It’s not hard to see that London-based supermodel Elle Liberachi (no relation to the flamboyant ivory-tickler of yesteryear) is great at what she does. Give her an exotic beach, a barely there swimsuit and a lucky photographer, and she’ll conjure up a tropical island fantasy faster than you can say aloha. But modeling was never an aspiration for this 25-year-old French-Italian stunner, whose quiet upbringing in the British countryside gave her few expectations of a life on the catwalk. At 18, she was an art student in London when a chance encounter exposed her to a modeling scout. Soon she was booking international jobs, including her very first runway show right here in Miami.
From there, it’s been a slow and steady crescendo of coveted gigs—runway work for Guess and Roberto Cavalli, advertising campaigns for Calvin Klein and L’Oréal, editorial spreads in GQ, Elle, Esquire and Maxim—and shoots with top photo teams who love working with her as much for her easygoing demeanor as her soft, decidedly un-British looks. With a packed schedule, ties to several charities and a role in the forthcoming film Your Highness alongside James Franco and Natalie Portman, Liberachi is one busy beauty. But her humility has served her well, keeping her grounded and grateful for all she’s been given.
You’ve become a hit in the modeling world, and it all started right here in South Beach, right? ELLE LIBERACHI: The first job I had was a runway show in Miami [during Fashion Week of the Americas], for Adolfo Dominguez. I love Miami’s vibe and the Latin flavor, which is such a contrast to London. The people are very different from what surrounds me at home.
I hear your friend, the singer Craig David, has art of you hanging in his penthouse at the Mondrian South Beach.
Yes, Craig! He loves his women. I’ve known him for a long time. He’s got the most beautiful apartment, and it’s adorned with photos of supermodels.
Did modeling just come to you by chance?
I grew up in the countryside and never thought I would model. I was studying art and design at London College of Fashion, and a friend of mine was showing her work to her instructors. She asked me if I would mind wearing something for the presentation. A scout approached me afterward. I didn’t believe it at first. I continued with school, but it all started from there.
What makes a shoot really comfortable for you?
I love when a client wants your personality to come through. I ask to play music, so it’s easy to move around and get into it. Of course, I love working with great people. One shoot I remember in particular over four days in Cape Town. We shot at beaches, the mountains, among these amazing people. It was really like a holiday with friends. That’s something great about this career: I get to travel to places I’d never see otherwise.
When one thinks of London models, beach shoots don’t normally leap to mind.
My look is very different from other models in London. I didn’t really fit the stereotype, and as a result I got a lot of jobs.
Is that the formula for your success, filling a niche?
Some girls I speak to ask all sorts of questions, wanting to know my secret. I can only say be yourself. Just keep believing in yourself. In any industry, pressure is high; in fashion, it’s magnified. There will be many setbacks. You just have to be versatile, and being unique is a great thing. You might be right for one person and all wrong for another. What’s that saying? One man’s trash is another’s treasure!
It’s been said that your beauty hearkens back to the great supermodels of the ’90s—women like Heidi Klum and Cindy Crawford, who have parlayed their modeling careers into success elsewhere. Do you have any particular dreams beyond the runway?
It’s extremely flattering to be compared to such inspirational women. There are so many things I want to do. I’d love to get into film, after I’m through modeling. And I’m obsessed with interior design; anyone who comes to my home can see that. I studied art and design. Anytime I go to [antiques market] Portobello Road in Notting Hill, I have to pick something up. I was just in Paris, and I bought a mirrored mural that’s as big as my wall.
Your film career already seems to be taking off.
I shot Your Highness in Ireland in 2009. I was quite shocked to have been given the role, and was very nervous working with these A-listers. James Franco and Zooey Deschanel were my scene partners! But they were very lovely and quite supportive. These days, so many actors are doing the jobs of models, like appearing on magazine covers. So there’s more of an acceptance that someone can both act and model. You devote a lot of time to charities including Debenhams Breast Cancer Campaign and Macmillan Cancer Support. It’s always nice to hear that people are using their fame to give back. Cancer research is very personal to me, for family reasons. I’ve also been trying to support my brother-in-law, who just opened a South African restaurant in London called Shaka Zulu. He pledges one pound for every meal served to Education Africa, which is pretty amazing.
When you have some downtime, how do you decompress?
My life in London is very normal, by comparison. The makeup is off and the hair is up. Most of my friends are people I grew up with, so that’s grounding. I need girlfriends that know who I really am. Being able to pick up a phone from a hotel room and talk to a friend—“Hey, how are you?”—is priceless.
photographs by thomas whiteside. Styling by Annie Ladino. Hair by Anthony Campbell at Atelier Management for Cutler/Redken. Makeup by James Boehmer for Nars Cosmetics. Manicure by Tatyana Molot at artistsbytimothypriano.com