With her flaxen hair, golden skin and Angelic proportions, it’s not difficult to see why Candice Swanepoel might be described as the perfect woman – but for two young British philanthropists, she’s perfect for entirely different reasons. Cameron Saul and Oliver Wayman, the directors of British brand Bottletop, have launched a bag collection that is as stylish as it is good-hearted, and in Swanepoel they have found a spokesmodel who fits their label’s vision beyond measure.
“We were looking for someone who could really represent what we were doing,” Saul explained. “If we’d sat down and mapped out someone to really symbolise it, we couldn’t in our wildest dreams have created someone like Candice.”
The duo’s latest labour of love is a bag collection created in Bahia, Brazil, by local women who have been trained by leatherwork experts from around the world. Designed by Narciso Rodriguez, the bags are then sold in high-end department stores internationally, with a price tag of more than £1,000 – and the profits go to fund projects in communities where the money can really make a difference, a cause close to Swanepoel’s heart.
“It’s a simple thing that I can do to help, you know? Being a model,” Swanepoel laughed, shrugging – her long, tanned arms swathed in a scarf to fight the London chills on the day we met. “In the long term it can help so many people, because it’s not just for the women in Brazil who have learned a new skill, but it goes in to their education projects in Africa; film, music, theatre, fundraising programmes. You can’t just go in to communities in Africa and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to tell you about AIDS.’ It has to be dealt with properly.”
“We didn’t really think that someone like her was out there,” Saul’s co-director Oliver Wayman smiled. “You couldn’t have planned it. Not only is she South African, and so she’s aware of the country where we do a lot of our work, but she also considers herself half-Brazilian, and can speak Portuguese after spending a lot of time in the country. What we found encouraging – and actually so, so humbling, too – is that she’s so good at just getting stuck in; just sitting down and talking to the women from our atelier, in a pretty challenging environment, and just being on their level.”
“After working for so long, you do crave something else,” Swanepoel nodded. “Yes, I live a fabulous life, and it’s all glamour and everything – but, coming from South Africa, I really felt that I was missing some reality, and being able to help in some way. Not just thinking about my own life and being pretty. I do want to be really involved – go to the places, meet the people – and they are allowing me to be quite a big part of it. To see these women, who have come from difficult situations, being taught by someone who used to work at Louis Vuitton and learning this skill – that is a really great thing.”
Swanepoel is one model about whom negative stories never arise – grounded by her “beautiful” South African upbringing; diva behaviour is not her style. Backstage at the Victoria’s Secret show, several of the youngest models cited her as “an inspiration”, for being so successful and yet remaining down-to-earth enough to wish them luck or check they were OK. As much as the perks of the job must be various and dazzling, to Swanepoel remaining grounded is not so much a badge of honour as a necessity of survival.
“Day to day is difficult; it’s more about getting away,” she admitted. “Every couple of weeks, whenever I get time, I’ll go to Africa, or to Brazil, and find myself again. When I have free time, I like to go somewhere – not to a hotel and feel pampered and luxurious, but to just clean my slate and be in reality. Go stay in a tent somewhere. So it’s beneficial to me as well as to Bottletop for me to go and do this.”
Not fiercely, but still emphatically, private, her relationship with boyfriend of nine years Hermann Nicoli is kept as far from the headlines as possible – and she intends, when the time comes, to grow her family in the same way.
“It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what I’m looking for, but I know that my days of being in big cities are numbered,” Swanepoel – who currently lives with fellow model Nicoli in New York – said. “When you grow up on a farm like I did, you’re always going to go back to that feeling – and especially with the way the world is going, I’m looking for some fresh air and somewhere that I feel we are not ruining. It’s scary to me to think how my children are going to grow up one day. With social media and everything; kids now don’t even talk to each other. It’s a very different life, so my kids – poor things – are going to be on a farm somewhere with me like, ‘No video games! No TV!'”