Adriana Lima really commits. At the age of 17, she moved all the way from Salvador, Brazil, to New York City to become one of the most famous faces in the world. She’s been a Victoria’s Secret Angel since 2000, and has walked in every one of its shows since. She’s a dedicated mother to two daughters, Valentina and Sienna, aged 8 and 6, respectively. The list goes on—what you need to know is that when Adriana Lima puts her energy into something, she’s all the way in. Even when it comes to phone interviews.
When I connect with Lima, it’s late August, which is vacation time for the fashion industry prior to the runway shows that start in September. You know, that lazy period of the year when it seems like every model in the world is posting Instagram thirst traps from the deck of a yacht? That’s late August. Lima, however, is not in Sardinia, but calling from her home base in Miami, not long after a family trip with her daughters to visit the Everglades. I know, because when I attempt to make small talk with Lima about how her summer is going, she launches into a seven-minute zoology lesson about the misconceptions of alligators. In conversation, as on the runway, the woman is a force.
As our chat hopped from Lima’s current projects to Game of Thrones to how the fashion industry has changed over the past decade, the 37-year-old answers every question with frank openness, and no lack of zany charm. When I finally end the conversation to allow Lima—long one of the biggest earners in her profession (she was fourth on Forbes‘ list of highest-paid models last year at $10.5 million, ahead of the likes of Gigi Hadid and Karlie Kloss)—to get back to her supermodel life, she responds, “You want to know what I’m going to be doing now? I’m about to clean my garage. Very glamorous.”
Here, a candid conversation with the world’s most personable bombshell.
How was your summer?
It has been wonderful here in Miami. Usually we travel, but this year we decided to stay home, and we had a wonderful time with the kids and had some family come into town. We went to the Everglades, and it was great. The girls were super excited, but I was kind of afraid of the alligators. I was like, “Oh, my God.” But it was an awesome experience. We took the boat ride, and were the first ones of the day, which I heard was the best time to go; you can see the most alligators during that time. Sienna was the first one to spot an alligator in the bushes. I was like, “Wow, she has such amazing eyes, because it isn’t easy to find them there.” We also learned a lot. You know, they are actually very kind animals. It’s unbelievable. Basically, when you are near them, they open their mouths and their strength is when they close it. It’s all about the sense of the tongue. That was an interesting fact I didn’t know. I thought they would be like, There is a human, I’m going to bite it. It was completely different.
This is also a fun fact to know: The Everglades is a great place for criminals to hide, in the jungle. Back in the day, they used to go there and hide. But this is many, many, many years ago. Now it’s protected. And there are also bears at certain times. We passed trees, and you can see some of the claws. It was a really interesting family trip. I really recommend it. I thought it was going to be too hot, but the kids really enjoyed it; they did so well, and there was no complaining. And it’s perfect for school, because they talk about the Everglades during the school year, especially here in Miami. Now that school is coming back, they have these projects about, “What did you do this summer?” and this is good for the children to share.
What grades are they in?
Valentina is going into the third grade, she is 8 years old, and Sienna is going into the first grade. It is so funny, they are so excited. They are starting school next Monday, and for the past seven days, they’ve been waiting. Their backpacks are ready. They are like, “How many days until school starts?” They can’t wait. I’m the one who is sad. They are way more excited than me. But I’m happy that they are happy.
As first and third graders, what are they really into right now?
Sienna, I don’t know what subjects she’ll be interested in because this is the first year that she’ll be looking to real subjects and looking at them a little more seriously. I believe that she’ll be good at grammar and math. She is already reading—not 100 percent perfect, but quite well. She will have trouble on certain words, but will catch up quite fast. And Valentina loves math. She’s very good at math. And she’s obsessed with science. She loves anything to do with plants and animals. She loves the National Geographic Channel and loves National Geographic Kids magazine. During the Everglades [trip], she was saying all the facts about the animals with the instructors. It was really funny. She’s really into it.
Do they have favorite singers?
Yes. Valentina’s first love of music was Alicia Keys. I tried to play “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and she was like, “Whatever, what is this?” But she loved Alicia Keys and Michael Jackson. Sienna also likes Michael Jackson and Katy Perry. Katy Perry is her favorite. We have some friends here in Miami that have a guitar shop and there was a private event with some of the members of KISS—Gene Simmons was there, and he was talking about memorable moments of the band and he sang a few songs. I brought the kids there and he gave some gifts to them, and that was their first experience with rock ’n’ roll. Since then, they are obsessed with rock ’n’ roll. They listen to the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix. They do their head banging, and it’s so funny. I love it. They are interested in playing guitar, so now I’m looking for a teacher. Valentina and Sienna already take piano classes, but now they would like to take guitar. It’s so cool. Last Sunday, the family was here and they put on a show for them. They sang a few songs and played piano. It was ABBA’s “Dancing Queen.”
Do they play well together?
Do they have uniforms for school, or do they dress themselves?
They have uniforms for school, but they can chose their shoes. It’s very funny because the uniforms are the same, but they get really picky with the socks. It’s so weird to me, because they all look the same. They’re like, “No, these are different.” I’m like, “Okay, then you pick your socks.” That’s the thing that they really show interest in. Outside of school, they dress themselves.
Do they listen to you when you suggest a certain outfit?
Of course not! They have their own personalities, and they should express themselves however they want. I am actually happy that when it comes to that they don’t listen to me. I don’t really give them ideas. I’m all about them dressing up and picking their own clothes.
Have they discovered your closet yet?
Oh, my God, they love my closet. It’s their favorite thing. Let me tell you what they did today. I got back to my house, and I saw them quietly cleaning my walls. I don’t see anything on the walls, so I’m trying to figure out what happened. I’m like, “What’s going on here.” What they did was they went to my room and managed to lock themselves in there. They love makeup, and I don’t know what they did, but some of it ended up on the wall and the floor. It was gone when I returned, but they were finishing up cleaning. It was still on Sienna’s face a little bit. This was the first time [they did that].
Do they know what you do for a job?
Yes, they understand. They know that I’m a model and I’ve been on television presenting a show, and they know that Mommy is also a businesswoman. They understand.
When was the first time they asked questions about it?
They never asked, funny enough. Somehow, they always understood. They’d be on set with me a few times, so they understand that I take a picture and then the picture comes out in a magazine. It was never a question. They get very excited, actually, when they see it.
Do they ever want to get in front of the camera when you’re on set?
Valentina did. She likes it. But Sienna is more shy; she doesn’t like it too much. We actually did a photo shoot together a few years ago with Bruce Weber, and it was me, Valentina, and Sienna. It was interesting. Valentina was so into it. They thought it was Santa Claus taking the photo.
If they wanted to model in a few years, would you support them?
Yes, as long as they are happy. Definitely.
Since becoming a mom, have you changed the jobs you take or your approach to modeling?
Becoming a mom was one of the greatest things in my life. But it’s not easy. There are challenges, and a lot of people thought, She just fell back into modeling. It’s not like that. There’s a lot of work involved. There are a lot of workouts. People think, Oh, maybe there is “ab-washing.” There is no ab-washing in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. We are in lingerie on TV, and it is a high-definition TV. Think about that. If you think there is airbrushing, just look at the girls in that show. There is no such thing as airbrushing for the girls in that show.
After becoming a mom, it wasn’t easy. I work out like an athlete, because there is a lot of training and focus put into it. The difference between me and an athlete is that they usually go home and nap to rest in between workouts, and I continue my workout with the children. There is no nap time for me. But I don’t regret any of the great things or great challenges. It’s a great example for the girls. I love to work out. It’s a passion that I have. And yet, there are days when I cannot hit the gym because I’m so busy.
You do post your workouts on Instagram. How much do you think about what you post before putting it on social media?
I don’t think about it. It’s not a thought process. I function by the feeling. I do everything with feeling. I try to use social media as an inspiration to women, or anyone. In a positive way, I try to show that any challenges that may come your way, you’ve got this. I try to show how you can make your physical health better, or your mind. I try to show things that would be healthful for anyone that is looking for something. I’m just trying to be helpful.
Is there anything you purposely don’t post?
I am a private person, so there are things about my private life that I don’t share much. Nothing in my private life will be useful in your life. The way I work out could be useful to you. But how can my private life help you? I don’t see how.
Do you view Instagram as part of your job?
Instagram is a part of my job, yes, but I use it as a positive influence, and how to become your better self—how to become stronger in every way. I use it in that way—not to get jobs, but as a way to help and share little moments. That’s what social media is about; it’s a tool that you have to share certain moments that could be useful to someone.
Do you feel there is a difference in how you approach social media and how the younger generation of models might?
You know, everyone has the freedom to use their social media however they want. It’s different with girls like me, with moms, with businesspeople. It’s different with beauty bloggers, or whatever. Everyone has their own way of sharing, so I can’t compare myself with only one type of person. Everyone shares their different points. You just have to think what suits you and what suits your own lifestyle.
You returned to the catwalk over the summer for Paris Haute Couture in the Miu Miu show. How do you take in an experience like that?
I was very excited. It has been some time since I did those shows, so I was really emotional. The cast was done by [W‘s Contributing Fashion Editor] Katie Grand, and in terms of creators, she is one of the best. I’m always grateful to be involved in anything that is related to Katie. She is always thinking outside the box, and that’s what makes her unique. Miu Miu was wonderful.
What was it like walking with all the other models and actresses who walked in that particular show?
Oh, my God. Gwen [Gwendoline Christie] was wonderful. First of all, Game of Thrones and her character—I just think she is brilliant and such a great actor. Seeing her in real life, she is such a wonderful person, and so lively and so fun. We had a chance to hang out for a few days in Paris, and she’s very kind and loving. And she is so tall. I have to say, she is an avatar.
Did you ask her for any Game of Thrones spoilers?
You know what, no. I don’t want to know. I want to watch it. We talked about everything but Game of Thrones.
When you do shows now, do the younger girls come to you for advice?
[At Miu Miu] there weren’t many young girls. It was kind of a reunion—there was Jaime King, who I’ve known for over 10 years. It was a wonderful gathering. But you’d be surprised. I haven’t had anyone asking me for advice. I think they are quite secure about themselves.
Who are some of the girls you’ve kept in touch with over the years?
I love Karen Elson and Alek Wek. They are really lovely ladies. The problem is, I live in Miami, and they are all over the place. I think I am the only model from my time who lives in Miami. Everyone is in L.A.. and New York, so it’s hard to keep the friendship when we are not in the same city.
Do you still enjoy going to Fashion Week?
I love my job. I love Fashion Week. I enjoy it so much. Otherwise, I would have quit it a long time ago.
How have you seen Fashion Week change since when you first started?
I believe social media is changing Fashion Week. Before, to see a designer’s collection, you had to wait for the campaign, or to see a fashion show, you had to wait for the pictures to come out in certain magazines. Now everything is instant.
Do you like that?
I think it is great, but I don’t know how it is for your business. For me, it’s great, but fashion has changed. I believe that models, photographers, magazines, now we need to adapt to that change. I don’t know how, but we need to adapt. We are learning and we are entering that social and digital era.
Are there still any jobs or projects that you haven’t done yet that you still want to do?
Yes. I still want to get an Italian Vogue cover. And I have something else [exciting] coming up this year that I’m not ready to share yet. And I will be focusing on health, nutrition, and workouts [in the future].
Let’s talk about this shoot that you did for W—was it a fun one to shoot?
Oh, it was wonderful. The house was wonderful. Everywhere you looked was a little detail. It was an amazing place to be. It was super ‘60s inspired.
It’s almost like a retro housewives shoot. Do you watch the Real Housewives?
I don’t watch reality TV. I like [scripted] series. I just started watching Orange Is the New Black, and I finished the last season of Vikings. I’m obsessed. I love Vikings.
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
I think I need an update in my music playlist. After having the children, I’m never updated with music. I don’t go out anymore. So whenever new music comes out, I don’t know unless I hear it from someone else. My friends here in Miami are all in the same situation as me; we’re all moms and going to bed at 8:30 p.m. I know Shakira is going to be in Miami tonight, but I’m not going. One of my friends—she’s an MMA fighter, her name is Amanda Nunes—called me this morning, like, “Are you going to the Shakira concert?” I always try to go to concerts, but it never works out. I don’t know why; either something with the kids or work. I know Jay-Z and Beyoncé are coming, and I was looking at the tickets. I always know who is coming, but I can never be there.
You do get the ultimate concert at the Victoria’s Secret show.
It’s true, at least I get that. That’s how I know what are going to be the hit songs. I get updated thanks to the Victoria’s Secret show. The girls there tell me all the music.
Who has been your favorite performer?
They all were amazing. When that artist steps onstage, you see them in a different way then you’re used to seeing them, from Beyoncé to Jay-Z to Kanye West. RiRi was incredible. The most impressive to me was Justin Timberlake. When he sang “SexyBack,” it was the first time I saw him perform. He’s unbelievable. He’s talented at singing, he’s a great musician, and he can dance. Usually, the men performing are kind of boring—they have the voice and the talent, but they’re not good at engaging with the people. He has that extra thing. That’s one of a kind.
Is it still exciting for you to be in the show after all these years?
Always. It’s going to be until the end of my life. The moment I’m not there anymore, I’ll probably have private shows in my house.
Do you think about stopping?
No. I’ve never talked about stopping. I’ve never thought about it. But I know there will be a moment of transition.