Taking a Beautiful Ride with Model Alessandra Ambrosio
words by Monika Steinberg / images by Russell James
You may not know her by name, but you’re sure to recognize her while clad in Victoria’s Secret lingerie or swimwear. Whether posing pretty for the VS catalog or strutting her stuff down the catwalk for many admirers, one thing is for certain, she is very comfortable in her skin and her confidence shows. Alessandra emerged amongst the Brazilian invasion of Amazonian models, like Gisele Bündchen and Ana Beatriz Barros, but what makes her more than another fashion face stemming from Latin America is her passion and drive to help find a cure for MS. Alessandra, being affected personally by the disease–her father was diagnosed in the late nineties–has taken on the role of National Multiple Sclerosis Society Ambassador in 2006 and has so far supported the Society’s MS Bike Rides and done PSAs for the worthy cause. “You never know the beauty of movement until you lose it,” said Alessandra in her From Runway to Roadway PSA.
When not riding bikes, she’s riding waves with our fave surfer boys, like Kelly Slater, Rob Machado, and Dane Reynolds, for the Kelly Slater Celebrity Surf Invitational. And even while traveling the globe for the most glamourous beach shoots, she always makes sure to carry a board with her in case she finds the perfect, fluffy wave to carry her away.
Describe your hometown.
AA: I’m from a small town named Erechim, in the south of Brazil. My family and childhood friends still live there. It’s a typical little country town–it has one main street, and everyone knows each other.
How many people are in your family?
AA: I have one sister and my parents.
At what age did you know that modeling was going to be your career?
AA: When I was 11 years old I decided I wanted to model. I enrolled in some modeling courses at age 13 at the Dilson Stein modeling school, and when I turned 15 I left Erechim to work in New York. It all happened so quickly, although it didn’t seem that way when I was a teenager.
Did your family have any fears of you traveling and being in the industry?
AA: My parents had no idea of what a modeling career entailed, so of course they were a little apprehensive at first. But they took their time getting to know people in the industry and finding out who was serious and professional–and who wasn’t. They only let me work with people they trusted. In the early years, they traveled with me wherever I went. One thing they always made clear was that no matter what, I had to finish school. Even though I was already working and making money, I finished school and I’m very happy I did so. It’s something very important in everyone’s life to complete.
What was the biggest misconception you had about being a supermodel?
AA: Because I started so young, I used to think if I wasn’t a supermodel by 19, I would never make it. I thought a model’s career was much shorter than what it can be. So I told myself that if I wasn’t at the top by 19, I would go back home and go to college. The funny thing is that I only really started getting solid work at the age of 21 and today, at 25, my career is better than ever.
Describe a favorite moment in your modeling career.
AA: One of them was the Victoria’s Secret Show in Cannes in May 2000. I was working with some of the top girls at the time–Stephanie Seymour, Carmen Kass, Eva Herzigova, Tyra Banks, Heidi Klum–and most of them were models who had inspired me since I started modeling. I mean, to be there and work with these women I’ve idolized for a long time was something incredible. After the show, we all went out for dinner, and Elton John and Elizabeth Taylor were there. It was definitely a great moment in my career.
What kind of music do you listen to before a big show?
AA: I listen to something relaxing, because there’s so much adrenaline in the air. I listen to like, Mazzy Star to break the tension and stay calm and relaxed.
Who are your biggest role models?
AA: Professionally, Brigitte Bardot, Liv Tyler, Stephanie Seymour–they are all women I admire. Personally, it would be my parents because they always worked hard for everything in life.
How did you get into surfing?
AA: I started bodyboarding many years ago when I was at my beach house in Florianopolis, Brazil, and later, on my first trip to Bali I saw perfect waves–it was something so beautiful that right there I decided that I wanted to stand-up surf. I didn’t do it on that trip because the waves never got small enough, but a few months later I was in California and a friend who was also learning invited me to try. I stood up on my second wave and fell in love with surfing straight away. After those first few seconds I wanted my own board and wanted to surf all the time!
What board do you ride?
AA: Well, I had two or three boards, but right now I ride a 5’ 10’’ that VS had made for me–it has pink spray on it and everything! [laughs] It’s pretty short, but because it’s so wide, it’s very stable. I bring it with me around the world.
How often do you surf?
AA: Not nearly as much as I want to! With work, it’s not easy to surf every day, or every week for that matter. I’d say a few times a month, and during the months of holiday when I go home, which are December, January, February.
Is there any surfer whom you admire?
AA: My boyfriend, I love to watch him surf.
Do you surf with him?
AA: Yes. Actually, I’ve only surfed with him lately. It’s great ’cause he pushes me on bigger waves and when it’s small we surf tandem, on very big longboards. I love surfing on the same board with him, it’s so much fun!
What’s your favorite beach destination?
AA: Bali, without a doubt.
Describe the feeling of the ocean.
AA: It’s freedom, tranquility and peace, and adrenaline at the same time. You’re really living every moment when you’re out in the water.
You’re an ambassador for a very special cause, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Why did you get involved with this particular organization?
AA: I got involved with it because my father suffers from multiple scleroris, he’s had it for about 15 years. I wanted to help people and this is a disease that I know very well, as it affects someone very close and special to me. Whether we can find a cure or simply make the life of people who suffer from the disease better, I’d like to be part of it and I’ll do anything to help.
How can the average person get involved and help in this cause?
AA: There are a lot of events that the Society organizes throughout the year to raise awareness and money. They put together many sports-related events, like bike rides across the country, which are really cool. Their entire concept is that you can help other people by doing something that’s good for yourself as well, like riding a bicycle, for example. I believe that taking a little time off to do something fun and help others is a great way of contributing to a cause.
Do you believe that life is pre-destined, or that we make our own destiny
AA: A little bit of both. I do believe in destiny–that some people and things are meant to come into our lives. But I also believe that you have to work hard to make your destiny be the best it can.
If there’s one thing you know you could succeed at, no matter what, what would it be?
AA: I would be a model. I love what I do!
What advice would you give to aspiring models?
AA: You have to want it really bad and believe in yourself all the way! Having a family that supports your career is also very important. If you have those things, then you’re halfway there.
What does beauty mean to you?
AA: I believe that true beauty comes from within. If you’re happy and peaceful inside, it will shine through. If you’re sad or mean inside, it doesn’t matter how good your looks might be, people can see through that and know that there’s no real beauty there.
What makes you feel the most beautiful?
AA: When I’m happy doing something I enjoy with people that I love. Simple!
Describe yourself in three words.
AA: I live intensively.