How Elsa Hosk Became The Definition Of Supermodel | ELLE (2024)

When I meet Elsa Hosk in Sydney, it’s betwixt 72 hours of pure professional mayhem: photoshoots, interviews, meetings, outfit fittings. Jet lag and the time difference mean she beats me to breakfast at Sydney’s Hotel Capella, where she’s already delighting in mini doughnuts from the buffet.

When I arrive, she’s seated near the door, lounging casually in a booth seat, gaze firmly on her phone screen. She wears a white T-shirt and Saint Laurent jeans, which she’s accessorised with a chunky silver chain necklace, very much in-keeping with the noughties revival trend currently ravaging TikTok.

With one foot on the chair, casually leaning an elbow on the backrest, at first glance, she could be anyone. There are few traces of the Elsa Hosk I see on my Instagram feed — the glamazon who appears to emit her own light source. But as she looks up from her phone revealing those famous cat-like eyes, even if she wasn’t one of her generation’s biggest supermodels — you’d know she wassomeone. As soon as I greet her, the phone goes down and I have her full attention.

Elsa is sweet, friendly, and generous with her thoughts, chatting excitedly about her two-year-old daughter, Tuuli, and the home renovations she and her long-term partner,Tom Daly, are undergoing in her adopted home of Los Angeles. (A testament to her much-emulated taste, she namechecks vintage furniture from Charlotte Perriand, Jean Prouvé, and Pierre Jeanerett as recent acquisitions.)

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This is the second time Elsa and I have met. The first was at the photoshoot forELLEAustralia’s digital cover the previous morning. Fierce winds at Sydney’s Long Reef beach made for a comedic scene of burly photography assistants being swept away by their reflector screens and stylists using their body weight to anchor down a one-man tent serving as Elsa’s dressing room.

Elsa, despite having just landed from Los Angeles the previous night, was game for it all, including a call time of 5AM so photographer Nicole Bentley could capture that elusive early morning Australian light. Even when braving the elements in a surf-drenched black gown, Hosk was a paragon of professionalism, showcasing a deft ability in front of the lens that borders on the mythic.

Two days later, she’ll wear that same dress style, an elegant high-necked, black jersey number, to a party celebrating the Australian fashion brand Meshki, which she wears throughout this shoot. Sure, Elsa has been gifted an almost comical genetic advantage, but to see it up close, there’s no denying the skill it takes to be a truly great model.

Hosk understands her angles with an almost scientific precision. She has an instinct for light. She knows how towearclothes. She knows exactly what her job demands – and she delivers. Every shot is perfect. Put simply, she’s a supermodel. It’s not only a job, but as the world has come to understand with this year’s supermodel obsession, it’s serious business.

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The term ‘supermodel’ didn’t always exist. The phrase can be traced back to the late 1800s, when technology and accompanying social change revolutionised the way we manufactured, consumed and communicated fashion.

The first supermodel is often cited as Evelyn Nesbitt — a dancer and artist’s muse who benefited from the growing popularity of fashion photography and the use of models in newspapers and newly-invented fashion magazines. But the concept of a supermodel as we know it — a celebrity, a figure at the centre of the pop culture conversation— really took shape in the 1980s with the emergence of one particular group of women.

Sharing the same Amazonian physical characteristics, those women transcended a profession essentially defined by advertising to become celebrities in their own right — bringing more than ‘just’ face and body to magazines and catwalks, they put the personality, the spectacle, the fantasy into their profession, transforming it to its own brand of entertainment.

Who belongs within this elite group is open to some interpretation, but there remain four particular women at its core, women who are so significant, they are known by their first names alone — Naomi, Cindy, Linda, Christy. 2023 proved the full extent of their influence as, 40 years since each launched their career, we were once again gripped by their story via Apple TV’s dedicated docuseries,The Super Models.

In 2023, however, the role of a supermodel is slightly less clear. “It’s not just about being beautiful anymore,” Elsa says. “It’s so much more than that.”

Hosk emerged as a supermodel during a time of seismic change in fashion and in culture, where social media turned individuals into “brands” and created an almost insatiable appetite for content. It’s not enough to be the most beautiful, or to book the best campaigns, or walk in the best shows. You need to cultivate an audience and cater to them, all day, every day.

It’s a skill in which Hosk has proven to be particularly adept. She has 8.7 million Instagram followers who hang on her every sartorial move, and last year she launched her own fashion brand, Helsa. “It’s insane. It feels like there’s no defined job anymore,” she admits. “I’m styling, I’m designing, I’m doing influencing jobs. I don’t even know what to call myself,” she says thoughtfully. “I think I have this creative brain, and this business brain, and I love success. I really do. I want things to be successful. When I take something on, I do it with my whole heart.”

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This has been true of Elsa Hosk from the very beginning. The Swedish native began modelling at the age of 14, balancing a steady stream of jobs with her second passion: basketball. Never one to do things by half-measures, Hosk was so good at the latter she ended up in Sweden’s national basketball league.

A professional career in the sport was inevitable, and stopped only because the knocks from the fashion industry — at first inNew York, then Paris and Milan — became too loud to ignore. Hosk took the discipline, a healthy competitive streak, and uncompromising work ethic that defines competitive group sports with her to New York, and quickly established herself as one of the most in-demand models in the industry.

It helped that she had an unusually adroit understanding of fashion. When she was 12 she would steal copies of Vogue Russia from her friend’s mother, and sew her own versions of the clothes she saw on its pages. “I would make my own blazers. Like, really difficult stuff,” she reflects. “I would show up to school with weird belts at the waist, like, no one was doing that. I would make all this crazy stuff, and all the guys would tease me, but I didn’t care. I just loved fashion.”

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When Hosk joined Victoria’s Secret in 2011, modelling was an entirely different ballgame. Models were overwhelmingly thin and white — a feature which continues in the industry although to a marginally lesser degree. And while Victoria’s Secret once enjoyed being the only fashion show broadcast on mainstream television to an audience of millions, issues of casting diversity, accusations of cultural appropriation and misogyny were just some of the reasons the brand eventually axed its broadcast show in 2019.

It was a staggering fall from grace. When I ask whether she thinks Victoria’s Secret hasmade the right changes, Elsa looks disappointed. “I think ultimately it was too late,” she says. “Even when we were at VS, I feel like we all were like ‘we need more diversity’, and we would go to the heads of the company [and say that],” she adds.

The Victoria’s Secret fallout came just before the COVID-19 lockdowns, which provided Hosk with an opportunity to sit and reflect on what she wanted the next chapter of her career to look like. Fashion is an industry rife with sexist notions about age, and Hosk was determined to step out of the shadow of VS and carve out a career with longevity.

“As a model, you’re trained [to think] your career ends when you have a kid, or when you turn 30. [Then] it’s over for you,” she says thoughtfully. “I’ve had that in my head since I started modelling. Like, there’s no way I would be doing this job at 30. And now I’m 35 and I had my best year in my entire career this year.”

She’s dressing better — and more assured — than ever, like the surrealist Viktor & Rolf dress she wore on theCannes red carpetthis year. It practically broke Instagram when the images started flooding the feed.

“People either really loved it and were like, ‘Yes, best dress!’ or they were like, ‘What the f*ck is she wearing?!'” Hosk laughs. “But I really don’t care. You have to shock people. Cannes now is so overwhelming. Every influencer is on the carpet. It’s so crazy compared to what it used to be. You have to stand-out in some way. Like, [when I wore the Viktor & Rolf dress] it was like all the photographers went…swoosh” She mimes all the lenses darting her way, clearly pleased that she fulfilled her brief.

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I suggest her daring red carpet style sits in stark contrast to her minimal day-to-day attire. She’s well aware of this paradox. For Elsa, stepping it up for a red carpet is both part of the fun — and part of the job. “I think I have an alter ego when I dress up,” she explains. “Like, I love to be a character. It’s almost like I’m turning into the version that I want people to see, you know?”

Dedicated to the “theatrics” of a red carpet appearance, there’s a sense of duty that comes with the role. “You want to create a look that stays in peoples’ memory. I think that’s the whole point of going on a red carpet or doing Cannes and doing the hair, the make-up, the nails, the whole look – you have to stop people in their tracks otherwise what’s the point of showing up? That’s how I look at it.”

As she says this, I’m reminded of Cindy Crawford’s comments on her 1991 appearance at the Oscars. “‘Well, what do models do well? We wear clothes well,” Crawford said of her decision to don thenow-famous red Versace gown. “That was kind of what my thinking was. Like, ‘I’m gonna go to the Oscars, I better be a freakin’ supermodel.”

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Of course, no conversation about supermodels in 2023 would be complete without reference to the year’s most hyped docu-series:The Super Models. Apple TV’s four-episode streamer shared never-before-seen insights into the lives, careers and, yes, personalities, of Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington.

Each of the four women now, in their fifties, are more relevant and in-demand than ever, but in the series they admit the fashion industry has been overtaken by a desire to prioritize social media following over the traditional skills that made a supermodel super. It was impossible, when I re-watched the series in preparation for this interview, not to think about the fact that models like Elsa Hosk sit in a unique position, bridging the old and new world orders.

Hosk earned her stripes as a runway and editorial wunderkind, but has also responded to the new industry’s requirements to exist as a digital brand. Hosk reveres the original supers for their staying power — they’re the “original bosses”, she grins.

The third time I see Hosk (in as many days) is at Meshki’s star-studded 10th anniversary party in Sydney, where she is, herself, in ‘boss’ mode. She steps out of her limousine to an explosion of paparazzi flashes, her hair slicked back, her mouth a pout of immaculately glossy red.

Beneath the dark sunglasses she dons on her arrival, the supermodel “alter ego” is clearly in full swing. The glamour of her presence erases any trace of off-duty Elsa — a former basketballer who “nerds out” on mid-century furniture and loves taking her two-year-old to the science museum. Instead she inhabits something more profound, something that transcends her. The supermodel: a figure of imagination, a cultural creation, a thing that’s larger than itself. Laid-back jeans and t-shirt Elsa has officially left the building — and now she’s here towork.

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Photographer: Nicole Bentley
Hair Stylist: Michelle McQuillan
Makeup: Kellie Stratton
Fashion Director: Naomi Smith
Stylist Assistant: Sarah Stern
Producer: Camille Peck

Senior WriterRebecca Mitchell

Rebecca Mitchell is a senior writer at ELLE Australia. She graduated from Charles Sturt University in 2011 already with solid media experience under her belt. She started her career in broadcast news, simultaneously hosting the Never Talk Politics radio programme on 2MCE and as a reporter at WIN News. After returning to her hometown of Sydney, she worked as a journalist in lifestyle media, including at Mamamia, SheSaid, and Foxtel’s Lifestyle group. Formerly a freelance journalist, you can find her words at Refinery29, Urban List, Broadsheet, and more.

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