“Sometimes I see myself in photos, and the image is so different from who I really am,” muses Elsa Hosk. “People always put me in things that are super-sexy and very stylized.” Given that Swedish-born Hosk is a Victoria’s Secret Angel, one of an elite coterie of women known for looking criminally hot in their underwear, it’s the sort of typecasting one can reasonably understand.
“In my head, I’m so not sexy at all. I’m goofy and totally normal.” Sexy Elsa is, she says, a persona. “It’s a character that I get into. And then, in my real life…” she motions to her black jeans, hoodie, vintage Levi’s jacket, and huge, chunky lace-up black boots, which she has removed to tuck her feet up on the sofa. “…I become sort of anti-that.”
We’re in the sunny, expansive top-floor den of a cavernous Brooklyn brownstone, and 29-year-old Hosk is perky and upbeat, despite touching down in New York just this morning after a weekend at Coachella.
“I wasn’t there for fun, though, I was working,” she says. Indeed, the annual festival, held outside Palm Springs, California, has become as much about fashion, branding and marketing as it is about the music. And Hosk’s array of outfits – plus the dusky pink hair she’s still sporting – were splashed across social media all weekend, along with a gaggle of equally famous VS faces and abs, including Alessandra Ambrosio, Jasmine Tookes and Sara Sampaio.
“I’m not really a festival person anyway,” Hosk continues. “I don’t like the crowds.” It’s not a bad way to work, though. Unlike some festivals, Coachella is a glamorous, dry affair, with those who can afford it renting desert villas off-site. “We had a really nice house by a lake, so we went out water-skiing and had barbecues,” says Hosk.
“I’m so not sexy at all; I’m goofy and totally normal. It’s a character that I get into. And then, in my real life, I become sort of anti-that”
Tomorrow, she’ll be heading back to Los Angeles again. “I’d love to have a place there some day, and be truly bicoastal,” she says. “My dream is to have a house in Point Doom, beyond Malibu.”
In the meantime, her reality is not too terrible. Hosk lives in New York’s SoHo with her British boyfriend of three years, Tom Daly, formerly of Acne Studios, who now runs the eyewear label District Vision. She spent two years having the apartment renovated; now she’s installed, she’s in full nesting mode. “It’s my little sanctuary, and I love having people over instead of going out, because we always go out in New York. Having people over, you connect in a different way – you can just listen to music and talk for hours, without anyone bothering you.”
Over the past year, Hosk’s star has truly been in the ascendance – she’s now an almost daily fixture on fashion and gossip sites, and boasts 4.3 million Instagram followers. “It has really exploded recently, in terms of my following and people recognizing me,” nods Hosk. “I was on a plane the other day, and a guy leaned over to my seat, asking: ‘Are you a Victoria’s Secret Angel? Are you Elsa?’ I was like, no, not now I’m not. When I’m all made up and in my lingerie, yes, I am, but not now.” She sighs resignedly. “I’m such a private person, and if I’m working, it’s all good, but on my own time, I wish that I could shut it off.”
Hosk’s issues with exposure seem slightly contradictory, given that her Instagram feed is filled with shots of herself in lingerie, and a lot less. On that subject, however, she is unabashed. “I remember posting a nude selfie, and I got so many texts from people who were like: what did you do? Are you sure about that? And I was like, yeah, I don’t really care that much. It’s my body, it’s my choice.”
And if there is trolling – some social-media users have attacked Hosk for being too skinny – that’s for the other Elsa to worry about. “I try not to read them, but it feels like it’s not about me anyway,” she smiles. “It’s about this other persona.” Is her family as comfortable with her racy shots being seen by millions of strangers? “They never even say anything, so I don’t know,” she grins. “My mum will sometimes comment on pictures, and tell me, ‘That’s a beautiful dress’, but I actually haven’t talked to them about what they think about nudity.”
“I posted a nude selfie, and I got so many texts from people: Are you sure about that? And I was like, yeah, it’s my body, it’s my choice”
Maybe, I concur, it’s a Swedish thing. Hosk grew up in Bromma, a suburb of Stockholm, where her father has an insurance company, and her mother is a hospital nurse. She is the middle child, with brothers either side, and was, consequently, a “total tomboy” as a child. “I used to call myself Hampus a Swedish boy’s name, and my best friend and I would skateboard everywhere and do all the boys’ sports.”
But the phase passed, and Hosk’s ambitions and interests shifted with it, into fashion. Still, modeling could not have been further from her thoughts. “I did not see myself as beautiful,” she says, shaking her pink waves. “I was very insecure when I was younger.” On the advice of a family friend, herself a model, Hosk’s father submitted some photographs to a local agency. She was signed at 13, and took to it immediately. “It made me feel like I had something of my own, something that was different. And it gave me a lot of confidence. I started being okay with who I was and looking the way I did.”
“If I see someone as young as I was modeling, I’m like, no, go home, this is crazy! If I had a daughter, I wouldn’t let her model until she was 18”
She worked throughout her teens, regularly flying to New York and Tokyo for jobs, but always accompanied by her mother. “Who knows what could happen to a young girl without having a parent around?” she wonders, wide-eyed. “I’m very grateful that she was.” Nonetheless, she now finds the idea of her own tender years shocking. “Now, if I see someone that young modeling, I’m like, no, go home, this is crazy! If I had a daughter, I wouldn’t let her model until she was 18.” At the age of 20, Hosk relocated to New York. “I was a bit lost at first,” she admits. “Modeling wasn’t really taking off and I was wondering, who am I, what am I doing?” Then she got the call-up to a casting for Victoria’s Secret youth line, Pink, and was on her way.
The pressure on the Angels, and their bodies, to look pert, firm and flawless at all times is well documented. Hosk, fortunately, reports than she can “just totally eat what I want”, and is naturally athletic and active. Long after her tomboy phase passed, she played basketball to a very high level, even professionally for a few years. “I’m really competitive, I’ve always had to be the best at everything. But eventually, I had to choose between basketball and modeling, because I was gone so much, and wasn’t able to train.” She misses it. “When I go to see the New York Knicks, I scream and shout and wish I was on the court.” She’s recently got into running with Daly, who is a marathon enthusiast, and will, at least, admit to “working out much more” in the run-up to the annual Victoria’s Secret show, with a combination of Pilates, SoulCycle, barre and weights classes at Dogpound, the Manhattan gym favored by myriad models.
Does she always feel confident about her body, I ask, half-expecting a list of dislikes. “Now I’m almost 30, I love my body,” she enthuses. “And it’s such a beautiful feeling. No one can say anything to me about it, because this is my body, and it’s f***ing awesome.” It was not always thus. “As a model, you’re constantly scrutinized for the way you look, and I always used to compare myself to other people. I would look at successful models and think: I need to look more like that. Now I realize it isn’t about trying to replicate someone else – it’s about being who you are, and being comfortable in yourself.”
She already has plans beyond modeling for her own “empowering” fashion empire. “But I can’t talk about it yet,” she says. What she can talk about is her work with Fair Girls, a charity set up to help victims of human trafficking. Inspiration came while watching The Whisteblower, starring Rachel Weisz and dealing with sex slavery and human trafficking. “It really affected me, so I started reading about human trafficking, which I then discovered is a bigger industry even than the clothing industry.” Fair Girls is based in Washington DC and rescues victims of human trafficking, an alarmingly common practice even in the US, where girls are kidnapped and sold into prostitution. Hosk now advocates on behalf of the charity, takes part in events, and donates some of her fees from jobs to their funds. “Once you have a platform, there’s so much you can do with it. And that’s what I want to do in the future – create something that can be of help.”
She might have the face and body of an Angel, but the inner Hosk is pretty impressive, too.
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