From model to model cit­i­zen, for­mer Miss Uni­verse OLIVIA CULPO is ready for her next step: the Hol­ly­wood spot­lights.

Boston Common - - CONTENTS - By NI­C­HOLE BERNIER pho­tog­ra­phy by MIKE ROSEN­THAL

From model to model cit­i­zen, for­mer Miss Uni­verse Olivia Culpo is ready for her next step: the Hol­ly­wood spot­light.

OLIVIA CULPO WALKS INTO THE ALL-WHITE HO­TEL LOBBY dressed in head-to-toe black, from her bateau faux-fur sweater to her patent leather loafers. The per­fec­tion of the tableau is a bit dizzy­ing—what with a bit of black in the ho­tel fur­ni­ture, and a touch of white on her man­i­cured fingertips—and for a mo­ment it seems pos­si­ble some Art Deco de­sign fairy has waved her wand.

It’s not in­con­ceiv­able. The for­mer Miss Uni­verse, now a fash­ion in­flu­encer and en­ter­tain­ment per­son­al­ity, may be sought out for her un­scripted ap­pear­ances—say, step­ping in to per­form with the Bos­ton Pops dur­ing the city’s hol­i­day fes­tiv­i­ties, when she was only sup­posed to read “’Twas the Night Be­fore Christ­mas.” But when it comes to her own life, very lit­tle hap­pens off the cuff.

The ul­ti­mate beauty queen who be­gan as Miss Rhode Is­land ac­tu­ally be­gan as an ac­com­plished cel­list. From mu­si­cian to model to beauty queen, Culpo has har­nessed her dis­ci­pline and poise ev­ery step of the way. The next step comes this spring, when the 24-year-old ap­pears in her first sub­stan­tial film role with the re­lease of Amer­i­can Satan. (In 2014, she had a cameo in the Cameron Diaz flick The Other Woman.) In this up­com­ing film, Culpo plays the long-suffering girl­friend of a teen rocker, with all the typ­i­cal young-ris­ing-star angst on the ta­ble: drop­ping out of col­lege, strug­gling to find gigs that match your am­bi­tion, floun­der­ing fi­nan­cially, mak­ing poor choices. None of which re­sem­bles her own path, de­spite the fact that be­fore her cur­rent boyfriend, Pa­tri­ots wide re­ceiver Danny Amen­dola, she dated pop mu­sic won­der­boy Nick Jonas, who few would have de­scribed as a strug­gling teen mu­si­cian.

Culpo was born in Cranston, Rhode Is­land, the third of five chil­dren in a close-knit Ital­ian fam­ily with a strong mu­si­cal spine. Her mother, Su­san Culpo, plays the vi­ola in the Bos­ton Sym­phony Or­ches­tra; her fa­ther, Peter, was a pro­fes­sional trum­pet player be­fore he be­came a restau­ra­teur. All five of the Culpo chil­dren (three girls and two boys) played mu­sic am­bi­tiously—at camps, in com­pe­ti­tions, any­where and ev­ery­where. It’s what Cul­pos did.


“I started play­ing the cello in sec­ond grade, and I did the whole range—band camp, the Bos­ton Youth Sym­phony, Rhode Is­land State Or­ches­tra. Any­thing we could get in­vited to, we were in­vited to, all of us,” she says. “For some rea­son I had the most pres­sure to do the most camps and lessons and pro­grams.”

The pres­sure might have taught her dis­ci­pline, but by the time she reached col­lege, she knew she wasn’t going to pur­sue mu­sic pro­fes­sion­ally. Her fo­cus at BU was busi­ness, but her am­bi­tions were in­vested in the in­ter­sec­tion of style and celebrity. She be­gan mod­el­ing for Maggie Inc. and im­me­di­ately caught the at­ten­tion of the peo­ple at the top; where most mod­els need a few months’ devel­op­ment pe­riod, she was “dif­fer­ent.”

“She was a nat­u­ral in front of the cam­era from the start, and clients be­gan re­spond­ing to her right away,” says Robert Casey, Maggie

Inc. pres­i­dent. “She was a con­sum­mate pro, run­ning around the city to cast­ings and shoots in be­tween classes, al­ways ap­proach­ing each mod­el­ing op­por­tu­nity with the same en­thu­si­asm and en­ergy, while still main­tain­ing a full class load and keep­ing her grades up. I al­ways say that pro­fes­sion­al­ism and per­son­al­ity are more im­por­tant than looks in this busi­ness, and she had both in spades.”

She also had her eye on the next step, al­ways. Culpo be­gan study­ing the dif­fer­ent ways of be­ing in the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try, and track­ing the paths of role mod­els. “I started look­ing at peo­ple like Guil­iana Ran­cic and Maria Me­nounos, and ac­tresses like Halle Berry and Michelle Pfeif­fer, study­ing the way they started their ca­reers,” she says. The one thing their early days all had in com­mon: the world of beauty pageants.

Dur­ing her fresh­man year, in 2012, Culpo en­tered the Miss Rhode Is­land com­pe­ti­tion us­ing a rented dress with a small hole in the back (“I couldn’t af­ford to buy a gown”). It was a strap­less pink num­ber, the sim­plest one on stage, but it made her feel beau­ti­ful. It also made her a win­ner. She moved on to the Miss USA com­pe­ti­tion, win­ning that as well (with a proper gown) and qual­i­fy­ing for the Miss Uni­verse crown. Late that same year, she beat out 88 other con­tes­tants to be­come the first Amer­i­can to be named Miss Uni­verse since 1997.

But hav­ing a beauty queen in the fam­ily was not ex­actly the crescendo Culpo’s par­ents had been aim­ing for. “My par­ents said that they were em­bar­rassed I was going to do pageants. They said it was nar­cis­sis­tic,” she re­calls. “So much of my life had been ded­i­cated to the cello, and they couldn’t un­der­stand why I wouldn’t pur­sue that— or at least pur­sue the Miss Amer­ica pageant, where you can show­case your tal­ent in mu­sic.” But her re­search had shown her that of the two routes avail­able to state pageant win­ners, the Miss Amer­ica sys­tem led to­ward schol­ar­ships, whereas the Miss USA sys­tem led to what she wanted more: en­ter­tain­ment-in­dus­try con­tracts.

Be­com­ing Miss Uni­verse had sev­eral di­rect ef­fects on Culpo’s non-pageant life. It in­stilled in her a love of travel, and it pro­vided a goal in school be­yond the typ­i­cal study-and-party dy­namic (“I was not the most so­cial [in col­lege],” says Culpo. “I made a de­ci­sion to be dif­fer­ent”). It also im­bued her with an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for char­i­ta­ble ser­vice; the Miss Uni­verse crown came with a re­spon­si­bil­ity for ad­vo­cacy work in HIV aware­ness. “It was so hum­bling to be able to touch the lives of peo­ple just by wear­ing this crown and sash, which are so silly, but you put this on and some­how the re­la­tion­ship they have with Miss Uni­verse makes a dif­fer­ence for some­one—it’s mind-blow­ing.” She is cur­rently a brand am­bas­sador for Pen­cils for Prom­ise, which builds schools in un­der­de­vel­oped com­mu­ni­ties in Gu­atemala, and she’s brought in pals Justin Bieber and Shawn Men­des to be am­bas­sadors along with her.

Af­ter re­turn­ing her crown the fol­low­ing year, Culpo set­tled into the busi­ness of steer­ing the ca­reer op­tions that were com­ing her way. In the past three years, she has been the face of cloth­ing, hand­bags, and cos­met­ics for a spate of brands in­clud­ing L’Oreal and Ki­pling, and cur­rently rep­re­sents Ram­page cloth­ing and GHD hair prod­ucts. What all this work sat­is­fies, she says, is a love of style. “I love the way things go to­gether, like a great ta­ble set­ting, or how an out­fit goes to­gether. Any­thing that el­e­vates life, makes it more sub­stan­tial.”

Her life is cer­tainly el­e­vated by high-pro­file ap­pear­ances, like cu­rat­ing a Moët cock­tail for the Golden Globe Awards, chat­ting about Toys for Tots on the To­day show, or ap­pear­ing on Beat Bobby Flay (“the Food Net­work has been my fa­vorite ever since I was lit­tle”).

But the sub­stance por­tion of the el­e­vated life comes from things that bring Culpo back to her roots: the kitchen, com­fort food, and fam­ily. All of which are in abun­dance in her new role as part-owner of a forth­com­ing North Kingstown restau­rant, to be called Back 40, with her fa­ther and cousin.

“When I look at a meal or a plate of food, for me it’s the pas­sion of how those fla­vors come to­gether, the cre­ation of it, sea­sonal fresh pro­duce and dishes for dif­fer­ent oc­ca­sions—all those as­pects of food are so valu­able,” she says. “It’s like putting to­gether a beau­ti­ful out­fit.” But this out­fit—a spot for ca­sual Amer­i­can fare, sim­i­lar to Peter Culpo’s Bos­ton restau­rant, Lulu’s All­ston—is more like Sun­day play clothes, re­flect­ing the fun of fam­ily life. “In a large fam­ily you’re al­ways sur­rounded by peo­ple,” says Culpo. “It’s hec­tic, sure, but it adds char­ac­ter.” She laughs, and her stun­ningly sculpted face goes imp­ish. “As we were grow­ing up, our house was the ‘fun house’ be­cause there were no rules. There was al­ways some kind of dif­fer­ent drama and chaos. It was def­i­nitely fun, and still is.”

“It was so hum­bling to be able to touch the lives of oth­ers, how the re­la­tion­ship they have with Miss Uni­verse makes a dif­fer­ence for some­one,” says Rhode Is­land– na­tive Olivia Culpo, the for­mer Miss Uni­verse and now a bud­ding movie star, seen here...

Top ($595), em­broi­dered skirt ($11,000), and belt (price on re­quest), Al­tuzarra. Saks Fifth Av­enue, The Shops at Pru­den­tial Cen­ter, 617-262-8500; Styling by Ja­son Bolden Hair by Jus­tine Mar­jan at Some­thing Artists us­ing GHD and TRESemmé...

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