WALK­ING ON SUN­SHINE

With ray of light Ge­or­gia Fowler

Fashion Quarterly - - Contents - PHO­TOG­RA­PHY STEPHEN TIL­LEY STYLING PARIS MITCHELL

SShe’s a karaoke master and a Gemini. She plays the pi­ano as a form of med­i­ta­tion and fam­ily is ev­ery­thing to her

ome things you might al­ready know about Ge­or­gia Fowler: she’s one of New Zealand’s most suc­cess­ful models of the past decade. She’s been shot for French Vogue and ap­peared on the cov­ers of count­less fash­ion mag­a­zines. She’s walked the run­ways at ev­ery ma­jor fash­ion week, and starred in the world-fa­mous Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret show twice — as a new­bie in 2016 and with a highly cov­eted pair of wings in 2017. She’s been ro­man­ti­cally linked to A-list suit­ors from Harry Styles to Leonardo DiCaprio. Last year she starred in the mu­sic video for Kygo and Se­lena Gomez’s ‘It Ain’t Me’. And this spring, she makes her tele­vi­sion de­but as the host of Project Run­way New Zealand — a role made fa­mous in the orig­i­nal US se­ries by Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret An­gel Heidi Klum.

Some things you might not know? She’s a karaoke master, and will belt out a con­vinc­ing ren­di­tion of Glo­ria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Sur­vive’ ev­ery time. She reg­u­larly craves a Ki­wiBurger “with all the goods”, and also counts co­conut ge­lato and te­quila among her favourite foods and drinks. She’s a Gemini, which she be­lieves is out of step with her “home­body ten­den­cies” but is prob­a­bly the rea­son she can adapt eas­ily to dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions and get along with all kinds of peo­ple. She plays the pi­ano as a form of med­i­ta­tion. Her dad’s a pro golfer. Fam­ily is ev­ery­thing to her and, she says, the only rea­son she’s got where she is to­day.

“My dad is known on the golf tour for be­ing the hard­est worker on the cir­cuit — first to the gym in the morn­ing and the last to leave the range at night. I’m al­ways so proud to see him do­ing well and stick­ing it out through all the ups and downs,” says Ge­or­gia. She de­scribes her mother as car­ing, self­less and the fam­ily’s big­gest sup­port. “She looked af­ter my sis­ter and I when Dad was away and en­cour­aged us to put our hands up for ev­ery­thing we wanted. She then trav­elled with me and taught me how to take on the world un­til I was ready to do it my­self.” Older sis­ter Kate is Ge­or­gia’s best friend, “an ab­so­lute per­fec­tion­ist in ev­ery­thing she does and the most loyal and thought­ful soul”. Her aun­ties have the best senses of hu­mour (“Fam­ily din­ners often end in fits of laugh­ter be­cause of them”). And last but not least? “Nana is all of that rolled into one, and prob­a­bly the most so­cial out of any­one, mak­ing friends left, right and cen­tre.”

Thank good­ness for Skype — be­cause for Ge­or­gia, time at home with her near­est and dear­est is a lux­ury. In fact, she rarely spends more than a few nights in one place. She’s racked up more travel miles this year alone than many of us would in a life­time: St Tropez for a Zim­mer­mann launch, Cannes for the film fes­ti­val, the Ba­hamas for a swimwear shoot, New York for her birth­day, Syd­ney, Paris and Berlin for fash­ion weeks… “It sounds glam­orous,” says the 25-year-old, “but I’m usu­ally trav­el­ling alone and only in a des­ti­na­tion for one night at a time, see­ing not much more than the air­plane, stu­dio and ho­tel room, which com­bined with jet lag can be­come very alien­at­ing.”

You wouldn’t know it, of course, given the megawatt smile that’s a con­stant fix­ture on Ge­or­gia’s

In­sta­gram. Which is not to say it’s all for show; let’s face it, if you’re in a bikini on a yacht in Capri, it’s prob­a­bly safe to say you’re hav­ing a good time. And up­ping the au­then­tic­ity fac­tor is the fact that for ev­ery run­way shot or cam­paign im­age, there’s some­thing de­cid­edly down to earth: Ge­or­gia surf­ing in Raglan, cud­dling her nieces, hav­ing a din­ing room dance-off with a gal pal — plus end­less silly cap­tions and in­ter­ac­tions with friends and fam­ily. “I make a con­scious ef­fort to share the real me with my fol­low­ers and not just a gallery of pro­fes­sional pho­tos,” she says.

Still, there’s a bal­ance to be struck be­tween let­ting fans peek be­hind the cur­tain and keep­ing some things to her­self. Ge­or­gia’s staunch about leav­ing her per­sonal life off so­cial me­dia, point­ing out that re­la­tion­ships are hard enough as it is. “They don’t need the added pres­sure of be­ing played out in pub­lic,” she says.

She also wor­ries that we do our­selves a dis­ser­vice by ob­ses­sively doc­u­ment­ing ev­ery­thing on­line. “Try­ing to cap­ture and share ev­ery ex­pe­ri­ence can stop you from ap­pre­ci­at­ing it in the present,” she says. On July 1, she part­nered with New Zealand-based men­tal health or­gan­i­sa­tion Y&X as an am­bas­sador for its in­au­gu­ral Dig­i­tal Detox Day, de­signed to drive aware­ness around dig­i­tal ad­dic­tion and its cor­re­la­tion to poor men­tal health and youth sui­cide. In line with the ini­tia­tive’s mis­sion state­ment, ‘Ditch the likes and do what you love’, Ge­or­gia chal­lenged her fol­low­ers to switch off their phones for 24 hours and com­mit to be­ing present for a day. “We live in a world in which we’re more con­nected than ever, yet dis­con­nected at the same time,” she says. “That’s why it’s so im­por­tant to dis­con­nect and en­joy the mo­ment and the com­pany you’re with.”

The dou­ble-edged sword in this era of in­flu­encer mar­ket­ing is that in­creas­ingly, a pub­lic pro­file is some­thing that can be mon­e­tised. The stronger your celebrity sta­tus and the more engaged your fol­low­ing, the more value you can bring to the brands you work with, and the more likely you are to land big con­tracts with big pay pack­ets. For some­one like Ge­or­gia, go­ing off the grid com­pletely would be ca­reer-lim­it­ing.

“It’s so much more than just be­ing a model nowa­days — you’re build­ing your own per­sonal brand,” she con­firms.

Play­ing the game paid off this year in the form of the Project Run­way gig — a ca­reer coup for the first-time host. But al­though the half a

mil­lion-plus In­sta­gram fol­low­ers she brought to the ta­ble would cer­tainly have helped her win over the pro­duc­ers at TVNZ, one can’t help but think it was her nat­u­ral charisma, con­fi­dence and com­pas­sion for those putting them­selves on the line in such a com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment that made cast­ing her a no-brainer. Adamant that she’d re­main true to her­self at all times and not be com­plicit in any con­trived, made-for-TV drama, Ge­or­gia kept the con­tes­tants top of mind while per­form­ing her host­ing du­ties. In­spired by the evo­lu­tion of their de­signs and their courage to con­tin­u­ally push them­selves, she says the big­gest chal­lenge was send­ing some­one home each week. “I was over­come with emo­tion a few times be­cause I could see how hard they’d all worked and how much they wanted to stay in the com­pe­ti­tion.”

Be­ing that judge­ment, crit­i­cism and re­jec­tion are part and par­cel of be­ing one of the world’s top models, it’s not sur­pris­ing that Ge­or­gia — who says her su­per­power is “grit­ti­ness” — was able to em­pathise with the elim­i­nated con­tes­tants. A turn­ing point in her own ca­reer was when she re­alised she can’t please ev­ery­one or be right for ev­ery client or col­lec­tion. “It doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean the cast­ing di­rec­tor doesn’t like your look,” she says. Ap­par­ently, looks aren’t ev­ery­thing, any­way. “That might be what gets you booked the first time, but in or­der to get re­booked, you need to be a plea­sure to work with. There are so many pretty faces out there, but be­ing a hard worker and get­ting along with ev­ery­one on set is what makes you a stand out from the rest.”

If Ge­or­gia’s im­pres­sive re­sume is any­thing to go by, her rep­u­ta­tion is up there with the best. She picks be­ing cast — and re­cast — for Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret as her proudest ca­reer mo­ment, with other high­lights be­ing her French Vogue shoot and walk­ing high-fash­ion cat­walks for brands in­clud­ing Bal­main, Miu Miu and Al­berta Fer­retti. She’s also worked along­side Can­Teen and UNICEF, and plans to con­tinue to use her pro­file to sup­port these char­i­ties. “I’m a huge be­liever in giv­ing back and help­ing out in the com­mu­nity and the world,” she says.

Well and truly bit­ten by the TV bug, Ge­or­gia’s also in­ter­ested in try­ing her hand at act­ing, and like any self-re­spect­ing, side-hus­tling millennial, she’d love to chan­nel her cre­ativ­ity and in­dus­try knowl­edge into pro­duc­ing her own prod­uct line. “I’m not one to shy away from new chal­lenges,” she says. “It’s im­por­tant to me that I con­tinue to up­skill and grow as a per­son, so I’m ready for any new ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties that arise.”

With more and more pro­jects to jug­gle, look­ing af­ter her­self is im­per­a­tive. “Keep­ing my body in shape is a large part of my job, but what’s most im­por­tant to me is feel­ing healthy, strong and con­fi­dent,” she says, ex­plain­ing that ex­er­cise is her key means of achiev­ing this. Her pref­er­ence is for hard work­outs that see her break a sweat (Box­ing Al­ley in Parnell, Auck­land, is a reg­u­lar haunt when she’s home). For core strength and mus­cle length­en­ing, she in­cor­po­rates Pi­lates and yoga into her regime. “The slower pace forces me to re­lax, which pro­vides not just a phys­i­cal, but a men­tal break,” she says.

As for diet, the fo­cus is on per­for­mance, not pun­ish­ment. Echo­ing the words of Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret cast­ing di­rec­tor Sophia Neophi­touA­pos­tolou, who made head­lines in 2016 by com­par­ing Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret models to Olympians, Ge­or­gia says be­ing skinny is not the ob­jec­tive, “nor do I ever want to ide­alise a cer­tain size, be­cause we’re built so dif­fer­ently and are all beau­ti­ful in our own right”. A sucker for fresh fish and grilled veg­eta­bles, she says she sticks mainly to whole­foods sim­ply be­cause they’re what make her feel best in her own body. “I’ve grown up eat­ing healthily, so it’s not a diet to me — it’s what I ac­tu­ally love.”

Above all, be­ing a role model for her im­pres­sion­able young fans is not some­thing Ge­or­gia takes lightly, and pro­mot­ing a healthy at­ti­tude to­wards diet and ex­er­cise is es­sen­tial to that. There is, of course, an el­e­ment of ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’, and oc­ca­sion­ally she does get af­fected by the com­ments of ‘key­board war­riors’. “But I try to re­mem­ber that those who know me per­son­ally love me, and their opin­ions are all I care about.” Or in the words of Dr Seuss? “Those who mind don’t mat­ter, and those who mat­ter don’t mind.”

No throw­away ref­er­ence, it’s clear that for Ge­or­gia, those who mat­ter are, in essence, all that matters. Asked in honour of Fash­ion Quar­terly’s

‘Hap­pi­ness is­sue’ to de­fine hap­pi­ness, she says it’s con­tin­gent on two things. The first is iden­ti­fy­ing and then pur­su­ing your own ver­sion of hap­pi­ness. “We often strug­gle to find hap­pi­ness be­cause we shuf­fle through life look­ing for a pre-de­fined ver­sion of ‘happy’,” she says. The sec­ond is some­thing her in­ter­view an­swers, In­sta­gram posts and inim­itable pos­i­tive en­ergy all at­test to. “Sur­round your­self with those you love the most,” she says with her sig­na­ture smile. Sim­ple as that.

For your ex­tra Project Run­way New Zealand fix, check out our ded­i­cated hub at FQ.co.nz/Pro­jec­tRun­wayNZ

Paris Ge­or­gia jumper, $580. Maryam Nas­sir Zadeh boots,$1235.

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