Supermodel Candice Swanepoel on her struggle with fashion's frivolity, her dream for 'a simple life', and how her work with altruistic brand Bottletop feeds her soul.
If you could bottle Candice Swanepoel's star quality, it would sell at the rate of knots. Warm, open and, of course, beautiful, it's little surprise that Bottletop, the altruistic accessories brand, was keen to get her on board as an ambassador. Bottletop, in its most basic form, was founded in 2002 by Cameron Saul, son of Mulberry founder Roger Saul, through a collaboration with his father's brand. A handbag design made in Africa of recycled bottle tops but lined with Mulberry leather quickly sold out and the proceeds of the sales went to fund grass roots education in Africa. Co-director Oliver Wayman later came on board, bringing along a bag he'd discovered in Brazil that was made form upcycled ring pulls. They discovered their own technique of recreating the aesthetic and the rest, as they say, is history. All of the Bottletop designs are created by hand in the company's Salvador, Brazil atelier by women from local favelas, teaching them vital skills and allowing them to form a sense of community. The profits from all of the sales are then used to fund The Bottletop Foundation, which uses contemporary art and music to raise funds and awareness for education projects that tackle teenage health issues in Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Brazil and the UK. Candice is in London, on Valentine's Day, to highlight the brand's new collaboration with designer Narciso Rodriguez - 100 per cent of proceeds from which will go to fund delicate, complicated issues in the brand's uniquely creative way. The partnership sees two new designs, 'The Candice' handbag, named after Swanepoel, and 'The Jessica' clutch, which is named after the actress Jessica Alba as a thank you for her part in introducing Bottletop to Rodriguez. At £1,250 and £595 respectively, the bags pitch Bottletop as a "sustainable luxury brand that is creating beautifully crafted accessories and using those as the vehicles to drive this sort of empowerment," explains Saul. Swanepoel's knowledge of the areas in which Bottletop operates has, perhaps surprisingly, been key. Having grown up in South Africa and Brazil (she has been with her Brazilian boyfriend, fellow model Hermann Nicoli, for seven years, has a house there and is fluent in Portugese) she's all too aware of the problems that parts of both countries face. "AIDs, single-mother pregnancies, drug abuse, domestic abuse, the fact that there are a lot of cultural things that the tribes learn in Africa that are not healthy for them in the end," she says. "There are just so many problems and something like this, making money to go and educate these people of simple facts, to teach those kinds of things, that can save people." Of the women who work in the atelier, Swanepeol comments: "Now they have a reason to wake up, go and learn a skill, and it's a proper profession for them to learn such beautiful artwork." But Candices's involvement isn't strictly selfless. "It's helping these people but it's helping me too," she confesses. How? At 25, she's been in the fashion industry for 10 years and has successfully straddled both high-fashion and the more commercial side of the business, particularly in her role as a Victoria's Secret Angel (last year she ranked in Forbes's list of the top 10 highest-paid models) - but such success has, it seems, brought with it a healthy dose of disillusionment. "It's a problem that I deal with everyday," she admits. "The business is extremely superficial and that's why I crave to find things that are more real and make me feel better about it." "I love my job, I'm so lucky to have the life I have, and I have worked hard for it, but I do see a big problem in what people value - people have lost the real reason for life," she continues. Lately, she tells me, she's been retuning to her New York apartment and getting the urge to "throw everything away", purge herself of 'bought happiness' as if she's once and for all realised that 'things' don't bring you happiness. READ: Candice Swanepoel pulls a pose for Bottletop As such, she finds solace in the work she does with Bottletop and in Brazil, her spiritual home - it reminds her of the farm she grew up on in South Africa and it's clear to assume it's where she pictures herself settling down. It's this that seems to set her apart from her contemporaries, people like Miranda Kerr and Alessandra Ambrosio, both of whom she's worked with in her capacity as a Victoria's Secret Angel. "What inspires me in my work and gives me a different look in the eye is learning and experiencing these things. I feel like a lot of my fans see something different in my eyes - I grew up differently, I value different things to a lot of other models," she says. As such, she doesn't consciously aspire to make herself into a 'brand' like the other aforementioned models have. "It's funny, I have two sides - I'm quite ambitious, I like to work but then I have another side of me that really doesn't need that much," she says. For her, right now at least, it's about "feeding her soul, being a bit more quiet and doing smaller projects that I'm inspired by rather than building a brand." "I would just love to enjoy my life and have a simple house on the beach and teach my [future] children what I value in life and what I've learnt from growing up in Africa with those values - going out into the world, seeing what I don't like, what I think is wrong and teaching them that," she says, crediting her boyfriend and their private life together with keeping her very much grounded. What - you may wonder - would one of the world's most beautiful women rather be doing on the international day of love? "I'm not much of a Valentine's Day girl," she says matter of factly. "It's a nice excuse to be romantic but it's a fine line for me because I don't like anything false and forced, so I'm a difficult one!" And with that, Swanepoel's image as a fluffy pink Victoria's Secret airhead is well and truly abolished.