BY JOHN RUSSELL
PHOTOGRAPHER SASHA SAMSONOVA
STYLIST CHRIS HORAN
HAIR ANITA CASTILLO
MAKEUP LISA-MARIE POWELL
“So, first I have to ask you what your liquor choice is.”
Olivia Culpo had turned the tables on me. I was meant to be asking her questions—about her life, her career, her many, many projects. Instead, she was asking me about my drinking habits: “Tequila or vodka, which do you prefer?”
Culpo—it soon became clear—was trying to get a sense of my taste profile so that she could recommend a flavor of Vide, the brand of low-calorie, no-carb canned cocktails for which she serves as creative director. I copped to some embarrassingly déclassé preferences, which I will not repeat here, but which made her laugh.
“I need to try that!” she giggled. She ultimately settled on the mango vodka soda Vide for me. (For the record, Culpo herself is partial to the grapefruit tequila soda.)
Vide is just one of the projects in Culpo’s diverse array of business ventures. The 29-year-old model, actor, influencer, entrepreneur, and former Miss Universe has so much going on, it’s kind of hard to keep track of it all: There’s Back40, the restaurant she opened in 2017 with her family in her home state of Rhode Island. (A second location, Union & Main, is due to open before the end of the year.) There’s More Than a Mask, a line of cloth masks Culpo launched at the beginning of the pandemic. In recent years, she’s created capsule collections for brands like Macy’s and Express, and partnered with the likes of L’Oréal, DSW, and Rampage as a brand ambassador.
And, of course, there’s the modeling. When we spoke in late July, Culpo was in Miami for the launch of Sports Illustrated’s annual Swimsuit Issue. She’d been featured on the 2020 cover, but because of COVID restrictions, the magazine wasn’t able to properly fête her and the two other models—Jasmine Sanders and Kate Bock—who appeared on the cover with her. They were making up for it this year. Culpo was thrilled to be in town celebrating alongside this year’s cover girls: Megan Thee Stallion, Naomi Osaka, and Leyna Bloom, the first transgender model to appear on the issue’s cover.
She laughed as she talked about getting to explore Miami with her sister Sophia, who managed to sneak her nine-week-old goldendoodle puppy into a party. “It kinda feels like everybody’s just been let out for recess,” she said. “So, it’s a fun time to be out and about, I guess. Better than before!” (Little did we know that within a week the Delta variant would cut short the hot vax summer we all needed so badly.)
From Miami, Culpo was bound for the Amalfi Coast and then to Greece, where she would meet up again with Sophia and their other sister Aurora for a bit of a girls’ trip. Although, the trio has been working on a super-secret project that Culpo wasn’t quite ready to discuss, so it’s likely the vacay would end up incorporating some work. “I mean, sometimes it’s hard to differentiate if I’m actually here for fun or here for work when I’m traveling like this,” Culpo admitted.
Obviously, when you have the sort of public profile that Culpo does, your work can infiltrate most aspects of your life. As a social media influencer—her Instagram account boasts nearly five million followers—she is constantly documenting every second of her busy life. In the week or so following our chat, I kept up with her antics in Santorini with Aurora and Sophia on Instagram. Through the scrolling, something became clear: While Culpo, of course, posts the kind of highly styled, aspirational images of herself that we all expect from figures like her, she’s also not afraid to post candid goofy pics and the occasionally unflattering mishap.
“We do have fun,” she told me. “I would never want to take myself too seriously, because that would be depressing. So, there’s not a huge barrier between the person that I am behind the camera and the person that I am in real life, and I like it like that. I feel like that comes very naturally to me.”
Culpo’s success as an influencer certainly informed her latest role. (Did I mention she’s also an actor?) In writer-director Ty Hodges’s indie drama Venus as a Boy, Culpo plays Insta-famous New Yorker Ruby, whose whirlwind love affair with struggling LA artist Hunter (Hodges) is complicated by their disparate social scenes.
Hodges told me that the process of casting Ruby took upward of seven months. Ultimately, it was Culpo’s acting chops as well as her authenticity that sealed the deal. “I think a lot of times when you see films about a social media influencer, they feel kind of contrived, not as honest and not as human,” Hodges explained. “I think what she brought to it was a very human existence. Yeah, she happens to be a social media influencer, but the film is not about that. It’s about her as a human being.”
As for Culpo, “I definitely felt like playing a version of what I do in real life was very cathartic. And challenging too in some respects,” she said. She described a scene in which Hodges’s character tells Ruby she’s vapid and vain. “You know, it’s all of those comments that you see on the Internet that you don’t really ever want to have to. So, having to dig deep there and really think about how it makes me feel to hear that—which I do, absolutely, on the internet—is challenging, but also was really cathartic, because I could yell at him and do exactly what I would want to do in real life if I could!”
But why focus on the trolls? Culpo would rather devote her energy to the causes that mean something to her. “I think people in any form of spotlight—whether you’re an influencer, actor, model, singer—there is a responsibility to use your platform in a way that’s going to help,” she explained. To that end, she donated the profits from her initial More Than a Mask collection to Feeding America, helping to provide 1.5 million meals to kids in need. During last summer’s nationwide protests following the killings of George Floyd, Brianna Taylor, and countless other Black Americans at the hands of the police, Culpo donated More Than a Mask’s profits to the racial justice advocacy organization Color of Change. More recently, she’s released a line of jumpsuits benefitting Period, a nonprofit that provides menstrual supplies to people in need. She’s been open about her own struggle with endometriosis and is committed to destigmatizing menstrual health.
Culpo credits her parents for her impulse to give back. “They always showed the importance of giving back, being grateful, not expecting a lot in return,” she recalled. “It really just boils down to that. I have the ability to help because I’ve been given such a big platform. If there’s something I think I can really make an impact on, I’m gonna go for it.” In short, stay tuned for much more to come.