Elle Macpherson: 'The Body' bares all
Beauty, brains, a keen eye for business - that much goes without saying. But who is the real Elle Macpherson? And does she ever just let herself go?
Of course you know that Elle Macpherson is going to be tall and beautiful, but it's still a shock when you encounter her in the flesh.
At first I think it might be the elongating Michael Kors maxidress in which the stylist has put her, but there's my first mistake - nobody puts Elle in anything, other than Elle herself. And anyway, every look she comes out in makes her appear as breathtaking as the last: the white tuxedo by Tom Ford, the beaded dress by Elie Saab… Gosh, is it really necessary,
I think, as she sits down for the interview in her 'casual' clothes, that the 'casual' clothes should consist of 6in stiletto boots, skin-tight leather leggings and a vest by Roberto Cavalli?
When I ask her to talk through her day outfit, she gives me a 'this old thing' look, before explaining that her Sass & Bide waistcoat, attached to a cape, is 'perfect for this time of the year because it is made of wool' (it is June). Despite the weather, the Australian loves living in London, because 'the English accept uniqueness and eccentricity and people are allowed to express themselves through their clothes in weird and wacky ways…
If I go to Paris or New York and dress how I do in London, I feel as if I stand out.' But this is quite patently claptrap, because Elle Macpherson, aka the Body, certainly stands out today, and would probably stand out just about anywhere other than a room full of other supermodels from the 1980s having a fabulous reunion to the tune of George Michael's Freedom (she wasn't in that video, but she blinkin' well should have been).
Anyway, I ask Macpherson where her heels are from - Gianmarco Lorenzi as it so happens - and she slips them off to reveal a perfectly pedicured foot, complete with diamanté detail. I tell her they are lovely. She tells me the name of her manicurist. I say that I painted my toenails especially for her, which is only 99 per cent true, and add jokingly that if she likes the colour she can get it from Rimmel for a couple of quid. 'Being a Revlon girl,' she says, quick as a shot, 'I only use Revlon.'
Let us not forget at any point that the Body is also the Boss, not to mention the Businesswoman, with a career that spans over 30 years, and a net worth of almost £40 million (then there's the fact she is a mother of two sons). The 48-year-old's perfectly manicured fingers are in many pies, including Revlon, her eponymous lingerie line (Elle Macpherson Intimates) and a range of skincare. She isn't just boobs and a bottom - she is also a brain, a woman who only got into modelling to fund her law degree at Sydney University.
And so, where other models might have missed the potential of being dubbed 'the Body' by Time magazine in 1989, she not only saw it but ran with it - all the way along the beach, and into the water, where she enjoys (deep breath): paddle-boarding, surfing, water-skiing and swimming. (What else does she do to relax, I ask. 'Snow skiing, tennis, Bikram yoga. I work out at the gym lifting weights, but it depends where I am - if I'm in Colorado then I am hiking.')
Anyway, we are here to discuss her role as presenter and producer of Britain & Ireland's Next Top Model. It is her third year on the show and for this series - or 'cycle', as fans of the global franchise know it - she will be joined by the model Tyson Beckford and the fashion designer Whitney Port.
They are, she says, 'smart, funny, articulate, sexy and at the top of their game'. She tells me that Tyra Banks, the show's mastermind, is 'very happy' with what she is doing and 'jokes with all of us who do it, "Look at all my girls working for me!"' - though I get the impression that if Banks tried to run this joke past Macpherson too many times she would soon stop finding it so funny.
The other judge is the designer Julien Macdonald, who in 2010 said that plus-size models were 'a joke', adding that it was right that there were none competing in that series of the show. When I ask Macpherson about this, she answers with the considered judgment of one who has been in the business a long time without getting sucked into it.
'I am not weightist,' she says, an eye on her BlackBerry (her eye is always on her BlackBerry). 'A beautiful girl is a beautiful girl and it comes in all shapes and sizes and that is my perspective.'
At times she trots out platitudes that make her seem like a doll in a toyshop loaded with pre-recorded phrases. Is she relieved she isn't going into modelling now, I ask?
'I appreciate the whole life experience,' she says, like a beautiful robot. 'I don't sit there fantasising, thinking, "Thank God I did it then and not today." My journey is my journey.' She can seem like a walking, talking press release - 'I try to break down barriers with people through conversation and through understanding and eye contact'; 'I am more interested in you than what you think of me: that you have purple nail polish on and blue eyes with green on the inside of your iris' - and she seems almost affronted when I say, diplomatically, that she is diplomatic.
'I think I am discerning. Diplomacy for me means never really having an opinion on anything and I feel I have strong opinions about things. I have strong opinions but I don't need to be angry.' What makes her angry? 'My boys!' She laughs. 'Lippy teenagers!'
I do like Elle Macpherson a lot. She is polite and charming and incredibly good at what she does; I suppose part of being so good at what she does is being 'discerning'. She has never opened up about her private life and has managed to keep it largely under the carpet (despite being a victim of phone hacking, which led to her former business adviser giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry last year).
She isn't perfect, not by any stretch of the imagination, even if her version of imperfection is a little more perfect than everybody else's. She has one failed marriage behind her (to the fashion photographer Gilles Bensimon, which ended in divorce in 1990), and two children with the billionaire financier Arpad Busson, though their relationship ended in 2005. He is now with Uma Thurman, who is pregnant, while Macpherson is rumoured to be dating the super-banker Roger Jenkins (who was married to Diana Jenkins, a Bosnian beauty who is friends with everyone from Sir Elton John to Justin Timberlake - do keep up at the back).
But she won't talk about any of that. 'You have to ask, but I don't have to answer.' I think I am tantalisingly close at one point when she starts talking about the changing face of fashion, mentioning, unprompted, her ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend, in a monologue that goes like this:
'I think it [fashion] is way more accessible now, that there is an overlap in film and music that we haven't seen before. You have actresses being models, and models being actresses, which is a new thing. Rihanna is now a fashion icon. And fashion and film are so intertwined now - I mean, look at how Uma Thurman's character in Pulp Fiction influenced style…'
So it seems a little bit churlish of her to get haughty when I mention that she mentioned Thurman.
'I referred to Uma as an iconic example of film and fashion coming together,' she says curtly, 'and not in regards to my personal life.'
We move on, back to the seemingly safe world of her career. Where does she see herself in the future? 'Well, it's easy to extrapolate where I would like to be, but I never in my wildest dreams could have guessed 10 years ago where I would be now. And if I had spent my time walking towards only what I thought I could have had a decade ago, I would have missed out on everything I have today. If I am in the future then I am not in the now.'
Oh, Elle! She speaks so much, yet says so very little. Indeed, to witness the real Ms Macpherson, the key is to observe her without the tape-recorder on. Between the shoot and the interview she calls home to check that the youngest of her two sons is going riding, reminding him to take his horse a carrot, or perhaps some sugar cubes. And it is on the subject of her offspring that she really comes alive. She builds everything around Flynn, who is 14, and Cy, who is 10.
'So, you know, in my head it is always, "What time do they need to get up? What time do they need to get to school? What are they doing after school?''
They are amazing company and my favourite people to hang out with, although I don't always think I'm their favourite person to hang out with. Flynn particularly… Well, he is blossoming into a young man and the last thing he wants to do is hang out with his mum. He'd much rather BBM with his friends, which I understand. But they are such great company and they make me laugh - they are funny and they're smart. I mean, every mother thinks their children are amazing, but I like to think I have a more detached perspective.'
Are they into fashion? She grins wildly. 'Flynn's favourite line is, "Mum, you don't know anything about fashion." It's a typical teenage thing. I will say to him, "Do you really want to wear your jeans below your butt-hole?" And I will tell him,
"I really love that blazer with those jeans,"
and he will say, "Mum, it's not about a blazer, it's about a sweatshirt."'
Don't his friends simply love coming round to visit, what with his mum being a supermodel and everything? 'Well, his friends are very discreet, and I never get the impression that they are impressed by me being his mum, or that they are coming round to check everything out. They are their friends because they love Flynn and Cy.' The house, she says, is 'full of kids constantly'.
Back to the shoot, and it is Macpherson who directs proceedings. After all this time in the business she knows what she wants. She picked the photographer ('I like her images, and I wanted something that was strong and timeless and fresh, which I think she captures') and works with the hairstylist and make-up artist all the time.
She checks each photo, makes sure she is standing in the correct way - the photographer's assistant remarks that the average model would passively pose before retreating to a corner to text her boyfriend, but then Macpherson is no average model.
She tells me she likes creating images. 'I'm a very visual person - I need to see the picture and see what needs to change. Photography is all about light and angles and emotion, so I need to be able to know when to move a shoulder up and so on.' Has the Body, the Boss, the Businesswoman ever thought of going into photography, too?
'I take a lot of photographs, yeah,' she says with a nod, 'but there are only so many things I can do…'