You’ll Never Believe What Makes Emily Ratajkowski Feel Self-Conscious

by Ashley Baker

Model, actress, budding mogul — Emily Ratajkowski is fashion’s most-watched multi-hyphenate, and she’s spreading her message of positivity everywhere she goes. After a long day of filming an upcoming television project, she fills us in on her strategy and sensibility.

What’s the job description of a model in 2018?
It’s really expanded. Being a model in 2018 means understanding your brand, having an honesty about your brand and who you are, and learning how to share that — in the way that we used to think of companies sharing themselves. I also think that there’s a real responsibility to set an example for young women.

If you’d have to give a boilerplate for what your brand is about, what would it be?
My pitch or my thesis is about body positivity and sex positivity and ownership over sexuality and even empowerment through it, but not necessarily in a super self-serious way — in a joyful, expressive way.

(Boo George)

You’ve had an amazing year. In addition to your modeling work, your acting career is taking off. What’s coming up?
I Feel Pretty is coming out on April 20. It’s a comedy with Amy Schumer — it’s really funny, and it also has an important message to young women. Welcome Home, which should be coming out in the next few months, is a thriller; it’s probably my first real lead in a movie. It was basically me and Aaron Paul and an Italian actor [Riccardo Scamarcio]; we shot it in Italy last summer. I have another movie called Lying and Stealing with Theo James, which should be coming out in the fall.

What do you love about acting?
I started doing theater before I even started modeling. I signed with a modeling agency because I came to L.A. at 14 and signed with an acting agency; they were like, “She should go over to Ford,” and then they signed me on the spot. That took off first. I’m a creative person — I went to school for fine art, and I’ve always loved writing and reading. For me, acting is an incredible creative release. And of course, I love movies.

(Boo George)

Film work aside, tell us about some of your favorite projects over the past year — campaigns, editorial…
I really love working with Katie Grand. She’s one of the people who definitely gave me my “in” in the fashion world, and contributed so much to where my career has gone. Shooting with LOVE is really amazing every time. Katie is really smart, and she really cares about women and politics. Shooting with her is an amazing experience, because it’s collaborative and also so artful. I had my first hair campaign this year with Kerastase, which was shot by Inez and Vinoodh, and I love them so much. Kerastase is an incredible brand, and I love how smart they are about their branding and marketing. When they bring on a face, they’re really bringing on everything that I stand for. That’s a total pleasure.

When do you feel the most empowered? As a woman, as a model, as an actress…
It happens in all kinds of moments. I’m definitely a businesswoman; I have my own swimwear company, Inamorata, and I also have film deals… managing all those things can make me feel super empowered. But honestly, just putting on a great pair of shoes that I love, and going out to dinner with good friends — having a great night, feeling comfortable in my own skin—can be just as empowering.

What have you learned about the fashion business since you launched Inamorata?
A ton, because as a model, you get really into creative, whether it be the design or the lighting or the images. But understanding the production and my market, and managing so many people to bring concepts to life…I have so much respect for that now. I don’t come from a business background — my dad is an artist and was a painting teacher, and my mom was an English professor.

(Boo George)

Where do you want to take the business?
I’m eager to see it grow even more. We’re growing into other areas and bringing on hires. The next six months are going to be huge for us. Where we are now was definitely a part of the plan. I have some incredible licensing deals with The Kooples and others, and having that experience really prepared me for how to build Inamorata and its potential success. In some ways, I think that D-to-C — direct-to-consumer — is definitely the future of shopping. Instagram and social tools — and being really passionate about what they want you to sell and make — are so key. The consumer is really smart. They want to feel that integrity and honesty in your company. That’s what they’re interested in, maybe even more than the product.

Who are your most trusted sounding boards?
I definitely love my team — my manager and my agents are incredible. I have an interesting system. I’m with DNA and UTA, and they’re very supportive of each other. It’s nice to be able to bounce things off the other agency sometimes. I have a lot of friends who aren’t necessarily models, but they work in the industry, whether it’s through sales or merchandising or they’re writing about fashion. I bounce things off of them, too. And, of course, my husband and my parents. Ultimately, in business, you are kind of alone in your decision, and it’s important to feel truly committed to whatever way you go on something.

You show a lot of love to your mom on IG. What are her most inspiring qualities, and what has she taught you about beauty?
A lot of the things I feel about women and sexuality — ownership over your body, not feeling the weight of worrying too much about what that all means and enjoying it — comes from what she taught me when I was younger. That’s huge. She’s very expressive and emotional, but she’s powerful, and I love that. I try to strike that balance in my own life, too.

Does anything make you feel self-conscious?
Totally. When I’m acting, it’s a character, and when it’s modeling, it’s a fantasy world. Even when I’m taking pictures for my Instagram, that’s a specific second of a world; that’s not reality. Sometimes, when my friends take a picture of me on vacation, or I’m with my husband, I feel camera-shy. When my husband pulls out the camera, I get super embarrassed and nervous, because it’s so much more intimate and honest and really us.

What did it feel like to walk by every newsstand in the country and see yourself on a cover for the first time?
I’m definitely one of those people who’s like, “Well, that’s cool. That happened. But I don’t know what’s coming next.…” I was cautious. My mom is always asking me when I’m going to stop and celebrate. Looking back, I wish I had been a little bit more like, “Hell, yeah, Emily.” [Laughs] That’s why it’s really nice to be honored with this award.

(Boo George)

How do you take a break from fashion?
I always make time to be alone. I’m an only child, and it’s a good way to check in with yourself. Right now, I’m really tired, but I’m going to meet a girlfriend for dinner who I haven’t gotten to see in awhile. I always want to be with my friends and connecting with the people I love. I grew up in San Diego — if I really need to unwind and relax, I get myself to warm weather and a beautiful beach.

On April 8, Emily Ratajowski will be honored as “Model of the Year” at the 2018 Fashion Los Angeles Awards, sponsored by Maybelline New York, MCM, Moroccanoil, Prettylittlething.com, and LIFEWTR. 

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