CANDICE SWANEPOEL

Maxim - - CONTENTS - by EDITH ZIM­MER­MAN

MAXIM DIVES IN WITH THE MOST BEAU­TI­FUL WOMAN ON EARTH

SHE’S JUST YOUR TYP­I­CAL REG­GAE-LOV­ING SOUTH AFRICAN FARM GIRL TURNED VIC­TO­RIA’S SE­CRET SEN­SA­TION. HERE’S HOW CANDICE SWANEPOEL GOT HER WINGS.

“IT’S FUNNY TO BASE YOUR WORK ON YOUR AP­PEAR­ANCE, AND SOME­TIMES I FEEL GUILTY FOR THAT, YOU KNOW?”

I MEET CANDICE SWANEPOEL on a dreary al­most-win­ter evening in Man­hat­tan, at the down­town stu­dio where she’s wrap­ping up a shoot for a spring is­sue of the Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret cat­a­log. I watch the last “look,” for which she perches on a prop bed in the mid­dle of a con­crete stu­dio filled with var­i­ous fluffy-look­ing items (furry pil­lows, pas­tel ot­tomans, etc.) and mod­els an elec­tri­cyel­low bra-and-panty set. She rolls into dozens of bed-ap­pro­pri­ate poses, one af­ter the next, cam­era flash­ing. In ac­tion, she’s ex­tra­or­di­nary—pro­fes­sional and fo­cused, all busi­ness, killing each shot. A dozen peo­ple right out of fash­ion-shoot cen­tral cast­ing, all wear­ing shades of black or gray, stand by watch­ing ev­ery move.

When the shoot ends, Swanepoel changes into civil­ian clothes (a loose, long-sleeve white-cot­ton T-shirt, tight blue jeans with gap­ing holes in the knees, black Nikes) and we chat for a while on a couch nearby. Later that night she is meet­ing up with other An­gels to watch the an­nual Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret Fash­ion Show prime-time broad­cast on CBS: “We all watch it to­gether and scream,” she says, con­jur­ing an im­age out of a mil­lion male fan­tasies. “We eat pop­corn and laugh at our­selves.”

I wouldn’t say she’s more beau­ti­ful in per­son than she is in her pic­tures, but it’s a dif­fer­ent kind of beau­ti­ful—a more nat­u­ral, warmer, less car­toon­ish beau­ti­ful. She has faint and lovely crin­kles in the cor­ners of her eyes when she smiles, which is of­ten. When I told my mom that I’d be in­ter­view­ing Candice, she e-mailed back: “That su­per­model looks warmer than most—she has a great smile.” It’s true.

When you look at thou­sands of Candice pho­tos, you see lots of dif­fer­ent peo­ple in her. She has that chameleon­like qual­ity com­mon to great mod­els. From some an­gles, she can look like a young Cameron Diaz, from oth­ers, Uma Thur­man. But af­ter a while, the things that con­sis­tently leap out are that friendly-but-daz­zling smile and her near-su­per­nat­u­ral hip-towaist ra­tio. She’s the kind of girl I’d prob­a­bly fan­ta­size about suf­fo­cat­ing at a mid­dle school slum­ber party (just kid­ding!), although she prob­a­bly wouldn’t have ever been there to begin with—or at least not for long.

Af­ter grow­ing up on a beef and dairy farm in the small South African vil­lage of Mooi River, she was scouted at age 15 at a flea mar­ket, plucked from her all-girls board­ing school, and within two years was mod­el­ing through­out Europe and living in New York. Now even if you don’t know the name, you know the face and the body. She’s been on tons of mag­a­zine cov­ers and starred in cam­paigns for Os­car de la Renta and Versace. But she’s best known as one of the most pro­lific Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret brand am­bas­sadors. She also hap­pens to be the reign­ing Num­ber One on this mag­a­zine’s an­nual Hot 100. I ask her if she some­times feels older than her age. (She’s 26.) “Yes!” she says. “I def­i­nitely do. In one way I feel much older, be­cause I’ve had to deal with a lot more re­spon­si­bil­ity and a ca­reer and money at an early age. But at the same time, there’s still a 15-year-old girl in me, one who doesn’t even have a driver’s li­cense.” She laughs.

She be­came an “An­gel”—in­ducted into the elite se­cret so­ci­ety of VS mod­els, en­try re­quire­ments un­known, limited to just eight mem­bers at a time, thank you very much—in 2010. In 2012, Forbes listed her as one of the top-10 earn­ing mod­els on the planet, and last year she booked more than $3 mil­lion in mod­el­ing fees. To­day only three mod­els have more Instagram fol­low­ers than Candice’s 4.7 mil­lion (Ken­dall Jen­ner, Mi­randa Kerr, and Cara Delev­ingne). Such num­bers rep­re­sent an ev­i­dent shift in the way su­per­mod­els come to fame/power/glory. Sure, Kate Up­ton be­came an overnight sen­sa­tion via that Youtube video of her danc­ing the Dougie at a Clip­pers game, but Candice is build­ing her fan base me­thod­i­cally, one post at a time. Forbes called her “an ex­pert at Instagram self­ies.” And Up­ton, whose ca­reer tra­jec­tory seems to mir­ror Swanepoel’s at times (Candice’s fash­ion-cred break­through came with a Steven Meisel Ital­ian Vogue cover in Fe­bru­ary 2011; Kate’s fol­lowed in Novem­ber of the next year), has a rel­a­tively paltry 1.7 mil­lion fol­low­ers. Swanepoel is win­ning on­line, hands down.

Sit­ting with Swanepoel while ev­ery­one else from the shoot files slowly out (she makes kissy sounds and says “Merci!” to the crew mem­bers as they leave), I ask what it’s like to be beau­ti­ful for a living.

“It is funny to base your work all on your ap­pear­ance,” she says, “and some­times I feel guilty for that, you know? But I don’t see my­self the way other peo­ple see me. With the right hair and makeup and peo­ple, it all be­comes an art project. I look at my­self in the third per­son, be­cause that girl in the pic­tures isn’t me: It’s a girl I cre­ated to cope with the spot­light. I had to get over a lot of shy­ness to do this job.”

And of course, there are al­ways haters. “It hits so close to home when peo­ple re­ject you,” she ad­mits. “When peo­ple com­ment, it’s not ‘Oh, that mag­a­zine was shitty’; it’s like ‘Oh, your face is shitty.’ It’s why a lot of girls grow a re­ally thick skin, which I had to. So not much gets to me eas­ily.”

On her birth­day, Swanepoel In­sta­grammed a video of her­self wear­ing a Ja­maican-flag T-shirt adorned with a mar­i­juana leaf and Bob Mar­ley cap­tion. She’s a reg­gae fan. She’s also a devo­tee of Burning Man, which she at­tends with pals, but doesn’t “re­ally like to advertise it, be­cause then it’s not sa­cred any­more.”

I ask her if any­thing strange has hap­pened to her on the job re­cently, and she laughs. “Ear­lier to­day, when the makeup woman was rub­bing cream on my bum, she was like, ‘What is this job!?’ I’m like…” Swanepoel trails off, im­ply­ing agree­ment, amuse­ment, an over­all -ness at the ab­sur­dity of the busi­ness she’s in.

As we’re pack­ing up to leave, she tells me she’s plan­ning to mar­ket her own line of jeans. Pro­ceeds are set to go to moth­er­s2­moth­ers, a char­ity aimed at elim­i­nat­ing child­hood AIDS. “Hope­fully, we make a shit­load of money,” Candice says, flash­ing that daz­zling smile one last time. ■

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