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Why Supermodel Rosie Huntington-Whiteley is Building a Beauty Empire

In the arid dreamscape of Vasquez Rocks, the entrepreneur talks California living and why she’s becoming a beauty magnate

Words by ELIZABETH DAY
Photography by ZOEY GROSSMAN.
Creative & Fashion Direction by ALISON EDMOND

 

It seems entirely fitting that Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, despite being British, should choose to make California her home. At 31, she looks like the Neoplatonic ideal of a bronzed surf goddess: blond hair tucked neatly into a roll-neck jumper, Pacific-blue eyes and lips set at exactly the right level of natural pout. She’s the kind of woman one believes exists only in music videos or the collective imagination. So it would have been odd, quite frankly, if someone who looked so Los Angeles hadn’t ended up living there too.

But for a model and businesswoman (more on that later), the attraction to her adopted home runs more than skin deep. “I feel I get so much energy from living in L.A.,” she says when we meet on one of her regular trips to London to catch up with family and friends. “There’s a positive energy and atmosphere that I feel really inspired by. … In America, there’s that ‘dream big’ attitude. I think that is exciting. To be ambitious there and to be successful is celebrated in a different way.”

She loves British humor and the English tendency toward self-deprecation but at the same time finds her homeland’s obsession with background and upbringing can occasionally be restrictive. In the States, by contrast: “I just find less limitations, perhaps: doors open, people see your vision more. It’s not so much about where you went to school or who your connections are.”

She moved to Los Angeles eight years ago for her own supermodel career. Huntington-Whiteley began modeling for Victoria’s Secret in 2006 (she was named an Angel in 2010) and has countless magazine covers and fashion campaigns like Burberry and Balmain to her name. The move also made sense because her fiancé, actor Jason Statham, often needs to be in L.A. for work. Having starred in such films as Snatch, Spy and The Transporter film franchise, Statham is, like Huntington-Whiteley, a homespun British export. The couple has a son, Jack, who will be 2 in June.

Is Jack speaking with an American accent yet? She laughs. “He’s saying words [but] it’s baby voice. So there’s no accent detected. And I should imagine he’ll have an English accent probably up until he goes to school, just because he’s mainly around English people. … But who knows?”

Motherhood has been a turning point for Huntington-Whiteley. She was always aware, as a model, that her lifespan in the industry would be predicated on her youth. As she’s grown older, she has quietly transformed herself into a multimillionaire businesswoman. There was a brief foray into acting when she appeared in two blockbusters — Mad Max: Fury Road and Transformers: Dark of the Moon — but it’s not something she wants to pursue, and she quite freely claims she was “terrible.”

Business has always been much more her thing. Forbes listed her as the fifth highest-paid model in 2016 with a net worth of $9 million and partnerships with Ugg and Paige. Her eponymous Rosie for Autograph lingerie range designed for U.K. firm Marks and Spencer has moved millions of items since its inception in 2012. When she goes back to the U.K., many women come up to her in the street wanting to flash their underwear. In fact, I’m wearing one of her bras when we meet. The last time we met, one year ago, I was also wearing a Rosie for Autograph bra and volunteered the information. Huntington-Whiteley responded with the practiced delight of someone who hears that a lot. So although it crosses my mind to tell her again, I worry it might seem like overkill. The truth is: I just really like her bras.

Her newest venture is Rose Inc., a beauty website packed full of products for sale and expertise gleaned from a 16-year career spent working with the world’s top hairstylists, makeup artists and photographers such as Rankin and Mario Testino. It launched in May 2018 and “feels a little bit like my whole kind of career led me to that point,” Huntington-Whiteley says. “I had been wanting to build something for some time, for several years. When I was on social media and I would talk about a beauty product or I would talk about makeup or I would do a tutorial, I was seeing the positive response it was getting and that there was a big appetite from my followers who wanted to know more. … And so I thought … how do I build on that?

“When I got pregnant I was like, ‘OK, well I’m obviously not going to get on a plane every two weeks, this is the right time. Now I’m going to be in one place, I can really build this out.’ So we basically built the site and put my small but mighty team together. … I was quite meticulous about it. … So far, I’ve been really blown away by the positive response.”

What’s she like as a boss — does she ever get angry? “Not yet,” Huntington-Whiteley says. “I have never shouted at anyone that has ever worked with me. Ever.” Does she shout at Statham? “Yeah, of course,” she says, grinning.

Her love affair with beauty has been lifelong. Growing up in the English countryside of Devon, Huntington-Whiteley remembers being mesmerized while watching her mother, Fiona, an aerobics instructor, getting ready to go out.

“My mum was quite strict so I wasn’t often allowed in her bedroom. I would sneak in quietly and just sit on the edge of the bed and she’d say, ‘If you stay in here, I don’t want to hear you.’ And I would sit on the bed and just watch her go from being my mum to being ready to go out in the evenings.

“Every year my parents had a ball that they would go to and she would wear the same dress which she got from TK Maxx [the European arm of TJ Maxx]. I remember it so well. It was the first time I’d ever seen what, to me, was like an Oscar-worthy, red carpet dress! It was an aubergine color and it had a train and I just remember thinking, ‘Oh my god, she’s just so glamorous.’ And so that was my introduction to makeup. And then she’d give me her old products every now and then if she had a few things she was throwing out.”

Sweetly, Jack now does the same thing when his mother is getting ready to go out. “He gets really excited,” she says, proudly showing me photos of him on her phone. “Last night, I went to an awards ceremony and I had a really amazing Givenchy dress on and it was all feathered. And I came upstairs to say goodbye to him and he shrieked in delight and then he wanted to touch the feathers, and he’d just eaten dinner so I was trying to not get his sticky hands all over the dress.”

The beauty industry has changed a lot since Huntington-Whiteley started out as a model some 16 years ago. What does she think about the rising number of young women getting fillers and Botox? “I don’t think it’s great for young girls,” she says carefully. “I don’t. It’s not what I would want for my daughter at a really young age.

“I think you have to make really informed choices, that would be my advice. Any time you are seeking to change something semipermanently or permanently about yourself, whether it’s a tattoo or a nose job or a bunch of filler in your face, I just think you have to make smart decisions and be informed and make educated choices for yourself and that way you know you’ve done your due diligence.

“My face has changed so much since I was in my teenage years. I lost weight, you lose your braces, you learn how to wear your makeup, you learn where to shade your makeup, the right hair color for you, the right eyebrow shape, all those things make such a huge difference. … A lot of women grow into themselves. I certainly feel like I grew into myself as I got older.”

As for her own aging process, Huntington-Whiteley is embracing the self-knowledge that comes with it. In 10 years time, she’d like to be expanding both her business and her family. “More children!” she says gleefully. “My home life couldn’t be more fulfilling, but [I’d like it to be] just fuller, you know? I think I perhaps see us being back in the U.K. in 10 years time maybe. Who knows?”

Marriage might be part of that future, but neither she nor Statham are in any rush. Rumors that they were due to tie the knot on New Year’s Eve are dismissed by Huntington-Whiteley as “fake news.”

When she’s not working, Huntington-Whiteley’s favorite weekend in California would involve renting a vintage car and driving up to Big Sur. She and Statham like to eat at Madeo in Beverly Hills for their date nights (“I find the food fantastic”) or maybe E. Baldi or Sunset Tower (“really wonderful for a romantic dinner”).

Otherwise, she says, she’s “quite happy just to stay at home, get in the pool, have some friends over, have a barbecue in the garden or go to Malibu, go to Taverna Tony [in the Malibu Country Mart], have a nice lunch, then walk on the beach. I mean, L.A. is just all about being in and out of your house.”

And what a house it is. In 2015, Huntington-Whiteley and Statham bought a stunning 5,600-square-foot mansion in Beverly Hills for $12.9 million from L.A. fashion designer Jenni Kayne. The house has a midcentury feel, five bedrooms, eight bathrooms, a Koi pool, olive trees and open fireplaces. The family spends a lot of time there, and Huntington-Whiteley likes to entertain, hosting her friends on Sundays for a traditional British roast.

“I do have my Sunday roasts,” she says. “Yeah. I had a Sunday roast today and it is Tuesday. That’s how much I love my roast dinners.”

Improbable as it seems, judging by Huntington-Whiteley’s lean and athletic physique, when I ask after her guilty pleasure, she replies almost before I’ve finished the question: “Food. Just any type of food. I just love to eat. It’s a big problem for me. Anything fried usually. Pasta. Pizzas. Cakes. Sweet stuff.”

Luckily, she also enjoys working out and regularly goes to dance fitness classes at Body By Simone and has recently started weight training. “It’s amazing. I feel like it really shifted that last nudge of baby weight for me. Just toned everything up.

“I do love to do cardio. With weight training, for a minute I was like, ‘What the hell? I’m not even sweating!’ And now after doing it for nearly three months, I feel so strong and toned and really, it’s quite amazing how it just changes your body.”

Not that there’s anything about Rosie Huntington-Whiteley that really needs changing.

 

Hair by SYLVIA WHEELER at Forward Artists using Bumble and Bumble.
Makeup by KATE LEE at The Wall Group using Chanel.
Manicure by MILLIE MACHADO.

This story originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of C Magazine.


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