How Elsa Hosk Went From Pro Basketball Player to Victoria’s Secret Angel
Janelle Okwodu Industry August 4, 2015 — 09:24PM
On the surface, Elsa Hosk is the prototypical Victoria’s Secret Angel: blond, bubbly, and seemingly born to wear the brand’s sultry lingerie. Though she fits perfectly with the brand’s ethos, Hosk took an unexpected route to the VS runway. Before building a career as a model, she rose through the ranks as an athlete, playing professional basketball on Sweden’s national team. Armed with the discipline and drive she garnered in the sports world, the Swede traded her basketball jerseys for turns on the catwalk for Dior, Giambattista Valli, and, of course, Victoria’s Secret. With a forthcoming collaboration with Re/Dun and burgeoning work as a designer, Hosk is preparing for her next role, all while enjoying her newfound fame.
How did you first become involved in sports growing up?
I started playing basketball when I was young. I’ve always had this drive, that if I do something, I want to do it all the way. I want to make sure I’m the best at it. I made my dad put up a basket on my street, and I would just practice all day. I played in school, and eventually I got really good since I was practicing way more than my teammates. I just started advancing, going up in one class higher. Then I started training with the Stockholm team—they’re called the Zero-Eights—and eventually I started playing.
Did playing team sports influence your modeling career in any way?
Playing a team sport, coming from that, and being athletic is so helpful in modeling. Sports also teach you that you have to be a team player, you have to let everybody do their thing, and come together, and listen to people. It can’t be one person running the whole show. Also having control of your muscles as a model is incredibly important. When I pose, I use every single muscle in my body. It just makes you a better model if you’re athletic, I think. Even holding a pose for a long time, making your body into strange shapes, and just knowing what it looks like—I think [for me] that comes from being a basketball player.
What prompted you to focus on modeling rather than sports?
It was my dad who [got me into it]. One of my cousin’s friends modeled, and she would always talk to my dad and tell him that I needed to give it a try. I was really young at the time—I was 12, 13—and she [would say], “Elsa needs to be a model.” This was, like, 15 years ago, so it wasn’t what it is now. Today everybody wants to be a model because of social media and the Internet. I feel like kids nowadays know so much that I didn’t know then. I was just playing basketball, being a kid, I had no idea that you could even be a model.
When my dad told me that he’d sent my pictures to an agency, I thought he was crazy, but they asked to see me. I went up there, I remember, dressed in this lime-green sweater from H&M, and I had my brother’s old Acne jeans, and I felt so cool. I had braces, with big cheeks, curly hair. They wanted me, so I just started working. At first modeling wasn’t something I wanted, so it was kind of strange. I thought, All right, this is cool. This is some extra money on the side. I grew to love it; I felt grown up having my own job and doing these shoots on the weekends.
How have your first few months as a Victoria’s Secret Angel been?
Amazing and unexpected. When I came here to New York and I was leaving my old life in Sweden behind, I knew I wanted to go for it. I was going to model full time and approach it with the same drive that’s always allowed me to push myself. I love working with the brand, especially when we get to do something as big as the show. Those events are larger than life, and it feels wonderful to be a part of something that beloved. Everyone knows the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, and it was always something I’d watched growing up. It’s going to be cool this year—Ed [Razek] told us about the themes, and I’m so excited. He’ll text us sometimes: “So these are the themes, what do you think about this act for the show?” It’s fun. We do have input on the acts. It’s great that he and the brand listen to us because, in a way, we’re the customer, too.
You worked with Victoria’s Secret Pink for several years before becoming an Angel. How was making the switch between brands?
When I signed with IMG, they were sort of pushing me in the direction of Victoria’s Secret even without me knowing it. They kept sending me to Pink, and [Pink] was like, “We’re not sure.” And finally, Helen, the art director of Pink, saw me, and she was like, “I want to try her. I like her.” So my agents told me, “Elsa, this is your shot, just give it your all.” I was so excited, I just remember dancing the entire day on set, I had never had more energy in my life.
I grew so comfortable with Pink, they really [became] my family, in a sense. That’s so rare for a model, I think, to have a brand you work so closely with, over such a long period. It creates a security for your life—not being afraid to not have a job the next day or the next year, you know that it’s going to be there.
You’re going to be stepping into the role of designer soon. Why did you want to do something behind the scenes?
My personal style has always been more about vintage. I love what Alessandro Michele is doing right now at Gucci, taking that vintage aesthetic and making it feel modern. Of course, it is hard to find something that is cool and incredibly well-made without spending a lot of money. I’ve been working on something with my friend who’s a designer, and hopefully we’ll come out with it at the beginning of next year. I want to provide something that is very affordable but has a very high sense of quality in materials and is fashionable. I don’t think there are enough options for that. It’s difficult to try and shop for things that are inexpensive because you’ll find the cuts are wrong or the fabrics aren’t good quality. We want to do something cool but affordable.
I’m doing this little jeans collaboration with Re/Dun, as well. I’ve always loved vintage Levi’s. I collected them for years. Jamie [Mazur], who’s one of [Re/Dun’s] founders, found out that I am obsessed with vintage Levi’s, and he is, as well. He was like, “Why don’t you do a collaboration with us?” So we came up with these jeans that are high-waisted and very slim, with a baby flare that makes your legs look a mile long. I love projects like this that let me express my creativity and have fun in the process.