THE BODY AT 52

ELLE MACPHER­SON'S TRAN­SI­TION TO EN­TRE­PRE­NEUR IS COM­PLETE WITH THE LAUNCH OF A NEW BUSI­NESS VEN­TURE. BY JORDAN BAKER

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Stellar Contents - Photography SI­MON LEKIAS Styling MA­RINA AFONINA Creative di­rec­tion ALEK­SAN­DRA BEARE

Elle Macpher­son opens up about bal­anc­ing moth­er­hood, mar­riage and her new busi­ness ven­ture.

Every­one wants to be Elle Macpher­son, but few would want to be her teenage sons. Macpher­son is, by her own ad­mis­sion, an, err, “de­tailed” mother. She might do school drop-offs in her Porsche and turn more than a few heads at par­ent-teacher night, but she has firm ex­pec­ta­tions – es­pe­cially of 18-year-old Flynn, and is not above some ha­rass­ment to en­sure he meets them.

“I wouldn’t say ‘nag’,” she says, although the term does resur­face sev­eral times dur­ing our con­ver­sa­tion. “Let’s say I re­mind him – re­peat­edly at times – about any­thing from hav­ing breakfast, pick­ing his clothes up off the floor, has he sent his thank-you notes, has he set an exam sched­ule with study times, is he eat­ing prop­erly, has he been to the gym, how much wa­ter has he drunk dur­ing the day…

“Noth­ing gets swept un­der the car­pet, which can be ir­ri­tat­ing for them, I’m sure. But you’ve got to do the job. Most of what I say to them is, ‘Lis­ten. I’m not here to be pop­u­lar, I’m here to guide you.’”

Macpher­son, 52, might still be one of the world’s most glam­orous women, but she spends much of her time in the pro­saic realm of par­ent­ing. Her two sons, Flynn (born Ar­pad Flynn) and 13-year-old Aure­lius Cy (known sim­ply as Cy), are in dif­fer­ent stages of that tricky teenage-boy phase, plus she has three stepchil­dren with her hus­band, Mi­ami prop­erty de­vel­oper Jef­frey Sof­fer. She could be for­given for spend­ing any pre­cious spare time ly­ing on a yacht – she is a mul­ti­mil­lion­aire, mar­ried to a bil­lion­aire – but that’s not her style. She has a fever­ish work ethic. In­stead of re­lax­ing, she’s throw­ing her­self into an idea that has been whistling at her for years: an Elle Macpher­son lin­gerie line that ac­tu­ally be­longs to her.

As a su­per­model, Macpher­son was among the best in the world. But the woman famed as “The Body” also has a brain, and that brain has long had a fas­ci­na­tion for busi­ness. At 52, our Elle seems to have all but tran­si­tioned from famed model to en­tre­pre­neur.

MACPHER­SON DESCENDS ON her pub­li­cist’s Syd­ney of­fice like a cy­clone. Even her beauty is eclipsed by her en­ergy. There are de­ci­sions to be made, and she makes them like she’s fir­ing a gun – quickly, and with cool cer­tainty.

The TV in­ter­view needs to be shot there. The press re­lease must men­tion these words. She’ll have a cup of tea, please, with one sugar and milk on the side. Upon en­ter­ing the room where Stel­lar is wait­ing, she blows out the scented can­dle, then walks over to a rack of lin­gerie and turns it around. “Fac­ing that way, you only got the back of the cups,” she ex­plains.

Macpher­son is a fa­mously hard worker. Within six months of meet­ing her first hus­band, French fash­ion pho­tog­ra­pher Gilles Ben­si­mon, she was flu­ent in his na­tive tongue. Jule Camp­bell, who spent 32 years as Sport Il­lus­trated’s swim­suit ed­i­tor, once told Van­ity Fair that Macpher­son was like a “sponge”. While other mod­els were preen­ing, the Aussie would prac­tise poses be­fore a shoot. “She was a very, very good learner,” said Camp­bell.

It’s clear she’s just as fo­cused when it comes to her new lin­gerie brand. In set­ting up Elle Macpher­son Body, the model was in­volved in ev­ery de­sign de­ci­sion. She pored over bud­gets and pat­terns, li­aised with re­tail­ers and spent long Mi­ami nights on the phone to her busi­ness part­ner, Si­mon de Win­ter, who’s based in Mel­bourne. “Her work ethic is un­be­liev­able,” he says.

The seeds for this new ven­ture were sown more than 25 years ago, when Macpher­son was at the height of her mod­el­ling ca­reer. Even then, as a 20-something liv­ing in cash-soaked New York, she wanted to be more than just a pretty face for hire. Her in­spi­ra­tion was John New­combe, the cham­pion ten­nis player whose wink­ing face she re­mem­bered ap­pear­ing on a range of mer­chan­dise when she was a teenager. If sports peo­ple could li­cense their im­age, she rea­soned, mod­els could too.

So in 1990, when New Zealand un­der­wear man­u­fac­turer Ben­don came call­ing, Macpher­son re­fused an up­front fee and in­stead launched a lin­gerie col­lec­tion in part­ner­ship with the com­pany, Elle Macpher­son In­ti­mates. While the deal meant she wouldn’t own the busi­ness, she had in­flu­ence over the prod­uct de­signs and, sig­nif­i­cantly, would re­ceive a per­cent­age of the prof­its. It was a bold plan, es­pe­cially since it meant she would have to break ties with her wealthy mod­el­ling client Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret.

“Sports peo­ple had done it, but… at the time I formed my first li­cence, I was the only per­son I knew [who’d done the same],” she says. “I went from hav­ing a solid in­come to an undis­closed roy­alty fee at the end of the year. I had to be quite strate­gic and long-term in my vision, and it served me very well.”

The part­ner­ship was stun­ningly suc­cess­ful. Over more than two decades,

her line was a mas­sive seller world­wide. It em­bold­ened Macpher­son to try new ven­tures, in­clud­ing fit­ness videos and swim­suit cal­en­dars and, in 2014, she launched a health com­pany, Wel­leco.

Yet two years ago, Macpher­son and Ben­don parted abruptly, and Ben­don an­nounced that Ger­man model Heidi Klum would take over the In­ti­mates line. Nei­ther re­vealed why, and there were ru­mours of a feud be­tween the two mod­els, which both deny.

Macpher­son re­fuses to be drawn on Ben­don, but what she will say is that, over the years, “I re-signed, I re-signed and, fi­nally, one day I just de­cided that I can’t; I want to do busi­ness dif­fer­ently. Hav­ing had the ex­pe­ri­ence of co-own­ing a busi­ness, with Wel­leco, and un­der­stand­ing the im­mense sat­is­fac­tion and ful­fil­ment [that comes with that]… I re­alised that if I was go­ing to en­ter the mar­ket again, I felt re­ally com­pelled to do it as a co-owner.”

When news of the Ben­don split reached Mel­bourne re­tailer de Win­ter, who owns the Kayser and Fine Lines lin­gerie brands, he had a brain­wave. Within weeks he was knock­ing at the door of Macpher­son’s man­sion in Mi­ami. That morn­ing, over breakfast on her ve­randa, Elle Macpher­son Body was born.

Back in the Syd­ney of­fice, some 18 months later, Macpher­son lifts her jumper to flash her black, lacy bra. Gen­er­a­tions of red-blooded young men have dreamed about such a mo­ment, but this is no strip­tease; she is deep in dis­cus­sion about the fash­ion rules of lin­gerie – namely, whether one can wear bras that peek through clothes. (One can, she in­sists, as she pulls up her beige Cé­line jumper.)

The de­signs on the sam­ples rack in the corner are un­usual colours – teals, gin­gers, browns and bright yel­lows – and have flour­ishes in places you wouldn’t ex­pect. “I turn my back when I get un­dressed,” she says. “So I thought, why don’t you make the back beau­ti­ful and the cut of the bum gor­geous?”

Macpher­son wants the range to be an an­ti­dote to the Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret kind of sexy, which she says is “one-note” and, un­like her col­lec­tion, isn’t “strong-sexy, sim­ple-sexy,

“MOST OF WHAT I SAY TO [MY SONS] IS ‘LIS­TEN, I’M NOT HERE TO BE POP­U­LAR, I’M HERE TO GUIDE YOU’”

or off­beat, show-my-per­son­al­ity-sexy”. She over­saw the de­sign not only of the lin­gerie, but also of the swing tags, coathang­ers and logo. She ad­mits it has been hard work, and there have been many calls be­tween Mi­ami and Mel­bourne that have gone into the early hours of the morn­ing.

“If she wants to do something, she buys into it to­tally,” says de Win­ter. “Elle is very com­mit­ted, es­pe­cially in the de­sign and mar­ket­ing side of the busi­ness. She pushes the de­signer to the limit to get the best prod­uct, but when you show the prod­uct to the re­tail­ers, the re­ac­tion has been fan­tas­tic.”

Macpher­son is so pas­sion­ate about her new busi­ness that she calls me at home af­ter our hour-long chat to dis­cuss it fur­ther. “The ex­cit­ing thing is cre­at­ing a busi­ness from scratch,” she says, as my din­ner bub­bles dan­ger­ously on the stove. “De­cid­ing on a brand name, get­ting a team to­gether, work­ing on the logo, the in-store feel, the brand­ing…”

She is over­see­ing the mar­ket­ing im­agery, too, which is be­ing pho­tographed by her ex-hus­band, Ben­si­mon. “Gilles is my friend and men­tor; we have been through so much,” says Macpher­son. “He was re­spon­si­ble for a lot of the un­usual im­agery, such as the [1986] Elle cover with zinc on my nose. I’m fi­nally in a po­si­tion where I own my own busi­ness, where I can ask him to pho­to­graph a girl that I choose… it’s a won­der­ful cir­cle of life.”

MACPHER­SON IS ALSO reach­ing a mile­stone in her per­sonal life: her baby is fly­ing the coop. Flynn, the el­dest of her two boys with for­mer long-term part­ner, London fi­nancier Ar­pad “Arki” Bus­son, is start­ing busi­ness school in Bos­ton. Pho­tos posted on her In­sta­gram ac­count show a young, male ver­sion of his glam­orous mother, with thick brown hair and the same wide, daz­zling smile.

“I will miss him, be­cause I love his com­pany; he’s a beau­ti­ful spirit,” she says. “Some­times I think, ‘Gosh, I’ve done so much for him. How will he be able to cope?’ But I think it’s the best pos­si­ble thing for him, be­cause he will re­ally need to take greater de­grees of re­spon­si­bil­ity for his own life with­out me nag­ging him.”

Macpher­son takes her role in shap­ing her sons’ char­ac­ters very se­ri­ously. She is con­scious that she does much of the par­ent­ing on her own – while their Uk-based fa­ther is ac­tive in their lives, they haven’t lived to­gether as a fam­ily for more than 10 years, and haven’t resided in the same city since Macpher­son and the boys moved to Mi­ami in 2014.

She is try­ing to teach Flynn and Cy to be good men. To de­flect dif­fi­cult times with hu­mour, not anger. To fol­low their words with ac­tions. To be well­man­nered. And to be grate­ful, which she teaches by en­cour­ag­ing them to write thank-you notes. “There’s a dis­ci­pline of ap­pre­ci­a­tion. When peo­ple have gone out of their way for you, to ac­tu­ally take time to stop and recog­nise it,” she says.

When the boys were younger, she hired an­tipodean “man­nies”, partly to fos­ter their con­nec­tion with her home­land and partly to pro­vide them with strong male role mod­els.

“When you have a nine-year-old or a 10-year-old, he doesn’t want to be kick­ing a ball around with his mum,” she says. “I want them to have the stuff they can learn from watching other guys. They’ve got some­one there to re­mind them, ‘Mate, you were re­ally rude when you spoke to that per­son. It’s not OK, it’s not cool...’ It’s that kind of stuff that I feel is re­ally im­por­tant.

“[Plus] it’s bet­ter com­ing from him, other­wise I’m a real nag-athon.”

Macpher­son en­joys par­ent­ing, even though she ad­mits some phases are harder than others. “[Flynn and I] are closer now that he’s got into col­lege, be­cause a lot of our re­la­tion­ship was about school. Any par­ent will know that’s just an un­com­fort­able po­si­tion to be in, where you’re on them – es­pe­cially boys – mak­ing sure they have done what they’re sup­posed to do.

“[Par­ent­ing] is a won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ence, though, be­cause there are so many dif­fer­ent phases.”

Then there’s the added pres­sures of be­ing a global fam­ily, with Flynn in Bos­ton and Cy at school in Mi­ami, while Sof­fer’s two daugh­ters are at board­ing school in New York and his son, a gifted ath­lete, at school in Aspen.

With a Brady Bunch- style blended fam­ily scat­tered across North Amer­ica and busi­ness in­ter­ests all over the world, Macpher­son and Sof­fer need to jug­gle com­pet­ing de­mands on their time.

“We have a deep re­spect for each other’s pro­found com­mit­ment to par­ent­ing, so we would both prob­a­bly say that the chil­dren come first,” she says. “And that means, at times, that we are sep­a­rated be­cause of where the kids are, and it takes quite a ma­ture per­son to al­low each other to do what we need to do in our families’ lives.”

They have op­po­site ap­proaches to par­ent­ing. She won’t say what the dif­fer­ences are – one as­sumes his ap­proach might be to­wards the re­laxed end of the spec­trum – but ad­mits, “It helps us find a mid­dle ground, where we could be ex­treme ei­ther way… through ob­ser­va­tion, be­cause I don’t be­lieve in telling him how to raise his kids.”

IN THE LEAD-UP to Macpher­son’s Stel­lar shoot at One&only Hay­man Is­land, her rep­re­sen­ta­tives said there were to be no swim­suits and re­quested she be dressed in loose cloth­ing. It was un­der­stand­able; noth­ing would be more dam­ag­ing to the seem­ingly age­less Body brand than un­fil­tered glimpses of batwings or a thick­en­ing waist.

Yet when she bounced onto the set, Macpher­son hap­pily stripped down to a body­suit and jumped in the pool. Clearly, those stip­u­la­tions had not come from her. Other than a few jokes about her “bad” knees, this is a woman com­pletely com­fort­able in her skin.

You’d think that, at 52, be­ing known as The Body would feel like a bur­den. But Macpher­son has come to a truce with her ad­vanc­ing years. “As I have ma­tured, par­tic­u­larly at this point in my life, I have had to cash in on van­ity for [self]-ac­cep­tance, for gen­tle­ness, and un­der­stand­ing for my­self,” she says. “Be­cause if I was still try­ing to pin my­self to a time­line – which is al­ways mov­ing away at 30 or 40, or wher­ever I thought I might have been at my peak – then I’m al­ways go­ing to be dis­sat­is­fied, and that’s not who I am to­day.

“I don’t think, ‘I am The Body, I have to be The Body...’ It’s a brand, and I am my ethos. Elle Macpher­son Body – what a gift.”

“I’M FI­NALLY IN A PO­SI­TION WHERE I OWN MY OWN BUSI­NESS, WHERE I CAN ASK TO PHO­TO­GRAPH A GIRL THAT I CHOOSE… IT’S A WON­DER­FUL CIR­CLE OF LIFE”

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ELLE WEARS Dion Lee top, dion­lee. com; La Perla briefs, sylviarhodeslin­gerie.com. au; her own jewellery (worn through­out); (op­po­site page) Dion Lee dress, as be­fore

ELLE WEARS Michael Lo Sordo dress, michael­losordo.com

MOGUL MUM Elle with sons Flynn (top) and Cy.

WHITE HOT A pre­view of the Elle Macpher­son Body cam­paign star­ring model Kirstin Lil­je­gren.

ELLE WEARS Michael Lo Sordo dress, michael­losordo.com

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