Olivia Culpo has been attending New York (and Paris) Fashion Week for an impressive 10 seasons, but fall 2018 is a bit of a landmark for the Miss Universe 2012-turned-actress, model and overall influencer. The February shows kick off a pretty major year for the Rhode Island native: She scored a rookie spot, alongside Hunter McGrady and Ebonee Davis this year's supposedly #MeToo-addressing Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue, out next month, and she's co-starring alongside fashion veterans Devon Windsor and Shanina Shaik in E!'s upcoming, "Model Squad," which premieres Monday night.
That said, her fashion month is set to be more packed than usual this season. Armed with four suitcases for New York Fashion Week alone, she'll be heading to Paris (via a stop in her new hometown of Los Angeles) after — luggage count TBD. On the unofficial first day of NYFW, Culpo took time out of her very regimented schedule to jump on a call with Fashionista to discuss her experience walking versus sitting at a runway show, networking with designers and making hopefully not-awkward conversation with fellow VIP guests during the shows. Here are the highlights.
How early do you start planning for Fashion Week and what does that entail?
It kind of depends. The whole fashion month is pretty busy and, I have to be honest, a lot of things come up even the day before, so it can start anywhere from three months before and then things can book even just the day of.
How did you plan for this fashion month?
Well, it definitely takes a lot of people. A lot of people I work with are reaching out to brands. Brands are reaching out to people that I work with and it's just discussing what dates and what times work, what shows I want to go to and, of course, packing is a big process. Also figuring out what to wear and during winter fashion week, it's even more packing because it's so cold. You need more layers. Just thinking about all the things, from logistics and getting to places to locations to how many things can fit into the schedule, plus dressing appropriately and definitely warm enough.
What do you have planned for this NYFW?
Well, I can't really talk about too much at this point, but definitely going to a ton of shows. One of the shows I'm excited about is Sally LaPointe. I really like her line. But, it's just kind of kicking off. Tonight I'm going to the amfAR Gala. Last night, I went to the Dior [spring 2018 collection launch] event. I also had an event with Nine West [below] and there are just so many events and things pop up so last minute.
How do you decide what shows you want to attend?
It definitely plans on what my personal style is and what brands are speaking to me at the moment and also just brand relationships — who I have as friends and things like that — but a lot goes into it. I have to be honest, mostly it's just what can fit into the schedule because, a lot of times, things overlap, especially because so much more even outside of fashion week are obligations. Like I'll have auditions for acting and I'll have other brand requirements for brands that I'm an ambassador for and things like that make the schedule really busy.
Especially with so many brand relationships, what you wear is really important during fashion week. What’s your approach in preparing your outfits, especially when you might have five events in one day?
During fashion week, [I can have] anywhere from three to six [outfit changes a day]. I change in the car a lot or I also use public restrooms in hotels to change so I can make it from one event to another. That's a very popular thing. Everybody changes in the car and everybody changes in hotel bathrooms — definitely everyone. So usually, I take clothes with me throughout the day and I'll change as I go. You definitely have to plan all of your outfits at least a day in advance and make sure everything is steamed beforehand.
Typically, what is involved in attending a runway show?
You definitely have to make sure to arrive as on-time as possible and if the show is starting and you're late, you're just going to have to miss the show. I've had shows where I've had to run in the middle of snow or rain and then I end up missing it because I'm late. So it's really important to get there on time.
What's it like for you in terms of navigating both street style/paparazzi photographers and the front row photographers at the show?
I think it can be a little bit of a frenzy, but usually you take a few photos and walk inside and I think you just walk through it, honestly. There's no secret to navigating it.
Usually you’re sitting with fellow front row VIP guests. I always wonder what it's like having to make conversation with each other, especially if you've never met. What’s your approach to that?
It really just depends. It could be anything. We usually [talk] about the designer. If you're friends, you're just catching up about work and what they've been up to. It might be about the collection. A lot of the people that I'm sitting with I know from work and life, so we're just catching up. There isn't really that much time to chat. I guess I've been lucky really. I haven't had any awkward moments.
What's one of your most memorable front row conversations?
Last year you walked in the Zadig & Voltaire show — how do you juggle that with also being a guest in the front row?
Well, it's just totally different. When you're walking you're just totally modeling and obviously when you're attending, there's a lot less work that goes into it. You don't have to have a fitting, you don't have to worry about tripping. There’s a lot of hurry up and wait just before the show happens. You have to be there really, really far in advance and makeup takes a long time and then finally the show happens and it's really fast once the show starts. I think it is really fun to be sitting, but walking is also a great experience.
How does being at fashion week also help you network and create new business relationships for future opportunities?
I think that fashion week is all about designers presenting their work and there are certain designers you might discover, especially during fashion week because there are so many people wearing new and up and coming designers. So that's really fun. I guess a lot of designers can also see you in their clothes, which makes them think, 'oh I love them in my clothes and I want to work with them more.' Of course, everybody is also out at a lot of parties, so networking is kind of inevitable.
How will this NYFW play into your new show on E!, “Model Squad?”
It's just more ways to get people excited because a lot of the people on the show will be here with me at fashion week.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Homepage and top photo: Coco Rocha, Nicky Hilton, Paris Hilton and Olivia Culpo sit front row at the Philipp Plein fall 2017 show last February. Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Philipp Plein