In the brave new world of #TimesUp, women in fashion are caught in a delicate balance: Can we promote and profit from beauty — even the mainstream pinup kind — and still stand for equality and liberation?
For Emily Ratajkowski, the answer is a resounding, iPhone-shaking “Hell yes!”
The 26-year-old bombshell has called me to talk hair — hers, mine, and yours — and its place in our daily lives, our visual identity, even our memories.
The model and actress is certainly an expert, since having her hair done is part of the job. And thanks to paparazzi, she’s always on the job.
Plus, Ratajkowski is the new ambassador for Kérastase, and her first campaign with fashion photo legends Inez & Vinoodh just launched this week. “It’s amazing how your mood changes when your hair does,” she says, “and these products make it easier.”
Emily! Kérastase says you can tell me all about great hair!
I can! I mean, I hope I can. What are you wondering about?
I want to know about Polar Vortex Hair. How do we stop breakage and frizz when it’s negative 10 degrees outside?
I try to just not be outside for exactly that reason! But no, I’m kind of lucky because my hair is really straight. So things like frizz, they just don’t happen. Instead, my hair just gets really flat, and for that reason, I love a hat — honestly, any hat. I’ll also do a French braid because it keeps hair out of your face and makes it look nice, like you made an effort.
You can French braid your own hair? Can you teach me?
I had a cousin who taught me how to do it when I was four. It’s one of my first hair memories, I guess, and I’m great at doing it on myself, but I can’t do it on other people, which is funny…
I force my friends to do their makeup all the time. But hair is really hard for me — I’m not good at it. Or at least, I thought I wasn’t until I learned what products work well. I’ve learned from the pros on-set how to maintain healthy hair. But on my own, I don’t style it — I just let it air dry.
You do a lot of shoots, but you said the Kérastase campaign was really special to you. Why?
They’re a special client — they really are. First, because I was using their oils and masques way before I was hired to work with them. Stylists on shoots would give me their products all the time. And then the photographers, Inez and Vinoodh — they really like women. That sounds like a thing that shouldn’t be special, but it is.
What do you mean?
Often when you’re building a campaign, [the clients] have an idea of an image, but they don’t like what comes with real femininity. They try to gloss over what they perceive as flaws or “different.”
What was great about this Kérastase campaign is they hired me for me. They’d done their research. They know who I am. That’s what they wanted to come through in the campaign. They weren’t just hiring a model because of a superficial image. They really like capturing what makes someone individual or a little bit odd. They’ll take a pretty girl and find what makes her unique. I definitely feel like that’s what they found in me.
Inez and Vinoodh are fashion pros, but they’re also a longtime married couple. Did that change the dynamic on-set?
Sure. They love each other and have a child together — it’s insane to me they can work together and do that. That’s the dream. They really respect each other; their communication is open honest, and you never feel a power dynamic between them. That makes everyone calm on-set. And I love they wanted to have an artistry to the shoot and it came through.
To me, they’re total relationship goals — supporting each other, and really good with each other’s success.
Me too! And being able to work together and trust each other. You watch them work and you ask yourself, “Am I capable of that?”
Same. Sigh. Speaking of goals, you continue to talk about feminism and female power in your interviews and on social media. How does being the face of a beauty brand work with those goals?
For me, beauty and fashion are amazing tools that women can use to be whatever kind of person she wants to be, on a given day. What’s fun about hair and what Kérastase represents is that hair helps you play any part you want to play, and become the person you want to be in the way you style yourself.
And for people who claim aesthetics don’t belong in the same space as feminism?
Feminism is about the choices we make, and the freedom we have to make personal choices without judgement or retribution. For some people, their hair isn’t important to them, and that’s a totally respectful stance. I would never judge someone who feels that way. But for me, and for a lot of women — for you?
Definitely for me.
Yeah, for many women, how our hair looks and feels is an everyday part of our lives, whether we always want it to be or not. And ultimately, feeling good about yourself is good for your life and who you are. So if having the best hair you can have means you feel better about your day, then go get that hair. And don’t feel guilty about it!
You have five seconds to pack hair products for a trip. What do you grab?
Kérastase oil for the ends of my hair because I’m working all the time, and getting heat applied to my hair all the time. And that really helps repair it. Then a masque and Kerastase Elixir to restore it. I’ve just been on-set for five weeks, on a movie, and that’s pretty much what I packed anyway, because I knew every day, there would be so much heat on my hair.
You’re a supermodel and your photo is everywhere. Is walking down the street and seeing your face on a billboard normal?
No, it’s weird. It’s always weird. We all have an idea of what we look like, and then you see a giant picture of yourself and you’re like, “Oh my god, wait, that’s me?” And it’s such a specific version of me, with styling, and art direction…
It’s like when you hear yourself on a recording, and you go, “That’s what I sound like?!” That’s how I feel when I see images of me.
You’re co-starring with Amy Schumer in a new comedy, I Feel Pretty. Can you tell us about it?
Yes! It was really fun, obviously, but I was nervous.
Because it’s a comedy?
Because chemistry is such a weird thing. You can really like someone in real life, and then when you go to film a scene with that person, it might not work. Something gets lost on-camera. But Amy texted me a couple days ago — they tested the film, and it did really well! It’s funny!
In the film, Amy plays a woman who suddenly believes she’s a model. Do you play the model version of Amy?
No! It’s not like the movie Shallow Hal. I play Amy’s friend. She never transforms — that’s what’s really interesting. She’s still exactly herself, looks-wise. But the way she perceives herself changes everything about her, and the way people interact with her. It’s going to be such a great movie.
This story first appeared on ELLE.com.