April Cover Star Rosie Huntington-Whiteley On The #MeToo Movement And The Modelling Industry

BY Louise Nichol / Mar 28 2018 / 18:09 PM

“There’s definitely been instances where I’ve felt unprotected and moments where I found myself in situations that were uncomfortable"

April Cover Star Rosie Huntington-Whiteley On The #MeToo Movement And The Modelling Industry
Dress, Dhs42,500, Gucci

It’s easy to forget that Rosie Huntington-Whiteley is one of us. Surely such a celestial clash of cheekbones, complexion, lips and legs hails from another planet; a place where imperfections are simply not part of the genetic make-up.

Yet spend time with Rosie and not only is she reassuringly human, she is also – somewhat incredibly – refreshingly vulnerable. “I don’t see myself how everyone else does,” she starts to explain on the set of Harper’s Bazaar Arabia’s April cover shoot, her other-worldly beauty proving more than a match for Alessandro Michele’s fantastical creations for Gucci. “I’m a normal girl with feelings, and when someone says something hurtful, it hurts. When someone says something positive, it makes me feel good. We’re human. We all have the same emotions, we all connect in the same way; through love, humour and energy.”

Rosie’s supermodel status provides scant immunity, it seems, from the downwards rollercoaster gut-wrench of seeing a perfectly posed, flawlessly filtered image on Instagram that throws the naked flaws of our own lives into stark relief. “Sometimes I feel like you’ll go into a wormhole on Instagram and then you’re like, ‘It didn’t make me feel good’,” she says. “Social media can leave people, myself included, feeling insecure.” Not only that, “You waste a lot of time on it. You spend your life in a phone rather than engaging with people and having conversations.” Her solution to the technological drain? “I always think you feel your best when you’re in nature. Being outdoors, being with animals, being with your friends. Dancing, listening to music…”

Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in Givenchy

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Rosie, who turns 31 this month, began her career 15 years ago, before likes and video views were even a thing. “I’m really pleased I lived pre-all of this,” she confides, signalling to her phone. “I have my teenage years, my early twenties. I was wild and out there, I was doing my thing and there was no social media, there was no paparazzi. I had those years to be free. Everyone is taking pictures now and it’s so funny for me to see a 10-year-old girl who knows how to pose…I think it can be cringe-worthy.”

It’s not all bad though. Social media has revolutionised the careers of models such as Rosie, and she embraces the positive outcome such direct contact with her audience brings. “If you like taking pictures and cultivating your image for work, it’s an amazing marketing tool and way of reaching your audience,” she explains, “it’s an opportunity to showcase your behind-the-scenes life.” It also puts power back into the iPhone-wielding arms of those who were traditionally the imprint for others’ vision. “A lot of times with models, you’re a face for hire. Everyone else gets to do their thing on you; your stylist gets to do her interpretation, hair and make-up get to do their interpretation, the magazine, the photographer and you’re left with your voice not really heard.”

It’s a way of working that Rosie is determined to change, as evidenced by her creative involvement every step of the way on Bazaar’s shoot, discussing hair with hairstylist Olivier Schawalder and angles with photographer Mariano Vivanco. “I worked a lot of jobs that I wasn’t happy with the results,” she says of her early career, thankful to now, “be in a situation where I can come to work and collaborate and sit with Mariano at the monitor and for it to feel equal.”

Dress, Dhs40,550; shoes, Dhs3,900, both Gucci.Tights, Dhs60, CalzedoniaDress, Dhs40,550; shoes, Dhs3,900, both Gucci.Tights, Dhs60, Calzedonia

For young models, finding their voice and taking back control of their image and their professional life is at the heart of the #MeToo movement, which has cast light on an industry where girls and women can feel pressure, “that if you do speak out, if you do have an opinion, that you are going to lose the job, lose the client and upset people,” Rosie explains. Starting out at just 16 years old, she recalls, “There’s definitely been instances where I’ve felt unprotected and moments where I found myself in situations that were uncomfortable. The fashion industry is so relaxed and casual, there’s this expectation on models that the more up for it you are, the better, the further you’ll go along in your career.” It’s an environment in which the sexual predation that is now coming to light so thoroughly has been allowed to flourish.

“With modelling, it’s always been deemed as not a real career and there’s a lot of expectation on girls that the better the model you are, the quieter you are and the least amount of fuss you make,” Rosie says. “Over the last few years, what’s been really great for me is that I’ve managed to work myself into a position where I’m able to have my voice heard and work with people who want to empower me. But back in the early days, it was hard. It took me many years before I got any recognition. It was a long climb to get to where I am now. I pounded the pavement, I sat on the casting couch, I had a lot of rejection.” For models in the early stages of their career, without star-power they can leverage into a voice, Rosie hopes that Me Too and the wider Time’s Up umbrella will bring about change. “For the first time some designers put private changing areas backstage at New York Fashion Week,” she enthuses. “I’ve done countless fashion shows where you’re in a room, undressing, photographers flying around, people with iPhones, all the crowd and audience coming after the show and you’re still half dressed, people are taking photographs of you whilst you’re getting changed. It blows my mind that that’s acceptable.”

Private dressing rooms are a start but, “there’s a lot to be done,” Rosie cautions.  “I’ve been lucky enough to work on a couple of films as an actress,” she says, referring to 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road and Transformers: Dark of the Moon in 2011, “there’s a union, there’s insurance, there’s regulations, there’s work hours, there’s boundaries.” Modelling and the wider fashion world still has a way to go to offer that level of protection to those that work in the industry. “In my experience, you’ve got to find a team of people that really truly believe in you and really, truly love and adore you and want to protect you,” she advises. “When I work my best is when I have people around me that really have the same vision.”

Dress, Dhs226,950; shoes, Dhs2,600, Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello. Earrings, Dhs13,395, Rosa de la Cruz. Tights, Dhs60, CalzedoniaDress, Dhs226,950; shoes, Dhs2,600, Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello. Earrings, Dhs13,395, Rosa de la Cruz. Tights, Dhs60, Calzedonia

On top of that, she urges young girls, “Not to compromise! This is your career. Unfortunately, when women are tough, they’re deemed as difficult. When they have an opinion, they’re deemed as being tricky to work with, or when they’re strong and speaking firmly, they’re a b***h, and I think that’s really disappointing. I know men don’t get that.

Men are tough and it’s like, ‘Oh, we respect him as a businessman.’ There’s this sense that you can’t be feminine and tough at the same time and I think that’s incredibly sexist.” She does, however, sense that we are at a point of seismic change.

We are witnessing a real movement. Time’s Up is brilliant and it’s being led by some fantastic women. It is wonderful to see so many people’s stories coming to light. I’m pleased to be living in this era with this movement and these women.”

As the world is re-evaluating working practices and women’s rights, so Rosie is negotiating her re-entry into the workplace following the birth of Jack 10 months ago, her first child with actor Jason Statham.“I took a bit of time off and had my baby; I tried to take the time at home to enjoy those first special months with my family,” she says, adding with a smile, “I have a wonderful personal life with lots of love and fun.”

Of course, coming back to work with a baby in tow is a different ball game. “The first thing in your mind before accepting a job is, what’s right for my family? Whereas before, I’d get on a plane anywhere,” she says. “The new thing is getting used to having a lot of responsibilities in my personal life and career. When you have a baby, your whole life changes. Your priorities and what’s important is different to before,” she explains of wrestling with striking the balance between career and family. “For every woman, it’s a juggle. You start a family and it’s like, ‘Wow!’ Becoming a mother has been the most humbling experience of my life.”

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Dress with trousers, Dhs8,075, Marc Jacobs. Turban, Dhs2,920, Stephen Jones for Marc Jacobs. Earrings, Dhs2,950, Slim Barrett. Shoes, Dhs4,100, Gucci. Tights, Dhs60, Calzedonia

So how to find balance? “Work, for me, is my passion,” she says, “I would not say I have any good answers. I don’t think there’s any such thing as balance. Something is always compromised. You can’t have it all. You can’t be 100 per cent all the time to everybody. Maybe when you accept that, that’s the best.”

She is keen that Jack grows up knowing that his mother – as well as his father – has an identity beyond being his parent. “I think it’s so much about raising boys and girls the same. I love the book by Chimamanda Ngozi,” We Should All Be Feminists, “I saw her TED talk and it was very inspiring. It’s about raising girls and boys with the same values; communication and respect. That’s how I was brought up, it’s how the people I love were brought up, and they are the values I hope to instil in my loved ones.”As she explains, “You can’t just wear one hat in life. Well, at least for me, anyway. I feel lucky to have gotten this far with my work and I’m still enjoying it.”

Despite her stratospheric success, Rosie is far from blasé about her career. “I still get excited when someone takes a great picture or when I get a big campaign, and I’m always surprised,” she says. “In this self-employed industry, you never know when your last job is going to be. You always feel like the phone could stop ringing, and that is where a lot of my drive comes from. You can’t be complacent and expect everyone is going to come to me. You gotta keep on the grind, keep working hard.”

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Her work ethic marries with an enthusiasm that keeps propelling her higher. “Life is short, I’ve always had this sense that I want to get the most out of life every single day. I’d feel like a fool to not be grabbing every opportunity,” Rosie says. “So much of the entertainment and fashion industry is down to luck and being in the right place at the right time, knowing the right people, having the right attitude. That, and your determination and how focused you’re willing to be.”

She credits visualisation with helping her achieve her goals. “I’ve always seen where I want to be in a few years’ time. And you end up putting the pieces together,” she explains. “Curve balls come your way but you move with them. I love the expression that when the river turns, you move with it. There’s a very clear vision, but allowing yourself to be fluid and letting things happen organically.”

One of her biggest achievements is the Rosie for Autograph line of lingerie, swimwear, activewear and make-up, a partnership which debuted with the retail giant Marks & Spencer in 2012 and has sold over 11 million items of clothing. It was important, Rosie says, to lend her name and vision to a product line accessible to most women. “I wanted to work on something that was for everybody. It wasn’t a niche brand or for supermodels only. It wasn’t for people with a deep pocket only. Hopefully we can encompass women from all walks of life.”

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At heart, she is committed to staying attuned to a real customer, beyond the rarefied confines of luxury fashion. “Fashion can get so far removed from reality. And when you aren’t connected to the consumer, and you aren’t connected to what’s real, what are you doing it for? You have to remember who it is that is buying the fashion. It’s respect,” she says. Likewise, her beauty line offers wearable colours, prettily packaged and simply explained. It may be supermodel approved, but it’s make-up everyone can get behind. “Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes,” Rosie says. Yes, the line includes her cult ‘Insta Glow Matte Bronzer’ but it’s not going to leave you looking like a Kardashian clone. “A woman’s quirks are what makes you individual. The gap in the teeth, the asymmetrical face,” she smiles. “But I’m not against people who feel otherwise. If they feel they want to change things, then all power to them. No judgement on that. If you feel fantastic and empowered wearing lots of make-up, then go for it. If you feel great with minimal or no make-up, great. It’s a personal thing.” Her everywoman vibe – despite that decidedly non-everywoman exterior – means she is in scant danger of going down the wellness route that other models pursue with missionary-like zeal. “I eat well because I want to be healthy but it’s not something that I feel super passionate about. Some people are connected to food and nutrition in a way that they want to sing about it all the time. For me, I work out, I try and eat well. It’s not like I’m the new Jane Fonda. Food is my biggest vice. Cheese, bread… It’s getting harder to eat what I want,” she sighs. 

Dress, Dhs68,085, Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello. Gloves, Marc Jacobs

Dress, Dhs68,085, Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello. Gloves, Marc Jacobs

On the cusp of turning 31, Rosie’s views on ageing deliver a healthy dose of reality. “Ageing is inevitable. Everyone is going to get old and frankly, you’re lucky to get old. It’s a good thing. And what goes up has to go down.” Although it doesn’t really, not with the help of a good surgeon. “Intervention is a personal preference. I really have no judgement on how people chose to feel good about themselves,” Rosie says, adding, “However hard you judge others is how hard you judge yourself. Once you understand that, it allows you to work on it.”

She clearly appreciates women from all walks of life, but it is here in the Middle East where Rosie’s secret style alter-ego resides. “Middle Eastern women are always having so much fun with their fashion and make up. I think in other parts of the world it’s deemed as being superficial to want to take an interest in the way that you look or dress. I love the attitude of women who want to get up and make the very best of themselves every day and put on something that makes them feel fabulous and go out into the world,” she says, “That’s how I feel!”

Photo: Mariano Vivanco 
Styling: Peghah Malakenjad. Stylist’s assistant: Clémence Rose
Photographer’s assistant: Al Habjan.
Lighting assistants: David Wade and Terry Broadbent
Digi tech: Cavit Erginsoy

Make-up: Niki MNray at The Wall Group
Hair: Olivier Schawalder at Callistea Agency
Hairstylist’s assistant: Emma Leprovost

Manicurist: Rebecca Jade Wilson at The Wall Group
Set design: Trish Stephenson at CLM
Set Design assistant: Jabez Bartlett

Production: MAD Productions, London
Shot on location at Aynhoe Park, www.aynhoepark.co.uk