‘For years it was about how I looked, now it's about how I feel,’ our founder tells Body+Soul.
The coming year is a big one for WelleCo, but it’s even more significant for our founder. Hitting ten in 2024 is admittedly an enormous privilege for us as a company, but to have a front-row seat as Elle steps into her seventh decade is a magnificent milestone we simply cannot wait to mark. Read on as Elle opens up toBody+Soul about ageing, quality of life and what makes women truly alluring.
She burst onto our TVs at 18 and was dubbed The Body at 25. Now, on the eve of a landmark birthday, Elle Macpherson has very different priorities. In this exclusive interview with Body+Soul, Australia’s original ‘super’ reflects on her life as she heads into her seventh decade.
In the minutes before chatting withElle Macpherson, I consider what it’s like to be her. Supermodel, businesswoman, wellness guru and the woman Time Magazine anointed “The Body” built a career based on what she looks like, so it’s only natural that those who meet her might be quietly assessing that very thing.
As it happens, she looks amazing in a dove grey jumper (Linnea Lund cashmere), white jeans (Dior) and very little, if any,make-up. Her trademark long hair is shorter and tousled from a swim earlier in the day. Even in the soft light of a Florida evening it’s hard to believe that in March she’ll be turning 60. I tell her she looks incredible.
“I feel incredible,” she corrects. “I think that’s the most important thing. You say I look incredible but I feel that way. I just love thatsense of vitality and I’m grateful for my life, I’m grateful for my journey and I am loving turning 60.”
Macpherson is Australia’s original supermodel and while it’s all very well being dubbed “The Body” aged 25 and parlaying that moniker into a string of business ventures on top of a highly successful modelling career, 34 years later it must be a tricky label to live up to.
Yet the woman who inhabits said body is sanguine. “I spent many years tending to my outer appearance as ‘The Body’ and really living up to other people’s expectations of me,” she says. “Today I find my life way more fulfilling and enriching as I focus on my inner wellbeing and balance because that delivers peace and joy and love.”
If Macpherson once embodied a late 20th century Amazonian athleticism, at 59 she is no less influential as an advocate for wellness. Next year not only marks a landmark birthday but a decade since she founded WelleCo, the rapidly growing global supplement brand that sprang from her own experiences of feeling less than her best. Having approached 50 sleep-deprived, unmotivated, sugar-addicted, surviving on coffee and with weight gain, bad skin and low libido, she says 10 years later she’s thriving and even via Zoom it’s clear she’s brimming with a potent combination of health, energy and ease. Of course, that could also, in part, be due to her new boyfriend, musician Doyle Bramhall II, but we’ll get to that.
Macpherson is the first of the clutch of 90s supermodels – branded The Magnificent Seven by the New York Times in 1996 – to reach 60 although Linda Evangelista, 58, and Cindy Crawford, 57, are not far behind. In any case, she’s unbothered by her or anyone else’s age.
“I don’t focus on ageing,” she tellsBody+Soul. “I think it’s more important to focus on the quality of the life that you’re living and how you’re living life to the fullest. They always say it’s not the years in your life it’s the life in your years. That’s what I like to help people with, which is how they can live their life to their fullest.”
As one of a clutch of women who are reinventing midlife, openly discussing menopause and refusing to become invisible, she notes archly that “it’s about time” and very much dependent on sharing knowledge. “My mum is still beautiful and active and vibrant and it’s true she didn’t have as much information on how to look after herself as we do today. But I would say magazines like yours are giving women a voice. They’re also giving them the tools to understand how to nurture themselves.”
Macpherson watched the recent documentary The Super Models featuring Evangelista, Crawford, Christy Turlington and Naomi Campbell (she enjoyed it) and while she follows inspirational older women on social media it’s not to benchmark their preservation of youth.
“When I look at other women on social media I’m more interested in their lives than how they look per se,” she says. “I’m interested in women’s lives in general, the depths of their souls, the breadth of their experience, their heart connections - without sounding too fluffy about it. The quality of women’s lives is what interests me.”
Right now, the quality of Macpherson’s life looks pretty good. She’s a successful businesswoman, an enthusiastic empty nester since her two sons, Flynn, 25, and Cy, 20, moved out of home, a “nomadic lover” as one of her friends has dubbed her and Bramhall and, as she exclusively reveals, a soon-to-be author. A memoir? A health book? A glossy chronicle of her modelling days? “You’ll have to wait and see,” she says enigmatically.
She may look extraordinary – the ideal poster girl for her signature The Super Elixir™ greens powder – but the combination of excellent genes, a healthy lifestyle and honed business instincts have not spared her from challenges. Macpherson has endured the ending of two marriages, the breakdown of her relationship with the father of her two children, public battles with former business associates, issues with alcohol, and a period in a rehab facility in 2003. At the time she said she was struggling with postnatal depression, telling the Herald Sun that she “addressed a lot of issues that needed addressing.”
Recently she posted an image on Instagram of her Alcoholics Anonymous tri-plate token marking 20 years of sobriety. “I stopped drinking in 2003 because I felt I couldn’t be fully present in my life and it was a wonderful springboard of getting to know myself on a deeper level,” she elaborates, noting that once she stopped, she never started again.
Having observed that she engages directly with some of her 715K Instagram followers, encouraging them on their path to sobriety, I wonder if she has a message for those who feel alcohol isn’t serving them well.
“Everybody has their own journey and I’m not interested in telling other people what to do but I know that this was a decision that I’ve never regretted,” she says gently. “Although it required discipline and persistence the bottom line is you can’t be well and present in your life if you’re not present and well, and alcohol doesn’t really support that. It’s very difficult to get to know yourself if you’re numbing yourself.”
If her 40s was a decade of spiritual awakening after focusing on her physical body for many years, her 50s, she says, was about learning how to connect the elements that make for a grounded and healthy life. “I used to equate beauty with youth and as I’ve matured and as my experience has evolved, I’ve understood that beauty is more closely aligned to wellness,” she explains. “The second part of that concept is that wellness is physical, emotional, spiritual and mental wellbeing and that they’re all integrated. That was the biggest revelation – that you can’t compartmentalise them and they’re not separate. If anything is out of kilter it affects the others, so the secret to a happy, healthy life is really keeping in balance with all those aspects. It took me a long time to get that.”
As for her 60s? Macpherson says they’ll be about helping others with their own wellness. “WelleCo is a perfect example of having a vehicle where I can communicate that but there’s also speaking engagements and Instagram lives and interviews and sharing my personal experience.”
It’s just over 40 years since the 18-year-old Sydney-raised Macpherson entered our consciousness with a TV advertisement for Tab soft drink that would catapult her out of a law degree and onto the covers of international magazines and catwalks. Her career and personal life accelerated quickly with three covers in a row for Sports Illustrated’s famed swimsuit issue, multiple advertising campaigns and marriage, in 1986, to the creative director of Elle magazine, Gilles Bensimon. By the end of the decade they were divorced and she had been anointed with the label which would send her career stratospheric. While being “The Body” would become her calling card in business she reveals it also gave her confidence in her physique.
“It was a wonderful springboard for me to build a business,” says Macpherson, who used the label as branding for her lingerie and body products. “But more than anything it’s about leaning into my uniqueness as this Amazonian Australian, courageous, give-it-a-go, athletic woman. When I first started modelling I wanted to be like all the other girls and of course, I stood out as a six-foot woman does. When I started to embrace myself as that [The Body] rather than homogenise like everybody else was when my career really took off.”
If the models of the 80s and 90s were iconic, the women they’ve grown into are far more nuanced. As Macpherson insightfully points out, modern media has changed our relationship with those we admire. “That time in the 90s was interesting because the more distanced you were from the public, the more inaccessible you were, the more successful you were and the more iconic you became. Today, it’s very different because, with social media, the more intimate you are with your community, the more accessible you are, and the more successful you [can become].”
Is she still in touch with the other supers? “Claudia (Schiffer) and I had kids in the same school in London so we would see each other every day, Cindy and I have lots of friends in common and Naomi and I have worked together on and off throughout the years. So, yeah, we’re still connected, which is wonderful.”
Macpherson has garnered a reputation for being a perfectionist – though as son Flynn told Vogue in 2019 it is one of her greatest qualities and “everything she does has to be up to scratch”. Even this interview was deeply considered with questions sought in advance and when we sat down to chat it turns out she’s counted them. “You have 23 questions,” she remarks wryly, before happily going off script and answering many more. Yet far from being controlling, it’s a measure of her professionalism that she wanted to be prepared. No one does four decades at the helm of multiple businesses without a strategy and exerting top-down control over their brand.
But she’s also open to new experiences – as evidenced by her foray into acting, most notably in several episodes of Friends and hosting and producing Britain & Ireland’s Next Top Model. She’s also amusingly self-aware. When asked what’s her favourite thing to do with her sons, she laughs out loud. “Organise them,” she responds. “Let me rephrase that,” she says, still laughing. “Support them in organising themselves because I see there’s a lot of value in that.”
Her boys, she reports, are thriving. With Flynn working in finance and splitting his time between New York and London and Cy studying entrepreneurialism in Boston where he’s constantly offered modelling jobs, Macpherson is now an empty nester. Just as she encouraged her sons to be independent and try new things – Cy enjoyed a working holiday on a farm in Scone near the Hunter Valley - she also prepared herself for a fulfilling life post hands-on mothering. “The last thing I wanted them to do was worry about me sitting at home feeling redundant because I wasn’t making school lunches anymore.”
Although she split from Arpad “Arki” Busson when the boys were aged seven and two, she says their father has been influential in their lives along with “great Aussie men” including Jonathan Bush who worked as a personal assistant to her sons. “I do feel they [the boys] have those fundamental Australian values of courage, giving it a go, saying what you mean and meaning what you say and an appreciation for nature.”
While she hasn’t been back to Australia for four years due to the pandemic, Macpherson will mark her 60th with a visit home (she misses family, Vegemite, the landscape and the light) though won’t confirm whether Bramhall is coming with her. “You’ll have to wait and see,” she says with a smile. Rather than a gift, she wants to celebrate her birthday by travelling somewhere she hasn’t been before.
The pair met through mutual friends and as she touches the silver cuff she wears around her wrist – a gift from the guitarist, producer and songwriter shortly after they met – it’s clear that her potent mix of contentment, wisdom and playfulness comes from a place of happiness.
“Yes, you’re right I am having fun,” she says. “I am loving life and life has great meaning for me and my relationship is a fundamental part of that. I think it’s because it feels effortless and natural.”
In the year they’ve been together they’ve travelled to Morocco, Italy, Transylvania, Saudi Arabia, Japan and France and while loving all the gallivanting, Macpherson says she’s also enjoying being herself rather than what’s expected of her. “I’m authentically myself today in my relationship and it’s extremely fulfilling for anybody to bring their unique soul to the world.”
As she runs a hand through her hair, now stripped of the hair extensions she once wore, and before she heads off to make a tofu scramble for dinner, the woman with plenty of life in her years reveals a very specific characteristic she’d like to continue to cultivate. “There is an art,” she says, “to taking life seriously but not solemnly”. Central to that, she explains, is remaining childlike. “I want to retain that childlike curiosity and spontaneity in life while keeping its meaning.”
The wellness principles Macpherson lives by
To achieve it, Macpherson believes it’s essential to integrate the physical, spiritual, mental and emotional elements of your life. If you have a big night drinking (not in her case), the next day nourish yourself with juices and hydration. “Or if you party all night, make sure the next day you have some quiet time in meditation. If you’re working hard, make sure you’re sleeping well. And if you’re receiving wisdoms along the way, make sure you pass them along.”
Despite years in a profession based on looks, instead of obsessing over youth, Macpherson says real beauty is “soul deep” not skin deep and she challenges preconceptions that health is solely scientific, and beauty is simply aesthetic. “It’s a way of being and a way of living and, in my experience, wellness enables people to exude that confidence, strength and charisma that comes from being well and makes you really attractive, almost magnetic.”
She may run a global business empire. But Macpherson believes strongly in enjoying what you do – she thinks the word should be “in joy” because you should infuse joy into your life – and central to that is purpose. While she founded WelleCo after asking her nutritionist to develop a powder so she didn’t have to take multiple vitamin capsules, she wanted to share what they’d created with others. “Seeing a higher purpose come in alignment with the business is extremely important to me.”
Having grown up in the gym bunny era, Macpherson says she used to equate wellness directly with fitness. “We all worked out, it was calories in and calories out, you went to the gym and sculpted your body and we all talked about Jane Fonda-type fitness,” she recalls. Now she prefers biking, swimming and hiking in nature. She and her boys also love saunas followed by a cold plunge.
When it comes to fuelling her body, Macpherson sticks to a plant-based diet and aims to source regeneratively-farmed organic food. She’s committed to her daily “wellness protocol” which involves taking herThe Super Elixir™ in the morning, her protein powder at midday and herSleep Welle Calming Tea in the evening.
As published byBody+Soul.
Talent: @ellemacpherson for @bodyandsoul_au
Videographer: @maximillian_weston (video only)
Creative Director: @sarahhughescreative
Production: @rosiekingdc @luciapang