perceive undergarments as underwear [to be] purely functional and that the only bras you can really wear are black, white and tan. Lingerie doesn't only serve a purpose, it can make you feel beautiful. Well-designed lingerie can change the shape of your figure and how you see yourself. My collection's full of unexpected color combinations and is sexy and comfortable. I love to see a peak of color underneath a shirt or underneath a T-shirt. And it's quite important when you put it on the body, the skin looks beautiful. What you see on the outside is one thing, but there is something mysterious underneath. I'm 34C so I don't wear any padding and I don't wear push-ups or anything that increases the shape or size of my bust; that's not my style. I like lace and I like it to be sexy.

Elle Macpherson
Elle Macpherson

PR.com: Does having the nickname “The Body” come with pressure, especially now that you’re in your late forties? Obviously, you look amazing, but do you feel like you have to live up to it, and that you need to be constantly working out?

Elle Macpherson: "The Body" has been a fantastic nickname because I've built a business around it. In 1989 I was on the cover of Time Magazine and they nicknamed me Elle "The Body" Macpherson. As soon as I saw it I thought, "I have to capitalize on that." I never thought, for one second, "Oh yes, I'm the body!" I just thought, "Ok, perfect business strategy here." So I built my business, really, on that. It's been a really wonderful vehicle and I've been able to express myself in many ways using this name and image. I don't find it a burden whatsoever. And, yeah, I'm nearly fifty. I don't have the same body as I did when I was twenty, and that's ok. The other thing is I don't have the same spirit as I had when I was twenty, thank goodness! I have really enjoyed becoming the woman I am today.

PR.com: There’s a beautiful irony to aging. In your twenties you have this beautiful shell and hardly anything going on inside. As you age, your spirit, your intellect and your level of wisdom soars and you become more internally beautiful, but the outside ages. I’ve always found that interesting about the aging process.

Elle Macpherson: It is interesting and it’s a great observation from you; having said that, I find that when your spirit shines everything looks more beautiful, anyway.

The “Fashion Star” two hour series premiere airs Thursday, March 13 9/8c on NBC.

Elle Macpherson Intimates lingerie is available at ellemacphersonintimates.com. Visit Elle Macpherson at ellemacpherson.com and follow her on Twitter @ellemacpherson.

Elle Macpherson: Unabashed Passion, Ageless Beauty & Creating the Next Fashion Star


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