Elle Macpherson wafts into a rooftop room in the London Edition hotel, all tumbling sunshine blonde hair and muscular brown arms. Encased in a leather dress with a plunging back, The Body (the sobriquet bestowed on Elle by a Time magazine article in 1986) is magnificent, no matter that she recently celebrated her 50th birthday. But how does one of the original supermodels celebrate such a day? With diamonds, perhaps, from her property mogul husband Jeffrey Soffer and a lavish party befitting a woman who is worth many millions?
‘The best present was a really beautiful film from my brother,’ says Elle. ‘He’d put it to music, with messages from my family and friends. I cried and cried.’ Beyond that, she went to see The Book of Mormon, and met some friends at Zuma. ‘I had that clichéd feeling that one hopes for when you’re 50 and think love is totally fulfilling — love for family, friends, and business. I feel how I always hoped I’d feel at this time of life. But, the truth is, I didn’t want a party or an extravagant gift. I wanted to start a new business, so I created WelleCo and my Super Greens’ — of which more later. Combine that entrepreneurial zest with the fact that she gets up at 6.15am every day and takes her sons, Flynn, 16, and Cy, 11, to school, trains daily at Eqvvs gym in Knightsbridge and also makes frequent visits to Soffer, who is based in Miami. Leading a transatlantic life, running her business, looking like this... the question presents itself: is Elle too good to be true?
At first, I think yes — that the truth is Macpherson is so good she’s bland; she must have signed a (non) Faustian pact to have a perfectly dull life for a perfect everything else. She’s certainly extremely focused: raring to tell me about her Super Elixir supplement — a potent synthesis of dried grasses, Chinese herbs, enzymes and maitake mushrooms designed to bring the body to an appropriate pH level — and how it is fuelling her remarkably youthful looks and energy. ‘The Super Elixir is alkalising. It’s wellness in a jar. I wasn’t feeling myself, I was finding life overwhelming and had no pep in my step. I went to see Dr Simone [Laubscher, a leading nutritional expert and specialist in disease prevention] and she said I had a really acid body. So now I use the Super Greens to balance it out. I don’t have dry skin, I’ve lost weight, my moods are even…’
As she talks she fiddles with a cluster of gold and coral bracelets and a fine-thread chain running between her wrist and middle finger. It’s easy to be caught up in her narrative — hooray, the green answer to everything! I’ll take ten! — but at the same time her words have the glossy, bounce-off-it surface of a press release. Nor can I get more purchase on her words as we move on from the elixir to her other major topic, her family. ‘I’ll ask my son Flynn, who is 16, what’s the best advice I’ve ever given him? He’ll say, drink lots of water; water cures everything,’ she says, holding a purple glass bottle of the earth’s most pure distilled water. Plastic may contaminate it, see.
Of course, her advice makes sense. Yes, when you’re about to lose your temper, it’s good to try to think of the ‘truly wise thing to say in the moment’. Yes, it’s ideal to do what you love and love what you do. But if you add them up, it feels like talking to a mannequin. And then, to make matters worse, our allotted interview time is suddenly cut short — Elle must go to see her dentist — and I have no choice but to wait several weeks and send many, many emails to rearrange our meeting.
When we do finally meet up again, I watch her. Often, her smile doesn’t reach her eyes, and her face is attractive, if somehow out of kilter around the mouth. (‘Have you had work?’ I ask. ‘I haven’t had surgery. I’m not saying I haven’t tried things, I definitely have, but I try to keep it simple. No cutting!’) But, heavens, when she really smiles, it’s something else: the warm brown eyes; the delicate cheekbones; the melting smile that’s captivated a million lenses.
Born in 1964 in a suburb of Sydney — her father was a sound engineer and her mother a nurse — Macpherson planned to go to law school. To fund her place, she went to the States to model and shot a soft drinks commercial in 1982, aged 18. After just a year, law was abandoned and in 1986 she appeared on thatTime cover, which minted her ‘The Body’. Covers for Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue, Vogue Australia and Elle followed, along with catwalk work for the likes of Christian Dior and Valentino. Then, in an astute decision, in 1990, she opted to create a lingerie brand rather than simply give her name to one, and launched the now internationally bestselling Elle Macpherson Intimates; in 2005, she added a skincare range to her business empire, The Body Collection. Between her ongoing modelling work — she became a face of Revlon aged 44 — and businesses, Elle is today estimated by Forbes magazine to be worth £38 million.
Along the way, she dated some of the most eligible men on the planet, including Gilles Bensimon, the international creative director of Elle magazine, with whom she had a three-year marriage; socialite and art dealer Tim Jefferies, back when he was one of the bad boys on the London scene; and more seriously, hedge fund king Arpad ‘Arki’ Busson, with whom she was in a relationship for some nine years, and with whom she had her two sons.
Since 2010 she has been linked to Soffer, a colourful type whom she married last year in Fiji. Rumour goes that their relationship was cemented when he was involved in a helicopter crash in which a fellow passenger was killed (his widow filed a lawsuit claiming that Soffer was piloting, without a helicopter licence, but later withdrew her allegations). In response to questions about either the engagement or the crash, Elle turns to stone. Soffer inherited Turnberry Associates, one of America’s largest property businesses, from his father. Four years ago, after falling out with an employee, he was accused of siphoning Turnberry assets to fund his ‘baronial lifestyle’ — cited examples included what was claimed to be a $2 million 40th birthday party with a performance by Prince, two 100ft yachts and a fleet of Ferraris. Soffer’s portfolio also includes the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami, where it’s been alleged that he began an affair with Gwyneth Paltrow in 2008, during her marriage to Chris Martin.
Is there any truth to this rumour? Elle shrugs. ‘Gwyneth and I are really good friends. Gwyneth and Jeffrey have known each other a long time. We know the truth… I find it ungracious that the press have a desire to pick apart the phraseology “conscious uncoupling”: they have children, they are in the public eye, and whenever a relationship falls apart there is hurt. It requires a certain amount of compassion. From everybody.’
Soffer lives in Miami, and soon Elle plans to move to the States to be closer to him. For now, she’s in London, spending her spare time skateboarding with her sons and their two labradoodles, Bella and Moon, in Battersea Park. Was it hard bringing up the children while being separate from Busson? ‘There’s a strong mutual love for the children, we honour that.’ During his first break-up with fiancée Uma Thurman in 2009, did she find herself feeling protective over the boys? ‘No! Arki’s business is his business and it’s not for you or I to comment on that. My children have always been well and truly supported by both of us.’
Get her fired up, and Elle’s suddenly fun. When I remember, by coincidence, that I’m wearing her lingerie I get a genuine high-five ‘I like that!’ She is an excited fan of Boris Johnson, loving his support of cycling and green initiatives: ‘He’s so cool and forward-thinking.’ But she never votes: she aligns herself with Russell Brand on the value of voting, she explains. What are her passions? Again, we skitter through the first answer — ‘I’m passionate about the journey of life’ — to alight on one that comes with a real smile. ‘Art. I’ve always collected it and always want to.’ Favourites include Lucian Freud, Tracey Emin, Basquiat, Warhol and Damien Hirst. ‘At weekends I take the boys to London museums, which is really cool. When they were small we would go to a gallery every Sunday morning.’
She can laugh at herself. When I ask her for a secret no one else knows, she says, ‘I’m trying to learn the ukulele, from YouTube. I really want to get better. It’s the cutest little instrument, it makes me so happy. It reminds me of my surfing days. I play it at night, when the boys are in bed. I mean, isn’t it glamorous!’
She is popular with women and maybe one reason is that when she does a shoot in a bikini, or nude: ‘I imagine I’m wearing jeans and a T-shirt. I've got the attitude that I’m not about being sexy or flirty, just about strength, this is who I am.’ Of ‘The Body’, she says: ‘It’s a fantastic moniker. People have said, is it an insult? I say no, thank you very much, I’ll trademark it and build a business on it.’ Disappointingly, she says she’s not a feminist — she sees men and women as different. Surely feminism celebrates the difference while demanding equal pay, I argue. ‘I don’t know any male models that earn what I do,’ she comes back.
This Elle makes more sense: a woman who has steered her way through the fashion fraternity and big business, and who is married to a billionaire with a passion for fast cars and boats; a sports fiend whom friends have seen ski Aspen Mountain fearlessly all day and recover with parmesan and truffle fries. She’s ballsy. She’s just fiercely on-brand.
‘I don’t court press for press’ sake. I don’t go to the parties to get shot by the paparazzi,’ she says. ‘I’ve done so many amazing things in my life — you name the parties and I’ve been there — but they aren’t the choices I’m making for myself at the moment.’
As we start to wrap up our meeting, she looks at my notes. ‘I hope it’s not too mushy. If you make this mushy, I’ll never talk to you again!’ (She is flirty, not without intent.) ‘I don’t want any psychobabble.’ I remark that the odd line sounds like it came out of therapy. ‘I’ve absolutely not had therapy. It’s experience… With the wrinkles around my eyes and the skin that is not what it was, I hope I’ve gained wisdom. I’ve been through enough to be able to figure it out with grace and a sense of humour.’
And it seems she has. She’s come through marriage and love affairs, she’s maintained her profile, and by all accounts her sons are balanced and unspoilt. I tell her the world could take seeing more of her in roused, debating mode. ‘Ah, but I’m in my very restrained mode, which I usually am in public.’ When I ask if she misses her partying days, she replies: ‘Don’t you worry. There’s no lack of laughter in this person’s life. Or goofiness, or glamour. You’re just not going to read about it.’
The Super Elixir, from £62.50, available at selfridges.com and
HOW TO EAT LIKE ELLE
A lot of fish ‘I’m a pescatarian.’
Whole grains Barley, quinoa and spelt.
In the fridge Rice milk and almond milk. Perrier and San Pellegrino water. Avocado, kale, beetroot, peas, spinach, coconut water.
In the freezer Mint Slice biscuits from Australia. ‘I eat them frozen. We all do.’
HOW TO LOOK LIKE ELLE
Hair Josh Wood at the Lansdowne Atelier for colour (£850), and his colleague Ivan for a cut (from £160;)
Face Dr Sebagh (from £144 for 60 minutes;) and Vaishaly treatments (£250 for 55 minutes; )
Nails Toni Jade (mani and pedi, about £150; 07931 718 667)
Original article published in ES Magazine, in July, 2014