Elettra Wiedemann - Hot CrossesWelcome to 'Hot Crosses', where we talk to killer collaborators, slashies, and other people who manage to be many things at once, brought to you by Hyundai. See our first interview, with Rankin, second with Ruby Rose, third with Tony Hawk, fourth with Pip Edwards, fifth interview with Michelle Jank, sixth with Tom Green and seventh with Jordan Askill.
NEXT Models' Elettra Wiedemann is the ultimate hot cross. She's a highly successful model who's worked for everyone from Lancome to Hogan, American Vogue to RUSSH, but she's also fiercely intelligent, educated and philanthropic.
She was born and raised in New York, the daughter of iconic Italian actress Isabella Rossellini and hunky Microsoft designer slash former model Jonathan Wiedemann (another hot cross!), which pretty much means she could have coasted through life as another red carpet It-Girl — but she didn't.
Aside from her lucrative modeling career, she's dedicated herself to her studies, earning a Bachelor of Arts at New York's prestigious The New School as well as a Masters in biomedicine at the London School of Economics.
On top of all that, she's the co-founder of One Frickin Day — a unique charitable organisation that asks you (very politely, and only if you can afford it) to donate one day of your time or pay to a community in need.
The idea behind OFD is a simple one — do what you can and feel good, not guilty. It's a mantra that most charities would do well to adopt. Don't you hate being harassed on the street and wondering whether you're the worst person on the planet because you don't have more than a couple of bucks on you?
I honestly feel like Elettra's one of those rare people in life who's got it all figured out, that she's actually worth emulating, so I jumped on the chance to fire off a few questions to her.
Zac: How and when did yourself and James come up with the concept for One Frickin Day?
Elettra: One Frickin Day was meant to be a template for a new model of charitable giving. We felt like too often we would give money to a cause and we would barely get a thank you. Also we would never hear about what happened with our money... All we would hear is that they needed more money to fix the same problem! OFD tries to change that. We only get involved in low budget, high impact charitable projects around the world, where we know we can make a real dent. People give us one frickin day's worth of their annual salary, and we turn it around in 3-6 months. We fulfill our promises. Furthermore, no one on OFD takes a salary, so we do not have high administrative costs. We also change our focus every time we do something. The past three years, we have helped to solar electrify three clinics in three countries, Burundi, Haiti, Rwanda, that previously had no or limited access to electric grids. This year, we are thinking to get involved in a local project in NY... Again, anywhere we see an opportunity to make a real, tangible difference.
How did you two meet?
We met at the Gorbachev Party in London a few years back, we were seated at the same table. Six months later, we ran into each other on the New York subway, because James had since moved to NYC for work. We went on a date soon after and have been together ever since. Going on five years now!
What has been the highlight of the project to date?
It's been great to hear how much positive change has come to the communities we have been able to help. OFD was just a part of a major effort in conjunction with Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) and Partners In Health (PIH). With our collaborative efforts, we were able to put solar panels on clinics in Burundi, Rwanda, and Haiti and many men, women, and children have received health care that they did not have access to previously! That means care for when someone falls and breaks a leg, when someone gets malaria or typhoid, or even when a woman is having problems while giving birth.
What projects are you working on at the moment through One Frickin Day?
Right now, I am designing a trench coat with Gryphon, and part of the proceeds will benefit OFD. We also just did a project with Glamour Magazine and Tod's, wherein part of Tod's sales benefit OFD.
Have you had the chance to travel to some of the communities your project has helped, or would you like to?
I have not yet been able to travel there, but I would like to.
When did you come to the realization that giving shouldn’t be guilt-induced, and that this might be the reason that charities sometimes struggle to entice people to donate?
To be totally honest, I just got sick of feeling guilty! Even when I donated money, I often was made to feel or felt like it was not enough. Also, I would give money and get a follow up call soon after asking for me. I've even had charities refuse my donation 'cause it was not enough! I think that mind set and attitude is all wrong. Charitable giving should feel good. Positive feedback will encourage more giving. If your 10 years old and you give away your $3 allowance to a charity, it comes from the same exact place as a billionaire who gives $1,000,000. We believe both should be regarded with equal respect and gratitude.
Having a humanitarian mindset, did you ever feel conflicted by working primarily in an industry that some people might feel is fundamentally frivolous or shallow?
A lot of people have asked me "why does fashion matter?" with an attitude that suggests to me that they find fashion shallow and frivilous. But I always think is an astounding question and also, frankly, a daft point of view to have. Not only does the fashion industry employ hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people across the world — from farms to factories to offices — but clothes are also tremendously important in how we present ourselves to the outside world. Let's take a "serious" job... like a lawyer for example. Let's say you have two applicants for the same position in a law firm. Both went to Harvard, both graduated top of their class, both have excellent experience and recommendations. One dresses in an amazing Hermes dress or Tom Ford suit, looks polished, smells great, has great shoes, the other looks like he/she just rolled out of bed, has a coffee stain on their shirt. Which one would you hire? Fashion and the clothes we wear are the way we speak to each other, without saying a word. I don't think that's shallow or frivolous in the slightest. Also, what happened to fun?! Fashion is supposed to be fun! Sports are also totally frivolous and shallow, but I rarely hear anyone ever question why it's around. Sports are around 'cause it's fun and people need an outlet. We can't just workworkwork, critiquecritiquecritique all the time!
Do you think that people realize that ultimately anything you do in life should feel good rather than being guilt-induced (whether it’s buying something for yourself or giving to others)? If so, how can we change that attitude?
I don't know how to change that attitude, but I definitely think there is a Puritanical streak in a lot of Western societies, where we feel like if we're not suffering, we're not doing good. I think that attitude is destructive. Of course, life is tough and comes with tough choices sometimes, but that doesn't mean everyday and every decision and every thought has to be a grind. Balance is essential and helps to create harmony. I have no idea how to change the attitude, I'm just learning how to for myself.
What is/was your interest in biomedicine? Are you doing any work at the moment that draws upon the knowledge gained from your master’s degree?
My interests have always been varied and the Biomedicine MSc at the London School of Economics allowed me to pursue a multidisciplinary program that touched on many different areas that I found interesting. Ultimately, I focused on food systems, urbanization, and climate change. My dissertation was an analysis (first ever!) of Vertical Farming, a proposal to bring farming back into the center of cities in large scale hydroponic farms. Since I left LSE, I have continued modeling, which I love and also have started GOODNESS, a pop up restaurant concept with a different chef and a different menu every day. We only source from local food purveyors.
Did you ever think you’d end up modelling? Had people always suggested modelling to you, or did it all come as a bit of a shock?
Totally came as a shock, but I love it and am so grateful that this industry found me and has embraced me the way it has. It's almost been 10 years, and I am still in shock.
Do you enjoy modelling and being involved in the fashion industry? Do you enjoy the lifestyle that it allows you to have?
Yes, I love modeling, though I think it is also important to have a life outside of modeling. Being a model is like being an athlete. You burn fast and bright and then you're out and it's over. It's important to cultivate interests in parallel to your fashion life, so that one day when the phone stops ringing with this shoot and that shoot, you can transition easily into something new.
What are you up to this year? Where would you like to see yourself down the track?
I'm working on breathing love and life into GOODNESS. Having a start up business, is what I imagine having an infant is like. It requires 24 hour care and love and it can be exhausting. But then one day, it starts to take steps on it's own and might even throw you some money once in a while!
You can read more of Zac Bayly's words on his blog, zacbayly.blogspot.com.
You can read more of Zac Bayly's words on his blog, zacbayly.blogspot.com.
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