For our November issue, we at V magazine collaborated with photographer Terry Richardson and styling icon Carine Roitfeld on four special edition supermodel-in-the-making covers. While the resultant pictures were the exact blend of tongue-in-cheek glamour we’d expect from those two, I also spoke to all eight of our cover girls about growing up, being discovered, working in fashion, and what their lives are like in this fun, fabulous industry. First up? The South African stunner, Victoria Secret angel and current face of Tom Ford: Candice Swanepoel. The biggest revelation for me? Turns out Candice grew up a tomboy working on a dairy farm, which makes me think maybe my mother was on to something when she’d tell us kids we had to drink our milk to grow up big and strong. (For more from our November issue, which was our fashion extravaganza, go to Vmagazine.com)
Derek Blasberg: Let’s start at the very beginning. I know you grew up in South Africa, so tell me about your childhood memories.
Candice Swanepoel: My childhood was something I could never explain to anyone. The freedom and love I grew up surrounded by is such a big part of me. I grew up on a dairy farm, and it was everything to me. My parents had to sell our farm when I was living in NY because it’s becoming dangerous in that part of South Africa. I grew up close to animals and nature, the Zulu culture, and basically everything was an adventure. My memories of my childhood are so sacred to me.
DB: Any particularly strong memories?
CS: I was definitely Daddy’s little farm girl. I remember helping him feed and milk the cows, fish and make forts. I am so fortunate to have grown up like that. Wild, free and innocent.
DB: I’ve never been to South Africa – what’s the big thing to do there?
CS: Going on safari is probably the best thing to do in South Africa. It’s really an amazing experience that everyone should do once in their life.
DB: What were you like as a young girl? Were you outgoing, or more pensive?
CS: I was an extremely pensive little girl, always observing and very shy. I would watch peoples’ manner and way of being before I let anyone in. I enjoyed my time alone. I still do. I was surrounded mostly by boys growing up: my cousins, my brother and I were like The Little Rascals and used the farm as our dream world.
DB: Fashion is sometimes called a dream world.
CS: I was a big dreamer too. I always felt I wanted to do something different than everyone else. I fantasized about all the places I want to travel to. I knew at a very young age I wanted to see the world. And look, my dreams came true!
DB: Did you have hobbies growing up, or did you play sports?
CS: Ballet was my passion. I had been dancing from a very young age. My mom was a dancer too, so it was something that bonded us. I loved the discipline and elegance of ballet, and the training has helped me so much.
DB: Now, let’s talk a little bit about your career. How were you discovered? And what were some of your early jobs?
CS: I was discovered shopping with my mom at a local flea market in the city by our farm. I met with an agency and, before I knew it, I was whisked off to London. I lived in Europe for a couple of years, traveling between Milan, London and Paris, slowly learning with each job. Two years later, I moved to New York, and soon after, Victoria’s Secret discovered me. It can be a lonely life as a new model, like being a gypsy – until you find a base to call home. There were a couple of big decisions that could have changed my career and life completely, and I’m thankful that I always went with my gut feeling.
DB: What were your first impressions of New York?
CS: I came to New York for the first time when I was 16. I loved everything about it. The fast pace, and everyone on the street was more different and extravagant than the next. I knew from the moment I arrived that I wanted to live here. I would spend a couple of months here, living in the model apartments, and then I moved here full-time when I was 18. New York is the easiest place for a model to be based. Fashion is completely different in each city, but New York taught me to put my head down and work as hard as I can for as long as I can with the hope that one day my hard work will pay off. New York is where I became a businesswoman.
DB: All of the girls on the shoot are from all over the place: Tunisia, the Netherlands, Kansas. Do you like to travel?
CS: I love traveling! Its feeds my soul. Travel is the best education there is, much more than sitting in a class and just reading about it. Actually, learning and trying new things, seeing new cultures and ways of life, that’s how you grow and find out who you are. I’d love to take two years and just travel to all the places I haven’t really explored: India, Indonesia, Thailand, Bali, Ibiza, and more.
DB: Fashion is such an international industry.
CS: We are so lucky to be surrounded by such open minded, well traveled individuals. Everyone has a different story and journey that we can learn from. We get to express ourselves in art and it can be crazy, but that’s the beauty of it. A mixture of different people and personalities coming together to make one image. Our jobs aren’t easy but there is nothing I’d rather do.
DB: Do you have a favorite place?
CS: Bahia, Brazil. I feel the most alive there. It’s strange: I can smell better, taste better, breathe better. I’m free and wild there. That’s where I’m happiest. There are so many beautiful places I’ve been, but there is an energy in Bahia that I cannot resist.
DB: My favorite thing about the fashion industry is that we get to travel so much. Do you still like it, or would you prefer to spend some more time outside of an airport?
CS: I love traveling, but airports are definitely one of my pet peeves. It has just become such an annoying process with security and lines. When you travel every couple days, it can make you mental. I prefer driving or taking a boat or a bus or anything that doesn’t have security lines. But I guess it’s part of my job to be patient.
DB: What do you miss from home?
CS: I miss my farm immensely, and the lifestyle I had growing up. Time used to go so slowly. I miss my family and being able to share my life with them. Being so far and basically in another world, it gets harder and harder to have a regular conversation. I miss my dogs too.
DB: Did you have any role models in fashion?
CS: Kate Moss and Karen Mulder.
DB: Has any designer or model given you a good piece of advice?
CS: Not from anyone specific, but what I’ve learned from my parents and the years I’ve been in the industry is to always treat people with respect, no matter what they do in our industry. You will most probably cross paths again somewhere along the line. Many girls make the mistake of being too competitive. I just worry about what I’m doing and if I’m happy doing it, and just generally focus on being a good person at the end of the day. I believe good things come to people who give.
DB: You have a fabulous career: You’ve managed to do both high fashion and something more mainstream, like Victoria’s Secret. Is one sort of work more fun or gratifying than the other?
CS: I have been so lucky in my career to do both. Working with Victoria’s Secret is more than just a job – it’s a lifestyle. I get to travel to amazing islands with people who are like my family, people who have nurtured me and helped me learn and grow, and gave me confidence. I’m fortunate to have that, and on top of that I have had a bunch of incredible people from the high fashion world who support and believe in me. It all started with Mario Testino and Steven Meisel. They transformed my career into what it is today. I’m having a ball meeting and working with all these incredibly creative people.
DB: What’s it like to be an Angel? And how did you react when they told you that you got that job?
CS: It’s such an honor to be part of such an iconic brand. After traveling alone for a couple of years, it felt so good to know I was part of something. The funny thing is that I was living in Paris, and I was ready to give modeling up and move back to South Africa to study. My agent called me and said that Victoria’s Secret wanted to meet me for their fashion show, and that if I got the job I should move to New York. So I agreed. It was a deal. I got the show and moved to New York soon after, and began working with VS more and more. I will never forget the call saying I booked the show. I was beyond excited! It’s wonderful to know that VS chose me to be an Angel and that they trust me to represent their brand. Thinking of the super models before me, it’s crazy. It’s a huge pleasure and honor for me.
DB: Have you had any surreal fashion moments? Like, have there been times when you’ve had to pinch yourself because you can’t believe something is happening?
CS: So many! It’s easy to get caught up in the rush and forget what is real. Sometimes everything seems normal – but my life is definitely not normal! Becoming an Angel was a big moment for me, shooting Italian Vogue with Steven Meisel was another big moment that I will never ever forget. And it has just continued to be like that. Working with Tom Ford was another incredible moment in my career. I’ve been a fan of his for many years, even before I started modeling. I used to stick his campaigns on my school books, so working with him was surreal. My life since I left South Africa at 16 has been an amazing adventure. I think only when I retire will I will fully realize everything that has happened to me.
DB: Did you have fun working on our cover shoot? What was your impression of working with Terry and Carine?
CS: It was a blast! Terry was fun and so sweet. He had the perfect play list for Joan [Smalls] and me. It was a very easy day with Terry, and Carine is the epitome of elegance to me. She is how a woman should be: elegant and feminine, yet extremely strong. I have had the opportunity to work with her a lot in the recent months; she is a force to be reckoned with, and I adore working with her.
DB: You and Joan were teasing about having the best dance moves of the group, and I’ll say that when I saw your moves I was pretty impressed. Do you like to dance?
CS: Haha! Thank you. I love dancing, and it’s such a release. I enjoy all different types of music. I escape through music. I can’t live without music. In fact, I won’t work without music. From reggae, old school hip hop, electronic, funk, samba, rock – basically everything. Joan and I were watching the other girls and decided we better pull out our best moves. I don’t think Joan expected this little white girl could keep up with her island style grooves, but people forget that I’m from Africa! Ha!
DB: Apart from this shoot, of course, have you had any photo shoots or jobs that you really loved? Any good stories? Any people that you loved working with?
CS: I recently worked with Karl Lagerfeld, which was incredible. I was a bit nervous, but he has the most wonderful sense of humor and immediately made me feel at ease. I love working with Mario [Testino] always. He just knows how to make you feel like the most beautiful woman in the world. I feed off his fun-loving, naughty energy. No wonder he makes such timeless images.
DB: Do you like doing catwalk shows?
CS: I enjoy them very much. Not only from a model’s point of view, but I really enjoy seeing what’s next and what’s new. Fashion is such an extension of who you are as a person. And I also kind of love the rush.
DB: What’s been your favorite discovery?
CS: As for a place, my favorite discovery was Brazil. And I’ve made a few close friends over the years. It’s hard to keep relationships in such a crazy profession, but they are the smartest, most incredible women I know. My dog Luna, if she can be considered a discovery, is the sweetest best thing in the world. So many people told me not to get a dog, but it was one of the best decisions I ever made. She is my partner.
DB: Let’s talk about your beauty routine: How do you take care of yourself? Any exercise or diet tips? What kind of makeup do you use?
CS: I’ve always taken good care of myself from a very young age. That’s something my mom always told me: “The earlier you start taking good care of your body and skin, the better.” I exercise a lot, 4 days a week if I can. I’ve been working out with a trainer for years, so my body is like a machine, which it needs to be – people don’t realize how physical a model’s job is. So staying in shape helps me deal with work and travel. I also take care of my skin as if my life depended on it. Skin is the most beautiful with nothing on it. I love waking up in the morning and not needing makeup. When I’m not working I don’t wear much makeup.
DB: Favorite designers?
CS: Tom Ford, Balmain, Chloe, Stella McCartney, Balenciaga, Alexander Wang, Versace, Dolce, Isabel Marant, Rag and Bone.
DB: If you had to define your personal style, how would you call it?
CS: Always changing. It’s simple, easy, elegant, feminine, 70′s, bohemian. I have a lot of vintage pieces. Denim and leather are a staple too. I’m obsessed with jewelry and anything with a fringe. I don’t own winter clothes – in winter I just add tights and get a very warm coat and try not to leave home for anything other than work.
DB: If you weren’t modeling, what do you think you would be doing?
CS: I’d probably be a veterinarian.
DB: And finally, a really tough one: Where do you want to be in 10 years? And then in 20 years?
CS: It’s hard to even think about next week but I have dreams for the future. In 10 years, I’d love to have a quaint home on the beach, with a little family and loads of dogs. I want to wake up in the morning and be able to walk straight onto the beach, and just enjoy the simple life. Slow down a bit. In 20 years – well, I can’t even imagine myself in 20 years. Hopefully happy and at peace, surrounded by friends and family looking back on life and knowing that I made the most of my opportunities.