McQueen. Photography by Greg Swales
Model, influencer, actor, advocate, pageant winner, restaurant owner and entrepreneur Olivia Culpo is adding reality-TV star to her long list of accomplishments.
If anyone has a shot at dethroning the reigning queen of reality TV, Kim Kardashian, it’s former Miss Universe turned influencer Olivia Culpo. Think about it: Twelve-year age gap aside, both found early fame on social media. Both have their own signature styles and makeup looks, coveted by many. And now, with the upcoming release of the new Discovery+ series The Culpos (a working title), produced by Amanda Weinstein of Keeping Up With the Kardashians fame, both women have their own TV shows featuring their big families.
There’s definitely potential for Culpo to become the next Kim K, but she is far too modest to ever say so. When we chat on the phone in July, she’s with her entire family on their farm in Rhode Island and tells me that her relatives are all “open books” and “have no problem putting it all out there.” And they really don’t. In fact, most of Culpo’s TikTok account is dedicated to her siblings’ shenanigans: fighting for room on the communal sofa, attempting expert-level acrobatics, being tackled in the water. Sound familiar?
Despite a quick interruption by one of her two sisters (she also has two brothers) and some other chaotic background noises, Olivia Culpo is incredibly poised during our chat. There are no “ums,” “ahs” or “likes” in her vocabulary. Her voice always sounds like she’s smiling, in a pleasant, never artificial way, and she takes thoughtful pauses frequently, choosing her words carefully. But this is hardly surprising considering the rigorous public-speaking training she had to endure nearly 10 years ago on her road to beauty-pageant stardom.
When I remark on her impressive vernacular, she giggles and I get a glimpse of the 30-year-old woman behind the beautifully crafted curtain. “I never realized that I don’t use those filler words,” Culpo reflects. “I probably had to train myself to stop using them at some point.” And the self-discipline clearly led to positive results. How else could you explain winning three titles — Miss Rhode Island USA, Miss USA and Miss Universe — in only two years?
What happened next is a tale that could only be told in 2022. Culpo’s crowning achievements in the early 2010s launched her into the social media stratosphere; brand deals quickly followed, along with modelling opportunities. She now has 5.2 million followers on Instagram and was on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue in 2020. She has taken on a plethora of acting projects, including the 2021 series Paradise City. She followed in her restaurateur father’s footsteps by opening (along with a co-owner) two eateries in her home state — Back40 and Union & Main — and being named creative director of the canned-cocktail company Vide. And on top of all that, she makes time to be an active advocate for people suffering with endometriosis, a condition she was diagnosed with in 2019.
I ask her if this was always the plan — to establish herself as a beauty with a business brain. Not exactly. “I try to go through every door that opens itself and take advantage of every opportunity, and I try not to pigeonhole myself,” she responds, going into detail about how the industry seems set on labelling her at every stage of her career. “I don’t limit myself based on how others see me.”
Olivia Culpo already meets most of the traditional standards: She’s young, thin and beautiful. Still, she’s not immune to the stress of being “flawless.” In 2019, she took to Instagram to share her own battle with depression and body image, describing the experience as very therapeutic. “There is so much pressure for young women to look a certain way,” she begins. “I would like to think that being vulnerable on social media is something that can help others out there as well. Body diversity has come a long way in the media, but it still has a long way to go to diminish that stigma. It’s important to fight for inclusivity, and talking about it is the first step.”
As such, she shares that it takes work to look like Olivia Culpo. A diligent diet, rigorous exercise regimen and 40-step beauty routine are all in her repertoire. However, it’s her mental health that she places above all else. “You have to take care of yourself first so you can then take care of everything else,” she says. She learned this lesson the hard way three years ago, when she finally got properly diagnosed with endometriosis — a disorder in which endometrial tissue grows outside of the uterus — after experiencing abnormal periods for most of her 20s and being told by dozens of doctors to “just take an Advil” and “stop being dramatic.” “It was so emotional,” she says of that time in her life. “I remember crying hysterically because I was so relieved to finally have an explanation for my pain. It’s really scary and isolating when you don’t feel well and everyone’s telling you nothing is wrong.”
Since then, Culpo has had the necessary surgery and made it her mission to use her platform to share her journey as she says she felt less alone by connecting with other women like her online. And her reach is only going to get wider, thanks to the upcoming release of her Kardashian- esque reality-TV show. Premiering later this year, the project has been kept pretty much under wraps, but Culpo teases that it’s all about her family. “The cool part about it is that the show forces you to have conversations that you wouldn’t otherwise have and to confront certain uncomfortable things,” she reflects. “I have grown a lot from that, and it has actually brought my family and me closer together.”
And while there are parallels between sharing your life on social media and doing so on TV, there’s still an integral power shift: Olivia Culpo can directly curate her image on Instagram, but the new series is in the hands of a show runner. She says that going into the experience, she tried to keep to the rule of “anything that I would put on social media I’m okay with putting on the show.” Relinquishing even a bit of that control wasn’t easy. “There’s a lot at stake when you’re exposing your reality,” she says. “You have to be willing to make yourself very vulnerable.”
Indeed you do, but if I’ve learned anything from chatting with Culpo, it’s that she loves a new challenge. She’s poised and proudly ambitious, and, like Kim K, she delights in defying expectations. So, with reality TV now crossed off her career checklist, what’s next? She’s hesitant to say but hints that real estate might be in her future. “Many of the things I’m doing now I’ve had my eye on from a young age,” she shares. “My goal is just to tap into whatever I’m interested in at the moment and approach it without fear.”
Photography by GREG SWALES. Creative direction by GEORGE ANTONOPOULOS. Styling by DANYUL BROWN. Hair by PHOEBE SELIGMAN FOR ART DEPARTMENT/ORIBE. Makeup by MICHAEL ANTHONY FOR FORWARD ARTISTS. Nails by ALEX JACHNO FOR OPUS BEAUTY/ORIBE. Production: ALEXEY GALETSKIY FOR AGP NYC. Digital technician: AMANDA YANEZ. Photo assistant: SANDY RIVERA. Fashion assistant: ADAM CHIA. Production assistant: SASHA MILOSTNOVA FOR AGP NYC.