Phebe Wahl Phebe Wahl | April 14, 2021 | People Lifestyle Feature Features Featured
Multihyphenate Olivia Culpo takes the helm this season with myriad projects, proving that this brainy beauty has a serious mind for business.
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Olivia Culpo's brains-blossoms-into-beauty story reads like the script of a classic teen trope—the nerdy girl takes off her glasses to suddenly reveal a smoldering supermodel. Looking at the glamorous Sports Illustrated swimsuit model and former Miss Universe today, it is hard to visualize her bookish childhood bouncing between band camp, orchestra practice and an all-girls school. “My shoulders still hurt because my cello was so big and I had to carry it up all these really steep dirt hills over, like, tree trunks,” she remembers of her band camp days. “It was in the middle of the woods, so that’s really what I remember most... lugging around my cello when everyone else had, like, a flute,” she shares laughing.
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Those early, cello-lugging lessons about hard work and discipline have certainly paid off. “I feel like I have to give my parents credit for that because they really were the driving force in a lot of my musical endeavors,” she says. “They made me go to chamber music. They made me do all-state orchestra. They made me do the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra. They made me do my high school orchestra. I had to take private lessons. I had to do my quartet. I had to do my quintet. I had to practice every single day,” she reflects. “It was a lot of structure that I can see now as an older woman is valuable for kids. So I’m really grateful for that. Of course, at the time I thought they were just trying to torture me, but that obviously was not the case. They were just trying to make me better.”
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Music is clearly one of the many strings that tie the Culpo clan together. “We all play different instruments. Our parents met in an orchestra at college, and our mom is a professional viola player,” she says. The close-knit family has a talent for business as well. Along with her two sisters, she curates the ready-to-wear capsule Culpos X INC available at Macy’s, and there is also a restaurant run by the clan in their home state of Rhode Island called Back 40. “I would say we all kind of balance one another out,” she says of her equally stunning sisters. “Through all the different ups and downs of my career, I’ve always just been Olivia to them.”
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“I do feel like I’ve always been a girl’s girl,” Culpo shares when asked why supporting women has always been a priority. “Honestly, boys kind of scared me a lot of the time. I’m a girl’s girl; I went to an all-girls high school. My sisters and I are very close. I definitely think having sisters has maybe made me a little bit more female-empowerment driven,” says the star, who counts Girls Inc. among her many causes she champions. “I’ve always felt a real sense of camaraderie with other women,” she says.
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Clearly deeply disciplined, Culpo is also refreshingly well-rounded and grounded when it comes to her approach to wellness and the scrutiny that can come with the fame of having 4.7 million Instagram followers. “I stick to the 80-20 rule,” she says of her diet. “Eighty percent of the time I’m really good, and then 20% of the time I allow myself to eat, not whatever but indulge a little more, I guess you could say. That’s worked really well for me in general, especially this past year, where obviously everyone’s just trying to find comfort wherever they can. Eating salad 24/7 is not going to give you that kind of comfort.” The swimsuit model takes an equally do-what-feels-good approach to her fitness routine. “I started something on my Instagram called the 20-Minute Cardio Challenge, and that is basically 20 minutes of cardio at whatever speed you want. I’ve been doing it with my followers encouraging them to join the challenge and just do whatever feels right for 20 minutes,” she says. “You want to get your endorphins going—get some movement going. It’s just something that it doesn’t feel too overwhelming. We’ll get you moving, and before you know it, it’s over.”
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The beauty brings the same positive energy to her entrepreneurial endeavors. Culpo was recently named creative director and a lead investor for VIDE, a canned beverage containing gluten-free vodka or tequila, lightly carbonated water and a dash of natural flavor. “There’s only 99 calories, zero sugar, zero carbs and it’s gluten free,” Culpo shares, saying she often drinks it straight from the can or simply over ice. “It completely aligned with my lifestyle because I don’t want to say I’m never going to have alcohol and deprive myself. But I will make healthier choices... It’s just in a way that I don’t have to feel guilty.”
Mental health has been more top of mind for the multihyphenate than ever before. “It’s been a really challenging year obviously. It’s been tough for everyone, but I think the bright side of it was being able to slow down and take more time to spend with friends and family,” she notes. Culpo’s pandemic pivot included a focus on philanthropy, launching More Than A Mask—a line of nonsurgical, nonmedical fashion masks with proceeds from the sales used as charitable donations to various organizations. “As soon as the pandemic hit, it was pretty much second nature for me to figure out something to do because I felt horrible. I felt guilty. I was depressed for others, but also felt really depressed because I knew how fortunate I was and that made me feel really bad. So I channeled that and really asked myself how I could make a difference,” she says. Culpo discovered the food shortage needs and partnered with Feeding America to raise funds providing over 1.5 million meals. For her next More Than A Mask activation, Culpo is focusing on female empowerment.
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Like the lessons of band camp, philanthropy has always been a driving force for the Culpo clan. “They always felt it was very important for us to know how fortunate we are and how important it is to give back to those who are less fortunate,” she says. As Miss USA and Miss Universe, Culpo served a spokesperson for breast cancer, ovarian cancer and AIDS and HIV awareness. “I traveled all over the world in regard to a lot of different causes that were everywhere.”
In addition to her philanthropic platforms and business endeavors, Culpo is also making a recent splash in Hollywood. This spring, Culpo starred opposite Bella Thorne and the late Cameron Boyce in the Amazon Prime series Paradise City, which follows the lives of a rock star who seems to have it all and a young rookie kid who idolizes him, as they collide through their broken homes built by the music business. She will take on a heavier, more dramatic role in this summer’s indie drama Venus as a Boy with Ty Hodges. “My character in Venus as a Boy is much darker,” she shares. “A lot of aspects of the film touch on social injustice. It definitely opened up a lot of really important conversations with me and everyone I was working with,” she says.
It seems Culpo has cracked the code to balancing the scrutinizing glare of the spotlight and the pressing demands of a thriving career with a grounded approach. “I think that you have to make living a wellness-driven life fun, and that’s where the balance comes in,” she says. “It’s not fun to always be dieting. It’s not fun to feel like every workout you do isn’t enough.” Culpo reflects that a punishing approach just isn’t for her. “I feel like if you’re too strict with yourself, or you’re too strict with your diet, you’re basically telling yourself that you’re not good enough. More gentle goals are what works for me because they’re just more fun.” Clearly, this girl just wants to have fun.
Photography by: Photographed by Dennis Leupold, ADB Agency; Styled by Marc Eram