Rosie Huntington-Whiteley‘s brand is her personal style. The model has a social media empire inclusive of an Instagram account with 12.2 million followers, 201,000 subscribers on her beauty YouTube Rose Inc.—and an entire content site to go along with it. She doesn’t overshare about her personal life or traffic in memes, she is a tastemaker first and foremost—and many, many people are on board. The latest incarnation of that status is a new shoe collaboration with Gia Couture, a fashion-minded shoe brand that had a hit collab with influencer Pernille Teisbaek last year.
“I first came across the brands probably about 18 months ago, and I was just really drawn to the quality of the materials that Gia Couture uses, and then as I learned more about craftsmanship and Barbara [Borghini]’s work with leather specialists in the artisans outside of Florence, where everything is manufactured, I became really inspired by the brand as a female-founded brand,” Huntington-Whiteley explains.
For her own run with Gia Couture, Whiteley co-designed four styles including flat and heeled sandals, each of which are inspired by nature and leverage natural accents like hand-braided leather and radica wood details—available exclusively with FWRD.com. Below Huntington-Whiteley talks Instagram, inspiration, and building a business.
How did this partnership come about?
I’d never designed shoes before, and so I was really excited about the challenge and the potential of launching a collection with her. And I felt like we were synonymous in our tastes, but also our approach to the work. And so that kicked off at the end of the summer last year, and I think it’s been interesting because most of the design process, well, all of the design process, I should say, not most of it, has taken place over Zoom. I think for any creative in this time of the pandemic, where we’re doing all of our work over Zoom, it can often stump creativity and it can be frustrating to not be in a room with people and to be able to feel fabrics and materials together, and to see them on the body or in real life.
But nonetheless, it’s been a great experience working with the team, and Barbara comes just so well prepared to all the meetings. I come really well prepared to the meetings. … And for me, this was sort of a dream-come-true project. So I already had a ton of ideas and references, because I’m constantly researching.
What are those references? Who is currently inspiring you?
I’ll give you a very sort of broad answer. I find I’m always inspired by women in general. I think every woman has a story, and she has an identity that’s worth hearing and learning from, and I would say at this time, right now through COVID, I’ve been particularly inspired by female founders. I think this has been a really challenging time for many small business owners and the way that people have had to pivot their businesses so dramatically to happening virtually and everything being done over Zoom. I know that it’s certainly been the case for myself—to see the challenges that many businesses have had to overcome.
Also for many female founders, this has been just a really, really tragic time for them as business owners. So I’m always inspired by female founders, and there’s been a few over the years that I get very excited about meeting and working alongside. Barbara has been a real inspiration to me through the process. There’s always a lot to learn. I look forward to hopefully going to dinner with Barbara at some point this summer and actually being able to really talk and learn from her and hear more about her story. Right now, we kind of get on these Zoom meetings, and it’s just straight to business.
As an entrepreneur yourself, what have been the key elements that you think make a successful brand?
I think for me personally, it’s all who you surround yourself with. And I think that as a founder myself, I find I often get a lot of acclaim and, “Well, it was all done by me alone,” and it’s just not the case. I feel really grateful for being able to have surrounded myself with people who we can all collaborate, and I’m a big believer in collaboration and teamwork, and being team players. I’m not someone who likes to micromanage other people. I like to hire really well and take a long time through the hiring process of building a team around me. I feel that one thing I feel quite lucky with is I’m quite instinctual, and I think I have a good gauge for people.
Of course, I think there’s mentorship and there’s collaboration. That’s really important, that goes hand in hand with any kind of business, but really being able to surround yourself with people who are better than you at what you can’t do. I see businesses or founders who in instances micromanage everything. It doesn’t allow people to feel really confident in their role and flourish. And that’s really important to me. I love people to bring their own ideas to the table for sure.
How has social media impacted how you consume and interpret fashion?
That’s a big question. For me, social media is probably one of my greatest sources of inspiration. I feel that it’s like a little black book where I can really find a lot of inspiration. That’s one of the plus sides of social media. We hear a lot about the negatives of social media and they’re absolutely there, but I find it to be a great source for references—I follow my favorite architects or my favorite interior designers, my favorite artists, and actually I find myself leaning more into that when I look through who I’m following. It’s more from a creative thing than celebrities who are selling things that I’m not that interested in.
My social media is really filled with destinations and architecture and buildings and books and art and sculpture, and then peppered in with some great tastemakers and designers and artists who I really love to follow. So for me, that’s definitely altered the way that we consume and interpret fashion, because before, we would see that all in a magazine that we’d get once a month. As a young girl, I would literally race home off the school bus as a teenage girl, because I knew what day the magazine was going to arrive at the house. And so now, we have that just in our hand all day long. So obviously, it alters the way you consume, because it’s so instantaneous.
I try and pay special attention to that in a way, because I think sometimes it can lead you down the wrong path of overconsumption certainly, and it can lead you down the path of following trends as opposed to staying true to yourself. So I try and spend special attention when I do have that urge of really asking myself questions of, “Is this about buying less but better?”
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What has been your personal style ethos in this very strange past year?
Gosh, I don’t know whether there has been much style ethos in this year. I feel really grateful to have been able to work on projects like this, where it’s sort of been an escapism of my sweatpants in a way, because I’m able to picture what life might be like on the other side of being at home all day in elastic waistbands. But in general, it’s all been about comfort this year, and I think that was something I really took into consideration with this collection. I sort of asked myself, “Well, what are the first heels I want to wear when we’re on the other side of this pandemic, hopefully later on in the summer when we’re able to move about a little bit easier?”
I really looked at the heels I’d been wearing previous to COVID and really thought about the attitude and the sort of vibe that I think people will be having as they step out of their sweats and their comfortable things and their flat shoes. For me and Barbara, it was very much about the simplicity and the elegance of nature, and I think you’ll see with the collection there’s just a grounded-ness to it.
I think that I’ve found the general conversation around style and beauty has changed so much over the past year, but that there’s a sense that we absolutely still want to be able to wear something and we absolutely still need to apply makeup or skincare products, but there’s a more grounded sense to it. There’s a more personalized, simple approach to it—a less is more approach.
This article originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR US.