More than just a pretty face, model Olivia Culpo breaks through the digital ceiling, lending glamour, celebrity, and success to the term “influencer.”
Lace dress ($1,895), bra ($545), and panties ($225), Dolce & Gabbana. The Shops at Crystals, 702-431-6615. Spiral hoop earrings, Altuzarra (price on request). Barneys New York, Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian and Palazzo, 702-629-4200
“What do you do?” It’s a question many get asked, though probably not as often as former Miss Rhode Island, Miss USA, and Miss Universe Olivia Culpo. But for Culpo, it comes more in the form of, “What does she even do?” In an increasingly digital world where success is measured by likes and clicks, it’s hard to quantify the effect an “influencer” can have not only on a brand but on the public as well. In fact, dare have 1.5 million Instagram followers gawk as you pose in the latest trends and you could get labeled as “famous for being famous.”
But when luxury brand Kipling taps you to be the face of its holiday campaign, while Rampage Jeans, ghd hair tools, and L’Oréal all count you as one of their faces, and on top of that, Moët & Chandon hires you to go to the Golden Globes and create this year’s specialty cocktail, it’s safe to say the success is not only quantified, but also monetized. There’s a living to be made doing this, and Culpo is the genius who’s figured out what so many companies and brands seemingly can’t—how to make social media work for them.
Add in frequent appearances in Las Vegas and brand appearances at Art Basel, a Bali trip with Revolve, two upcoming films—American Satan and Tired Lungs—Paris Fashion Week, recent appearances on Project Runway and The Kitchen as well as the cover of Seventeen Latin America, and this model/actress is a far cry from the self-described “dork in band camp.” Especially when you consider she’s dating New England Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola.
You grew up in a small town in Rhode Island, hardly destined to become a globally recognized face…
I was the typical middle child of five siblings, always feeling like I was getting the short end of the stick. I always felt like my parents were too busy to pay attention to me. Plus, I played the cello all through school and went to band camp. I was never really seen as beautiful; I never thought that I would be able to model. I spent a lot of time going from orchestra to band camp, and I had to practice a lot—my parents were pretty strict.
How does a band camp girl who didn’t think she was beautiful end up in beauty pageants?
As a little girl, I was really chubby. I don’t think kids know anything about diet, so I’m sure I was eating whatever I wanted to. And on top of that I was not athletic. I was definitely more into the arts, and I was a late bloomer. All of a sudden, I got really tall and lean. After my crazy growth spurt, I looked like a completely different person. As the years went on, I went to Boston University and studied communications and acting. A lot of the people that I looked up to were actually, surprisingly enough, women who had gotten their start in pageants, like Halle Berry and Giuliana Rancic or Maria Menounos.
Gown, Roberto Cavalli ($10,195). The Shops at Crystals, 702-736-7300
Back to the band camp thing…
All of my siblings played different instruments, and we would drive an hour out of state to go to the best orchestras. In high school, the cool girls didn’t understand why I would always play my cello because they thought it was dorky. I remember wanting to hang out with my friends after school and my cello wouldn’t fit in their car, so I could never go home with them. And walking up the street with my cello and having to put it on the bus, and everyone yelling at me because they couldn’t get through the aisle and it was a safety hazard...
There was a lot that set me apart. But as I grew older, I began to love that because it is such a unique talent to have, and I do respect my parents for pushing it on me. [Though] at the time, I thought it made me the biggest loser on the planet.
“I WAS NEVER REALLY SEEN AS BEAUTIFUL; I NEVER THOUGHT I WOULD BE ABLE TO MODEL.”
What was it like trying out for a beauty pageant for the first time?
My first pageant was when I got to college. I was 18 years old and that’s when I began modeling. I had to go to the agency and basically beg them to take me. They told me I needed to give them a check for $30, and I had no money, so I had to steal a check from my parents. My agency told me not to do the pageant; they thought it was tacky. My parents felt the same way. They thought it was vain.
At what point did you realize this could be a career?
My parents were never about makeup or hair. My mom to this day still wears absolutely no makeup; she doesn’t even have face cream! So growing up in that environment didn’t exactly promote any sort of putting on makeup or wearing revealing clothes, showing off your features and your beauty. It wasn’t until I branched out of my home life that I realized I could model for a living. When I got to college, friends would tell me I should model.
Bodice ($1,850) and skirt ($1,600), Zimmermann. Barneys New York, Grand Canal Shoppes at Venetian and Palazzo, 702-629-4200
Do you worry about some of the things that have happened to Kim Kardashian or online bullying?
You definitely have to be cautious on social media. In terms of bullying, I try not to let it get to me. I genuinely believe that people who are putting themselves out there to make other people feel bad are in a worse-off place than you are. I try to just think of it as not even being real. Because a lot of times, these people are just kids behind a computer screen or just really sad, suffering people, and I don’t want to judge them. Their opinion doesn’t have much merit anyway.
You are also good at staying out of drama.
Many people in my age group fall into drama or have late-night tweeting episodes. I have a lot of people around me who support me, so I don’t feel like I have to go out and rebel or do things without thinking them through. That’s what it comes down to, thinking about the consequences of your actions. Absolutely, sometimes I wanted to do or say things and have my mind heard, but it’s not always what’s best.
To what do you attribute your rise to success?
Authenticity is very important in branding yourself and knowing what you want. It’s really difficult not to just hop on the bandwagon and do what every person is doing. I found that maintaining your brand and sticking to it makes all the difference. It sets you apart, and these days that’s what people want—something different.
Slip dress, Diane von Furstenberg ($898). The Forum Shops at Caesars, 702-879-2692
Does being a self-described “chubby little girl” play into your diet now?
I just want to do what makes me feel best. And I don’t think it means you have to be any particular size. It’s different for every person. I am not super strict, but if I have something coming up and I know I need to be in bikini shape, then I will amp up the diet and the exercise. Naturally, I prefer to eat pretty healthy, but I am not the type of person who will count calories. I also drink about a gallon of water every day.
What are your thoughts on plastic surgery?
No matter how much surgery you have, whether you are the most sought-after beauty in the world or you aren’t, it’s hard to always be happy in your own skin. If people have surgery to be happier, it’s something that they should be able to do without being ashamed.
Is it important to keep your love life private?
It’s absolutely a learning curve to decide what to keep private and what to let people see. And it is hard. Sometimes you are so excited about something and you want everyone to know, or you are really angry about something, but there is no right or wrong answer.
Robe coat ($4,950), dress ($1,750), necklace ($2,100), brooch ($550), and metal belt ($1,300), Chanel. Wynn Las Vegas, 702-770-3532
Are marriage and kids in your future?
Absolutely. Some of the people I admire the most are the women who can do it all, like Jessica Alba or Rachel Zoe. Just women who are absolutely killing it in their businesses and in their brand, but also have time to have a husband and children and maintain that privacy. Growing up in a big family has made family very important to me, and I definitely want that someday. Not right now, though.
You were crowned Miss Universe in Las Vegas in 2012. What are your memories of that whirlwind time?
The first time I ever went to Vegas was when I was competed in Miss USA. Every time I think of Las Vegas I think of those amazing memories from that time. Vegas is the place where my life changed. I went from being a Boston University college student to being whisked away to New York City for a long year as Miss USA and then eventually Miss Universe. I’ll never forget getting off the plane with my mom and heading over to Caesars Palace.
They had upgraded us to a fancy suite and I remember thinking it was so beautiful—I couldn’t believe it! Now, every time I walk into a Vegas hotel I am immediately brought back to the moment I won Miss USA and Miss Universe. The smell of the buildings alone brings back so many memories. I know that sounds strange but it’s the truth!
“MANY PEOPLE IN MY AGE GROUP FALL INTO DRAMA. I HAVE A LOT OF PEOPLE AROUND ME WHO SUPPORT ME, SO I DON’T FEEL LIKE I HAVE TO GO OUT AND REBEL.”
You’re in Vegas a lot! What do you love best?
When I’m in Vegas I always have to go to the spa for some R&R. The hotels have the most luxurious spas. Another thing I always love to do is see a show. I really like all the Cirque du Soleil shows and of course some of the iconic musical performances like Shania Twain, Britney Spears, and J.Lo. My favorite hotels are Wynn and the Bellagio because they have everything.
One minute you can gamble and drink cocktails and the next moment you can be looking at priceless works of art. The restaurants in Vegas are always great, too. The last time I was there we had this multi-course meal at Bazaar Meat by José Andrés. It was definitely over the top, but that’s what Vegas does best! Other restaurants I love in the area are by some of the most successful chefs I really admire like Giada, Bobby Flay, Emeril, and Gordon Ramsay.
In fact, you’re adding “restaurateur” to your own job description.
I’m from a big Italian family; my dad has owned restaurants my entire life. It’s something I have always dreamed of doing. We are opening this restaurant with my cousin in North Kingstown, Rhode Island, called The Back 40. It’s been fun to dive into the food space. (In February, Culpo showcased Super Bowl recipes on Food Network’s The Kitchen.)
Are you a die-hard Patriots fan?
Everybody in Rhode Island clings to the Patriots. It’s the one thing that we have going for our tiny state. So everyone in Rhode Island is a Patriots fan, and I am one of them. Die-hard.
Culpo serves as a spokesperson for HIV/AIDS awareness and an ambassador for Free the Children and We Day, and has traveled the world working with various charities in underdeveloped countries.
photography by MIKE ROSENTHAL. Styling by Jason Bolden. Hair by Justine Marjan at Something Artists using GHD and TRESemme. Makeup by Liz Castellanos for Dew Beauty Agency. Manicure by Pilar Noire for CHANEL Le Vernis in Organdi at Nailing Hollywood. Location: Chateau Marmont, 8221 Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood, CA, 323-656-1010