There’s a reason they call Elle Macpherson ‘The Body’, and when she walked into London’s Soho Hotel to introduce the all-new series of Britain & Ireland’s Next Top Model this week, we saw first-hand why.
Trim and toned from tip to toe, towering over just about every person in sight as she stood, taught-armed, long-legged and plump-pouted in her Prada dress, she looked insanely perfect (and we mean insane).
She was in town on Tuesday to host an exclusive screening of the new series of BINTM (that’s not a typo, the show’s changed its name to include Ireland), and along with her panel of judges – Julien Macdonald, Grace Woodward and Charley Speed – Elle invited us to watch the first episode at Soho Hotel’s swanky cinema room.
We caught up with Elle and the others after the screening, along with London’s finest fashion press, to put a few questions to the iconic supermodel about the show, the industry and her success. Here’s what she and her fellow judges had to say…
What sets this series apart from the rest?
Elle: The most interesting thing is that there are actually three or four episodes that are live on the road so we see the elimination process. The girls are such amazing characters – some of those girls are so fun, they’re interesting, they’re beautiful – and so you really get to see the girls and learn about their personalities, and as we see them throughout the series we see how they blossom. I love watching the journey, and seeing the great landscape of this beautiful country – it’s a lot of fun.
There’s a lot of rivalry between judges in shows like this. Do you ever find yourselves not being able to come to a mutual conclusion?
Julien: The great thing is the four of us are all completely different, so we’re all actually looking for different things from the models. We tend to agree, and a lot of the time we disagree for various reasons, but I think all of us have different knowledge of the fashion industry and we can bring that strength to the programme. And it makes it fun – you get to see the real us.
So what happens if you can’t come to a decision? Does it get deferred to Elle?
Elle: Yeah! I listen to the replies. They’re great perspectives and that’s why having a varied panel is really good for the girls and the show – and for me, it helps guide my choices as well.
Julien: Elle’s the head mistress, she tells us all off.
Elle: I just play that role, it’s good for business.
Once the girls get in the house and the bickering starts, that’s usually the juiciest part of the show – is this year the same?
Charley: No, no, no! It’s not, though, really… actually, it is, isn’t it? They’re quite feisty this year, I think they all live in very close proximity to each other so it’s bound to get heated – it’s definitely worth watching.
You’ve got some great guest judges this year. Do you have any highlights or a dream guest judge?
Elle: We had some really interesting people – we had Tyson, who was a supermodel in my era; we had Sophie Ellis-Bexter who was really interesting for the girls to see because she’s successful in being unusual – she’s not a stereotypical beauty, and she gave great feedback.
Grace: Jasmine Guinness rocked! Some of the stuff she said about her experience working with models over the years, I think the girls were really like, ‘wow, she really knows what she’s talking about’.
Elle: I’d like to have someone like Lily Cole come on because she’s somebody who managed a career and also finished school – she’s just graduated from Cambridge. What I wanted to be able to say to the girls is ‘here is a girl who’s very successful, she’s unusual, but she didn’t give up her education’. I think she’s a good role models for girls, I’d like to have her on next year. It’s making sure they have a back-up plan – this is a really fun business, if we’re successful we get to travel the world and it’s great to learn about personal grooming, about the business and learn about yourself, but I think it’s really important that girls have a back-up plan as well.
Julien: Also we don’t just pick typical models. This time there’s a variety of shapes, sizes and ages. I think for me, definitely as a fashion designer, this has changed the way I perceive and see women – it’s a fantastic learning curve for all of us.
As a fashion designer, Julien, would you consider using any of the girls from this series at your catwalk shows?
Julien: I would, actually. I think last time it would have been no! The superwoman [one contestant] is very, very interesting. I think you’ll follow the journey of that girl through the entire programme, and she is really special. She actually broke all of our hearts at the end, it was a very emotional rollercoaster, and you see a real woman competing against young girls. Jessica’s a real woman, she’s of a certain age, her body is really athletic, she’s not a stereotypical model in terms of the fashion industry, and she’s somebody that changed the way that we perceived things. You’ll be enchanted and engaged with her, she’s a really special person.
Elle, you’re a very successful business woman, have you ever thought about opening your own agency?
Elle: For the moment I’ve just really loved this experience of executive producing and hosting the show, and I have a lot going on. Elle Macpherson Intimates is 25 years old this year, and I’m really running my business as I keep it today, hoping to expand within the business that I’m doing. So more television – hosting and producing – expanding Elle Macpherson Intimates so that it’s really, truly a global brand, which it’s fast becoming, and working on my other projects. So opening up a modelling agency? I don’t think so – but I’ve loved scouting for girls in this competition.
Often one of the funniest bits for viewers is watching the contestants give you a bit of back-chat – how much does that influence your decision?
Elle: Has anyone met Naomi Campbell? [Laughs]. I think it’s really important to remember that we’re also making a television show, so having girls that are beautiful, that have a personality, or have an attitude, or a sense of humour is really important because she [the winner] needs to be watchable. You want to tune in to see her week after week, and [watch her] go through the challenges with courage, with a sense of humour, with imagination. So yeah, I look for girls that are ballsy. She needs to stand out in the casting, and she needs to carry the show, from a producer’s point of view.
As a supermodel who’s stood the test of time, what’s the key to longevity in this business?
Elle: I think it’s sound business choices, choosing partners that really resonate with you. For example, I am global spokeswoman for Revlon, and working with a company like that, their brand values and my brand values are very similar, so we carry each other and help each other in business. Having great management I think is very important – people that I trust, that I can run ideas by, who are supportive, that can help guide me in choices that I’m making. I can’t do it by myself. It’s a real team effort, in the same way that the show’s a team effort. I couldn’t do it without my fellow judges, and I certainly couldn’t do it without my producers and Sky supporting us, and you guys for writing about the show. So understanding that it is about cooperation and a team effort, for me, has been one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in maintaining a business through 30 years.
Did you have a favourite challenge for the girls this time?
Elle: The makeover was really fun because we actually divided the girls into teams so Julien had three girls, Grace had three girls, Charley had three girls and I had three girls, and we weren’t allowed to tell each other what we were going to do with them. So there was a lot of competition between what girls we were going to have and what we were going to do with them, and that was really, really fun.
Julien: Elle did the most dramatic makeover, believe it or not. I was like, ‘I can’t believe you did that to that poor girl, Elle,’ and she goes, ‘well, she looks better now’.
All the girls in Glasgow were in bikinis and in London they were allowed to wear clothes – was that a deliberate decision?
Elle: Can I give the honest answer to that? We started off putting the girls in bathing suits, and when I saw the first lot come in – we’d already been filming – and I was just like, ‘I can’t do this to them, it’s not fair’. I’m really interested in the whole personality of the girl and often that’s projected in how they dress, and it just felt appropriate. It’s very uncomfortable for a girl to stand in front of people like this, naked and freezing cold, so we just said, ‘no, it’s not fair’.
What do you think is lacking in the modelling industry at the moment? Do you think there’s space for a particular type of girl that you’d like to see filled?
Grace: There’s lots of talk about more diversity, especially within the catwalk. In magazines you see all sorts of shapes and sizes of girls modelling, there is lots of talk about diversity, and I think that we cover that in the show.
Julien: To be honest, it’s like a model army. I’ll see 500 girls for my show and I’ll pick 20, and that is the harsh reality – all those girls are absolutely stunning but there’s 20 that shine out like superstars. I think what is missing is girls that are different and women that represent Britain and Ireland – I think this show proves that you can be different and be a successful model. It’s variety that is missing. Agencies just have pillars of girls and they tend to all be the same, or the same genre, so I think it’s time to see some real women on the catwalk. And that’s coming from me!
BINTM will hit UK screens on Monday 4th July at 9pm, exclusively on Sky Living. Heads up: it’s funnier, fiercer and feistier than ever.