Our complete fashion shoot with Victoria’s Secret Angels Taylor Hill and Elsa Hosk
By ELIO IANNACCI
PHOTOGRAPHED BY ISHI AND STYLED BY ZEINA ESMAIL. HAIR, KEITH CARPENTER FOR THE WALL GROUP. MAKEUP, TRACY ALFAJORA FOR ART DEPARTMENT. FASHION ASSISTANT, ELIZA GROSSMAN.
“I don’t want to be just another face and I don’t want to just ‘be’ amongst the crowd.”
These are the words that 19-year-old Taylor Hill, the youngest model to get her Victoria’s Secret Angel wings this year, is spouting under a sizzling-hot curling iron. “I want to be better than Gisele Bündchen!” exclaims the Colorado-born beauty, who is prepping to be photographed for FASHION’s September issue alongside fellow Angel Elsa Hosk (both star in the new Body by Victoria campaign). They’re sitting two metres apart in a photo studio that borders New York’s SoHo. While Hosk flips through iPhone photos as the blow-dryer blasts her blonde locks, Hill gets personal.
“I’ve lived so much of my life in a spot like this,” Hill says, circling her index finger around the frenzy of hairstylists and makeup artists. “So many important moments happen when I’m getting ready for shoots or runways or campaigns, so it makes sense that I’d be talking about my life here. It’s become a therapist’s couch!”
The energy that Hill emits from her swivel chair is unbridled but not uncouth. Although she didn’t have a typical high school experience and never attended her own prom (“thank God I didn’t get to go—I feel like I got to skip a lot of personality-damaging things from high school,” she says), Hill reflects the poise of a southern belle and the gumption of a fashion industry veteran. When asked about the most important lesson she’s learned since she started working five years ago at age 14, Hill replies: “You are taught to respect your elders, not to speak out and to do as you’re told. But I found out really quick that it’s important in this industry—and in life—to speak up.” Knowing that she had the power to accept or decline jobs made her better at work. “I was always afraid to ask if I could have water or anything because they were adults and I wasn’t. That has changed,” Hill says, noting that Sophia Amoruso’s book #Girlboss was a catalyst of sorts. “[The book] helped me transition in my career and helped me grasp that ambitious mentality you need. There’s this transition from being a model to a supermodel. You kind of have to act a certain way to get people to recognize you. You’re not a kid anymore, and [people] need to know that. You can say things like, ‘You can’t talk to me like that; I’m not like everybody else.’”
Getting to Hill’s place of self-assurance may have taken half a decade (“I cried like a baby after falling at a Kaufman Franco show—won’t do that again!”), but she’s had the help of many luminaries along the way. She was discovered by an agent at a dude ranch in Granby, Colo., while on a family vacation, but shortly afterward, it was Donatella Versace who took an early interest in her (“She doesn’t know this, but I owe her my career,” says Hill). Versace gave Hill her first of many runway shows for top fashion labels (and featured her in Versus Versace’s Fall 2015 ad campaign). “When you get to walk in a show, [designers] see you as a muse of their brand. It’s an honour,” says Hill.
Like Hill, Elsa Hosk’s rise in fashion started at 14. When she was a teen, her father brazenly sent photos of his whole clan to various modelling agencies in Sweden (Hosk’s home country). Two of them ended up signing Hosk without knowing it, and she worked for both agencies before they caught on. “At the time, I had corkscrew locks and this chubby face and braces,” Hosk says, bewildered. “I was like, ‘I can’t be a model!’ But these agencies were like, ‘Yeah!’”
It wasn’t long before Hosk was booking work for established houses like Christian Dior, Giambattista Valli and Emanuel Ungaro. It was then that she realized her extracurricular sports helped her stand out.
“Being a basketball player helped me so much in this business,” she says of her former life as an all-star dribbler in Sweden’s national league. “It made me a team player and it’s easier to adapt to the world of posing. When I model, I use every single muscle in my body. Being fit and physical lets me know that control.”
Among the most collaborative projects Hosk has worked on—aside from Victoria’s Secret—is a series of indie shoots with photographer Guy Aroch. “We did photographs for two years,” she says. “It would be just us meeting up once a week or on every shoot we were on. We went to [places like] Paris and Tokyo. I was styling myself in it and doing my own hair—it’s very ’70s inspired. It felt so liberating.” Some of the clothes were taken from Hosk’s own closet, as she collects vintage Levi’s (her greatest vintage treasure, however, is an Ossie Clark silver lamé dress). For one shoot, Hosk decided to push the boundaries of what she does commercially. “I was completely nude on a skateboard and I was wearing this long fur cape—it was in the middle of the night. I was skating through Tribeca,” she says.
Over the years, Hosk has come to know her style and what works on her body. What doesn’t work? The perception that models are cold, pampered types who need rely only on their looks to get by in the world. Hosk goes out of her way to learn where the crew is shooting next and takes the time to answer any questions they may have.
“It’s something I learned from Rihanna,” Hosk says nonchalantly when asked about the importance of busting out the pleasantries. “When I met her at the Victoria’s Secret fashion show, she was really cool. She was just so friendly and wanted everybody to get a selfie with her. She wasn’t rushing. She was looking everyone in the eye, talking to everybody, making everybody feel comfortable.” Hosk’s biggest hero, however, comes from the world of film. A few years ago, when she saw a film about sex trafficking, called The Whistleblower —which stars her idol, actress Rachel Weisz—an alarm went off.
“It changed my life. I knew this is what I wanted to devote my free time to,” she says of the true story about a police officer who uncovers a Bosnian sex scandal involving teenage women. “I can’t imagine a more horrific fate for a young girl. Afterward, I went straight to Washington, D.C., and met with an organization and with survivors of human trafficking.” Her extensive research led her to wonder: “How can trading human life be a bigger industry than the one I’m in? It’s mind-blowing.”
Hosk says homesickness is a side effect of having a bustling career. And it’s easy to imagine why when you hear her describe life in Sweden. “I miss the archipelago, the islands outside of Stockholm, the most,” she says. “That’s where I spent my summers as a kid. Going on a boat and island-hopping. In August, we have a crayfish party. You get fresh crayfish from the ocean and then you put all these lanterns in the garden and invite the entire neighbourhood to celebrate.”
Admittedly, the perks of donning the golden Angel wings help balance out the constant travel and rigorous schedule. “I know I have one of the best jobs in the world,” says Hosk. “These days, models are allowed to have bigger personalities and be celebrities on their own. We have platforms now on social media, [so] there’s a way for us to get our faces and messages out there, especially with VS—they encourage that. Natalia Vodianova is a model who always did it right. She was able to just put her personality out there, and I try to do that all the time. That’s why I love this [job]. It allows you to be unique and create your own path.”
Tag: Secret Angel
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.