Were Sofía Vergara not from Colombia, she could quite happily have hailed from the Middle East. That lush honeyed hair, those come-hither lashes, the dangerous curves, all perched atop a pair of heels in a round-the-clock homage to glamour. Add an abaya, and Sofía’s is an aesthetic that resonates across the Arabian Gulf States as instinctively as those bordering the Gulf of Mexico.
Sofia Vergara: Modern Elegance
Sitting pretty as the undisputed queen of the small screen, Sofia Vergara tells Louise Nichol why Latin women have more in common with their Middle Eastern counterparts than you might imagine
“I have always thought there is a big resemblance in the way Latin women and Middle Eastern women are; in their personalities, in their family life. I think for us, ‘more is more’. We don’t really go for the ‘less is more’ thing. We love make-up, we love accessories, we love all of those things that make us pretty,” she says.
It was back in 2009 that Sofía shot to global fame when she was cast as Gloria Delgado-Pritchett, the pampered trophy wife with an accent as out-of-this-world as her body, in ABC’s Modern Family. In the intervening years she has parlayed her cross-cultural appeal into endorsement deals for CoverGirl cosmetics, Diet Pepsi and Head & Shoulders; while the Latin talent management company she co-founded in the 1990s has revolutionised representation of Hispanic entertainers in America. Such business-savvy, combined with the continuing success of the Golden Globe-winning Modern Family, now in its seventh season, has culminated in Sofía being named Forbes’ highest paid actress on television for the last four years.
Sofía Vergara wears gown, Marchesa
It’s a career path she has forged as a single mother (her son Manolo was born when she was just 20, a year before she divorced his father), without the stability of a long-term partner by her side. In my book that makes her something of a feminist hero; in hers, not so much. “It’s not something I chose consciously, it’s just something that happened in my life,” she says, albeit conceding, “Now that I look back, I never really needed the help of anyone. Of course I had help, my manager and my agent, but not really someone that was a husband or a boyfriend. So yeah, it does feel great to look back and know I’ve done it all by myself. It’s rewarding.” Although she is quick to add, “Not that there’s anything wrong with a man taking care of you and helping you.”
Late last year one such man stepped into the hotly contested role of Sofía’s permanent protector, the just as improbably gorgeous Magic Mike actor Joe Manganiello. Initially dismissing his overtures on the basis that he was “too handsome”, Sofía eventually caved and the couple married in November 2015 after an 18-month courtship.
Still, having achieved so much as a solo act, is she a feminist? “Umm...” A long pause. “I’m in the middle ground. As a Latin woman, I love having a husband, someone to be there waiting for me, supporting me. I don’t see anything bad with getting help from somebody that loves you and treats you well.” She is generous in her admiration of women who may not have the multi-million dollar contracts, but who devote their lives to raising a family. “That’s an amazing job and a lot of effort to do it right,” she says. “I think the beauty of a woman nowadays is that we can do everything. We have more options and we should do everything we can. But why not have support and love? And if somebody can help you in any way, why not take the help?”
Sofía makes no bones about the fact that, if not a man, certainly her looks have propelled her to where she is. “I have made it to here because of how I look,” she shrugs, “being attractive has opened so many doors for me. But of course, if I was just a pretty face, I wouldn’t have lasted so long. Younger women are coming up all the time but I’ve been here for so many years. So I don’t feel ashamed for being attractive.” Indeed, Sofía enthusiastically courts her sex symbol status, recently shimmying in a skimpy golden corset alongside Pitbull during the rapper’s Grammys performance. She shrugs off criticism that her gleeful enjoyment – “Who doesn’t like to be told they are beautiful?” – of what some label objectification is in any way an affront to the sisterhood. “I don’t think about those things at all,” she says of the charges that are levelled at her. “I am who I am. What, am I going to put a paper bag over my head?
Dress, Dhs7,300, Hamel
I look how I look, I would be ungrateful to complain about what God has given me. I have taken advantage of it, I have had a great life.” Behind her glossy front, and the lolling tongues it inspires, does Sofía ever feel less than perfect? “Of course. I think every woman has insecurities. Men have insecurities! I wake up and I see I’m getting old, a million things. Today I’m bloated. You would be a robot if you didn’t get insecure. Insecurities are great sometimes; they make you work harder and change things. They can be motivation.” Top of the list is the inevitable march of time, made all the more indefatigable by the plethora of footage of her as a seven-years-younger Gloria. “I don’t think any woman enjoys or is happy about ageing,” she says, clarifying, “Well, from the beauty point of view. I love that your priorities change and you know so much about life and a lot of things are easier now. But beauty-wise, it sucks. We can’t really control it. You can make it a little better but it happens to all of us and we have to embrace it. It’s not fun.” That said, she’s doing a good job of keeping the onset of wrinkles in perspective. “It’s not like it depresses me or gets me upset. It’s not like I’m not sleeping. It’s just a little... Uggghh. It is what it is.”
Sofía has always been hyper-aware of her appearance, in the main because her Jessica Rabbit curves don’t bend to the normal laws of physics. “When you have a body like mine and you wear something too baggy you just look like a balloon,” she laughs. “I’m 43. I’m voluptuous. I have big boobs and I do need structure.” That décolletage, combined with her pin-up proportioned waist, is the reason she rarely veers from the mermaid silhouette that is her red carpet go-to. And what may look sleek on the outside invariably conceals a feat of engineering inside. “Not everybody knows how to design the inside of a dress. It’s not enough to have a good cut,” she says, name-checking Marchesa, Zuhair Murad, Vera Wang and Carolina Herrera among the designers whose creations are capable of containing her curves. “Most of those know how to fill a dress to make sure it holds.”
It takes a solid amount of discipline to know what works for you and have the conviction to stick with it, I venture. Surely images of models tripping down the catwalk in 1990s slip dress revivals (impossible because, “I always need a bra, it doesn’t look nice or decent without it”) are occasionally tempting? “I can’t ever wear anything off the runway,” Sofía bemoans, estimating that about only five per cent of catwalk designs are even vaguely suitable for her figure. Fortunately, she adds, “I’m very lucky now that if I am going to the Oscars designers will create clothes that suit me.”
Dress, Dhs4,735, Madiyah Al Sharqi. Necklace, Cartier. Ring, Sofía’s own.
Structure aside, she also appreciates designers whose aesthetic va-va-voom rivals her genetic oomph. “I have always liked Middle Eastern designers because I am Latin and we like a lot. We like beads, we like shine, we like sequins. All the Middle Eastern designers are very much my taste,” she laughs. For her wedding dress Sofía turned to Lebanese couturier Zuhair Murad. “I’ve always really loved him. He knows how to design for voluptuous women because he works with Middle Eastern women. A lot of Middle Eastern women are voluptuous like Latin women. So, it was a perfect fit. I told him what I wanted and we worked together to get the dress made.” The result was a baroque-inspired strapless sweetheart neckline gown with a column skirt and detachable train that was nothing short of spectacular. “Not every designer sees a dress in a spectacular way,” she smiles.
Even off-duty Sofía keeps up appearances in second-skin jeans, tees and heels, eschewing LA’s ultra dressed-down vibe. “I try to always be comfortable but I also always try to look good. I don’t like to walk around in sweatpants all day long.” Even if she wanted to slob out in sweats – and it’s a hunch that anything sub-beauty queen is an anathema to that Latin sensibility of style – Sofía is too disciplined to let the crown slip. She understands and respects the fame game, even if it can still get under her skin.
When we talk she’s smarting from a recent interview which made much of a jokey comment she made suggesting that the amount of corsetry required to upholster her red carpet gowns leaves her bleeding. “See, this is the thing. You do these interviews and I’m laughing and joking with the interviewer and they put down these quotes which just sound so weird,” she explains, “Like, ‘Are you comfortable in those dresses?’ and I say, ‘No, I feel like I’m bleeding’ and that’s what she writes.” Hitting her stride, she vents, “Like with my boobs, it wasn’t a big deal, she asked me if I would ever get surgery and I said my boobs and that was it. But she made it sound like I am going to REMOVE my breasts. It’s very difficult to do these interviews.” Aside from suddenly making our own conversation somewhat awkward, it’s a rare complaint from an actress who is otherwise at pains to express her gratitude for everything that fame has brought. She concedes that being constantly hounded by the Los Angeles paparazzi is, “not easy. It’s a little annoying. Sometimes you want to go everywhere and just enjoy things. Not have all this money and be trapped in your house,” but swiftly adds, “it would be ungrateful to complain about it because it is part of being a celebrity. I’m the one in this job, it’s okay if they do it to me. I don’t like it when they mess with people around me; friends, family.”
Her role on television might exalt the idiosyncrasies of a very modern family, but Sofía’s own family values are inherently traditional, and despite living in the United States for over 20 years, she remains close to her relatives. “Every time I have an event, an awards show, I try to surround myself with family. I bring them from Colombia or Miami. If I’m going to have a good time, it’s with them.” It’s a value set that she sees mirrored in this region. “I have many friends from the Middle East and they are very family oriented, like Latin women.” For Sofía, “the woman is a very important member of the family that brings everyone together.” Yet for all the awards show camaraderie, her own family life hasn’t exactly been a bed of roses. One of five siblings in a wealthy family, Sofía’s familial rollercoaster has thundered through early divorce from her childhood sweetheart, via her older brother being kidnapped and shot dead in Colombia, onto her own diagnosis of thyroid cancer at the age of 28, culminating in her younger brother being deported from the US following over 30 arrests on drug-related charges. And yet, family is all; just as it is in the Arabian Gulf. “The family is always the centre of your life,” she says, “We are used to travelling and living in big groups, having big families with lots of kids. So you are never disconnected from your kids and cousins, even your far-away family members. It’s something I don’t see in America, but I see it a lot in the Middle East and it is very similar to the way we are in Latin America.”
The “lots of kids” comment is one that seems pertinent, if not easily resolvable as a 40-something newlywed. Sofía has made no secret of the fact that 39-year-old Joe would like babies – even if nature might not quite be on the same page. So is she seriously thinking about becoming a mother again? “Well, I don’t think you can think about it seriously when you’re already 43 years old. It is what it is and I cannot just expect anything natural any more,” she shrugs. “So we’ll see what happens. It’s not something that doesn’t let us sleep. But it’s not something I am completely opposed to.” Should a baby be on the cards for the pair, I wonder how Sofía will approach motherhood differently 23 years after the first time around? “I think the energy levels you have when you’re in your 20s cannot be compared to the energy you have at 40. So of course it’s going to be different, but it’s possible. Of course I would have people to help me because I work a lot. So I’m sure it wouldn’t be a problem.” Practicalities aside, surely the whole mindset is topsy turvy? “You’re different when you’re older, you are a different person. Your priorities are different so of course you approach it in a different way.”
Gown, Dhs18,370, Georges Chakra. Earrings, Chopard
While raising her son Manolo, Sofía was navigating her way into her nascent modelling, presenting and acting career and credits the now 23-year-old with enabling her to carve out success. “I was a single mother for a long time and he always supported and helped me, made it easy to be able to work. I never had to worry about him. When you have a problem all the time, you are unable to be creative and think.
As a single mother, I was able to do everything I wanted to do.” Should Sofía and Joe end up adding to their family or not, the actress is undeniably happy with her lot. “I love being with my family, my husband. We love eating. I love cake. I love shopping with my girlfriends. You know, the normal things that girls like to do.” Except that when you look like Sofía Vergara, when you sound like Sofía Vergara, when you are Sofía Vergara, life is far from normal.
This article appears in the March issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia. On stands March 1.