When she’s not shooting campaigns or covers, the Brazilian model spends her downtime playing volleyball and hosting BBQs in her Santa Monica home. Here, she explains the irresistible pull of The Golden State
Words by ROB HASKELL
Photography by WE ARE THE RHOADS
Fashion Direction by KATIE MOSSMAN
Of all the hidden talents one might imagine Alessandra Ambrosio uncovering during quarantine, it comes as something of a surprise to learn that she didn’t take up baking sourdough bread or doing crossword puzzles or learning some nearly forgotten needle art. Instead: hair and makeup. The Brazilian-born model, next to whose name the word “bombshell” rarely fails to appear, had never done her own glam routine before. “In my business, you get so spoiled,” she explains. “People do everything for you. But in the last year, I had to become my own stylist. I thought, OK, it’s time to learn.”
Miu Miu coat, price upon request, and dresses, $2,340 each. Jimmy Choo boots, $1,125.
On an afternoon in August, Ambrosio is tucked into a sofa on a breezy second-floor terrace at the Little Beach House Malibu. She wears a gauzy Missoni shirt in bright turquoise, cutoff denim shorts and braided leather sandals from Bottega Veneta, a brand she’s in the midst of a minor love affair with. The waves form big, cacophonous barrels down below — just the sort that her daughter Anja, 13, has rushed fearlessly into nearly every day of the summer. (They’re still too intense for her son Noah, age 9.) Ambrosio caught her first wave in Santa Monica years ago, but motherhood has taken the allure out of daredevil sporting. And then there’s the cold water. “In Brazil and Hawaii, I’ll still surf,” she says. “Not here. No wet suits! I’d rather chill.”
Ambrosio has been one of the world’s busiest models ever since she was 15 — including a 17-year reign as a Victoria’s Secret Angel until she stepped down in 2017 — so the pandemic offered an opportunity to reconsider the breathless pace of her life. “The past year was a very interesting change for me,” she says. “It was a moment where home became everything. I was so used to traveling, being on the road all the time. I had a great support system here while I was working, where my parents would fly in to help, or my sister would come with her family. But they couldn’t travel. I became my kids’ teacher, their everything. It was great bonding time for us, a time to spend every day together, which we had never done, to get to know each other in a deeper way.”
Salvatore Ferragamo coat, $4,400, and shoes, price upon request.
Since moving to the U.S. 22 years ago (she gained her citizenship last year), punctuated by stints in Paris and Tokyo, Ambrosio has truly made a home for herself here in California. Her children’s father, Jamie Mazur, who founded Re/Done jeans, grew up in Los Angeles, and they moved here together from New York in 2008. (The couple split up a few years ago.) “As soon as I got pregnant,” Ambrosio says, “I said, I’m going to make the move. I always wanted to be as close to the ocean as I could. Growing up in Brazil, we didn’t live by the sea, but I would go whenever we had time, every summer. We Brazilians do have that style of life, the need to be by the water.”
“For my 40th I said, if there’s no Coachella this year, I’m going to do my own mini-Coachella”
A peripatetic creature by temperament and profession, Ambrosio has learned to appreciate her own backyard, literally. “I’m not a very good cook,” she says, “but I love being a little mixologist, and I got good at making different margaritas all the time, grabbing things that grow at my house — kumquats or different types of lemons from the tree, mixing it up, adding mint or rosemary from the herb garden.” In the last year, she isolated with a small pod of close friends who would come over for dinner and drinks and what became the official pandemic pastime: Mexican Train, a game played with dominoes. As the days got warmer, Ambrosio and her friends and children formed a volleyball group at the beach. She has always loved to play but never had the chance to do it regularly. “I even took some classes. I think I got good.”
Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello top, $1,550, vest, $1,290, pants, $950, boots, $2,295, and necklaces, from $1,050.
The pandemic also gave Ambrosio a break from modeling work, which made it the perfect opportunity for a retrospective project. Around the end of 2019, photographer Stewart Shining, whom Ambrosio has known for 25 years — since she first came to New York — suggested that they look at the enormous number of images they had made together, many unpublished, and build a book out of them. “It was a dream project,” she says. “Neither of us had done a book before.” Alessandra, as it is called, will be out in time for Christmas. It brings together old and new work, including images from what she calls her “last party” — a trip to Rio de Janeiro’s Carnaval. “I’ve been a model for 20 years, we’ve been working together for 20 years, I turned 40 this year. It just feels like the perfect timing.”
Brunello Cucinelli coat, $11,995. Jimmy Choo boots, $1,125.
Quarantine set the scene for less-glamorous but equally satisfying projects. Ambrosio has a chocolate lab named Cinnamon who became friendly with a neighbor’s golden retriever. Last September, Cinnamon gave birth to 10 puppies. “That was pretty special,” Ambrosio says. “Growing up in Brazil, you just let the dogs out, and my dog would always have litters, then we’d give the puppies away to friends. I thought, well, it would be great for my kids to experience that — to see them since day one, the whole process. It was really cool for me and for them. I was taking care of this massive litter, and we gave the puppies away when they were ready to leave their mom and kept one for ourselves.”
Prada coat, price upon request.
Ambrosio makes a point of introducing her children to the values and traditions of Brazil, which was easy enough when her own parents regularly came to town to help out with childcare. In their absence, there is the Sunday Brazilian barbecue that Ambrosio has made a weekly tradition at her home in Santa Monica whenever she is in town. She shops at a Brazilian butcher on Venice Boulevard, who supplies the essential cuts: picanha, the much-prized rump cap with its thick blanket of fat, and, for the braver guests, chicken hearts. A dear friend of hers, who is married to a Brazilian woman and has become an expert in the art of churrasco, tends the grill, while Ambrosio mixes up caipirinhas and margaritas with whatever fruit she has on hand — kiwis or strawberries, watermelon, pineapple. Ambrosio’s boyfriend, the model Richard Lee, may make a pie for dessert, while she throws together the traditional Brazilian fudge balls called brigadeiros for the children.
Valentino dress, $26,000.
While she tries to keep Brazil alive in her children’s imagination, like all parents Ambrosio must contend with the power of the iPhone. She was able to take her kids to Brazil for three months last winter, and when they returned in March, her son was unsure how he felt about returning to school in person. “He said, ‘I prefer virtual school,’ and I was like, no. You’re going,” she says. “The online thing is so big for them. I didn’t have a virtual world growing up. The friends you made, they were real, and they were in front of you, and you had to deal with the problems in front of you. In this virtual world, things become a bit shallow.”
“Be who you are. Don’t try to be anyone else. Fashion is finally giving a chance to everyone to feel important”
On the other hand, Ambrosio has had to adapt to the way in which social media has transformed her own industry — sometimes for the better. She takes care of her own Instagram, with more than 10 million followers, nearly every day: spontaneous family moments at home or on the beach mixed with a healthy dose of models having fun, very frequently in bikinis. “Last January, right before the pandemic, I was so tired of social media,” she recalls. “I had a lot going on, a lot of trips to do, and I wanted to live my life. I even thought about closing my Instagram. Then the pandemic came, and that was the only thing that kept me doing stuff. I was taking classes online. There’s this amazing yoga teacher in Hawaii who started doing her classes through Instagram Live. And I did a few interviews. It was a great way to keep my job going.
Louis Vuitton top and jacket, prices upon request, skirt, $5,200, and boots, $2,470.
“I think it’s part of what we do now,” she continues. “We have to do it. Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s a lot of work. I think if I was a millennial I’d be way more on top of it. I haven’t connected with TikTok and all those platforms. I see my kids doing it, and it’s not for me. I can’t force it. I can’t be dancing like a teenager. I’d rather let the young ones do it.” She remembers the old days, when “behind the scenes” meant a carefully controlled and choreographed encounter. “Now everything is exposed. Which I think is good in a way. It gives voice to people who have things to say. We’ve had this big change in the fashion industry around inclusion and diversity, and I think that’s great. Social media definitely helped that.”
In 2019, the Victoria’s Secret fashion show was canceled amid declining ratings and growing concern that the company had failed to represent women of different sizes and backgrounds. In June, the brand announced a new fleet of ambassadors that include the soccer great Megan Rapinoe, the trans model Valentina Sampaio and the actor Priyanka Chopra. While Ambrosio has fond memories of her days at Victoria’s Secret, she welcomes the label’s change of course. “When I worked there it was amazing, and we were family,” she says. “But the whole world is changing, and I think it took a little bit of time for Victoria’s Secret to do that. Now they’re doing it with a whole new group of girls. The thing is: Be who you are, embrace who you are. Don’t try to be anyone else. Fashion is finally giving a chance to everyone to feel important, pretty and good about themselves.”
“I’m not a very good cook but I love being a little mixologist, making different margaritas all the time, and grabbing things that grow at my house”
Dior coat, $7,700, skirt, $5,300, boots, $2,390, and earrings, $690.
In April, Ambrosio celebrated her 40th birthday with a party in the desert. Traditionally the date coincides with the Coachella music festival. As her fans and followers know, Ambrosio is an alt-rock junkie and a festival regular; in fact, she believes she has missed only the first two years of Coachella since its launch in 1999, and her post-hippie wardrobe of sundresses, tie-dye, bikini tops and floppy hats has become the festival’s trademark style. “It’s my birthday ritual,” she explains. “So for my 40th I said, if there’s no Coachella this year, I’m going to do my own mini-Coachella. I invited the 20 to 25 people closest to me in L.A. I got a house in the desert right next to where the festival usually is. A little cover band played my favorite songs. We spent three days dancing and hanging out in the pool. It was the perfect staycation.”
This fall, as the world opens up a bit, Ambrosio will be back on the global fashion stage. She has a TV project she cannot yet speak about and has events planned in Europe and South America. These days she works with a few brands with which she has long-lasting relationships, such as the watchmaker Omega. She has a swimwear line, GAL Floripa, which she co-founded with her sister and her best friend in Brazil. (Floripa is the nickname of Florianópolis, the Brazilian island where she has a family home.) “Obviously I don’t work like I used to,” she says. “This has been a great transition time.
Gucci top, $890, skirt, $1,980, and coat (hanging), $13,000. Jimmy Choo boots, $1,125.
“I feel like I got calmer during the quarantine,” Ambrosio explains. “I don’t feel the urge to go party. I kept seeing pictures of my friends in Europe this summer, and I thought, I don’t really miss this. I think I like to be with my kids and my friends at home, chilling, going to the beach, playing volleyball, taking the dogs for hikes. This fall it will be about mixing that up with the traveling I’ll do for work. It’s a nonstop world, and this was a great time to breathe, to learn about myself, recharge and reset instead of always being on to the next thing. Coming out of the quarantine, I don’t think I’ll be the same. I don’t know, maybe I’m just growing up.”
ALESSANDRA by Stewart Shining, alessandrabook.com.
ELSEWHERE, a stunning private estate in Topanga Canyon, belonging to Stefan Ashkenazy, owner of Petit Ermitage hotel. To book any of the accommodations on the estate email firstname.lastname@example.org
Fashion assistants MELINETTE RODRIQUEZ and LONDRA MIRACLES.
Hair by Rob Talty at FORWARD ARTISTS using IGK HAIR.
Makeup by GINA BROOKE BEAUTY for KISOLITE CLAY at THE WALL GROUP using ARMANI BEAUTY.
Manicure by MEL SHENGARIS at FORWARD ARTISTS using OPI.
Feature image: Giorgio Armani top, $1,895, jacket, $3,695, and pants, $3,295.
This story originally appeared in the Fashionable Living 2021 issue of C Magazine.
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