In movies the modeling industry is portrayed as a cold, cutthroat world full of catty co-workers and razor-tongued bosses. But Skokie native Erin Heatherton’s experience has been far different. In her job as a Victoria’s Secret Angel, the supermodel has found a much warmer community, one that — at the core — is reminiscent of her own family.
“It’s like an oasis in the modeling world,” says Heatherton of the Angel experience. “There’s a lot of love. You don’t feel like a clothes hanger, you feel like a family member and you’re embraced for who you are.” On Dec. 4 Heatherton will show the world exactly who she is when she struts her stuff for the fifth time in the annual “Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show,” a televised multimedia extravaganza that blends a runway presentation and a concert. But while it’s a star-studded event, taking center stage are the Angels, a six-member model group that counts Heidi Klum, Tyra Banks and Gisele Bündchen among its alumni and Adriana Lima and Alessandra Ambrosio in its current ranks. It’s one of the most coveted gigs in the business, as it not only pays well, but can launch a model’s career to new heights.
“It’s the best job in the world,” she says. “I’ve met some of my best friends in the world working for Victoria’s Secret. When we go on trips together the atmosphere is like being on vacation with your family, and we all keep in touch when we’re not working. They embrace us growing together and that’s unparalleled to any other career you can follow as a fashion model.”
The family environment is the perfect fit for 23-year-old Heatherton. Born as Erin Heather Bubley to a close-knit Jewish family in Skokie, she grew up a self-described “nerd” who competed in science fairs and played basketball for Niles North High School. But her life took a major detour when she was discovered while visiting Florida with a friend her junior year. She soon signed with Marilyn Agency, moved to New York City and since then she’s appeared in Marie Claire, Italian Vogue, British GQ and British Elle and walked the runway for some of the biggest designers in the business, including Diane Von Furstenberg, Oscar de la Renta and Marc Jacobs. But while getting glammed up for magazine covers and runway shows is fun, Heatherton relishes the way she can embrace her down-home personality as an Angel.
“They’ve really been able to portray me as me,” she says. “I’m different from the other girls. I’m not from Brazil. I’m a home girl; I grew up playing sports. And they’ve allowed me to be comfortable in that space and just have a casual, cool sexiness.” It also means that her anti-glam style is celebrated, not altered. She favors great-fitting jeans, boots and floral dresses (she calls it “grandma grunge”) and takes a minimalist approach to beauty. “It’s not about makeup,” says Heatherton. “It’s about having great skin and really healthy hair. You can put in a curl or put on a lip color or mascara, but the important thing is that the health of your skin and hair is shining through. It’s the most beautiful thing a woman [can do].”
While she spends the year jetting around the world for photo shoots, commercial spots and runway shows, the last few months of the year are centered around the Victoria’s Secret’s holiday show, a super-sized event that combines a lingerie runway presentation with a killer concert. It’s hands-down Heatherton’s favorite gig of the year. “It’s like a combination of Christmas and my birthday,” she says. “It’s a team sport. We all get ready together, we’re all rooting for each other, we want everyone to do well. It’s so much fun.” This year’s installment is set to outdo the rest, with six runway segments and performances by Bruno Mars, Justin Bieber and Rihanna. “Her energy on stage was so powerful,” says Heatherton of the singer. “She inspired so much energy in the show and pushed us to really bring it.”
After wrapping up the show, the newly single Heatherton will spend the holidays traveling to visit friends and fellow angels, including best friend Lily Aldridge (Heatherton is godmother to her daughter). She’ll also channel her energy into philanthropic projects: She works heavily with the Global Poverty Project, and in September she helped produce the Global Citizen Festival, a concert to combat poverty held in Central Park that attracted 60,000 attendees.
While she won’t be swinging back through Chicago over the holidays, she does travel back to see her family and friends whenever possible. “I love being in Chicago,” says Heatherton, fresh off a trip home for Thanksgiving where she hit only the homiest haunts, like Second City, Flat Top Grill and Caffeine coffee shop in Evanston. She also meets up with friends for a drink or two. “Tommy Nevin’s [1454 Sherman, Evanston] is a great place to hang out and run into people you went to school with — they just don’t have spots like that in New York.”
And a girl like Erin could only come from Chicago.
REVVING FOR THE RUNWAY
As the clock ticks toward the big fashion show, Heatherton tweaks her routine to ensure she’s in top form.
One Month to Go: “I work out all year for the show, but the weeks before you really start picking it up,” she says. To keep in stellar shape she mixes running with Pilates and yoga.
One Week to Go: Heatherton takes her workouts down a notch to rest her body, but keeps nimble with yoga. She drinks a lot of water and gets enough sleep.
One Day to Go: “It’s really about enjoying the moment. You’re already ready, so you don’t want to get too caught up in trying to change yourself.” To chill out, Heatherton takes a bath with Epsom salts, lights a candle and listens to good music. On her playlist? The Black Keys, Kings of Leon, Led Zeppelin and George Harrison (below).
One Minute to Go: “I don’t get nervous anymore because it’s so much fun,” she says. “The short amount of time I’m out on the runway is like going on a rollercoaster. It’s such a happy, exciting feeling. I’m more like a racehorse ready to go — I just want to get out there.”