It often feels as if I've known Lonneke Engel for my entire life. Indeed, I am exaggerating because the statement sounds rather ageing, but the truth is that in some parallel worlds our affair with fashion began simultaneously. Mine - with the very first issues of Russian Vogue, Cosmo and Elle, hers - by working with Bruce Weber who discovered Lonneke at the age of 13 and introduced her to the world of fashion and the glossy magazines I was so lucky to acquire.
Destined to become one of the industry's most recognisable faces, Lonneke was everywhere: the Italian Vogue, Ralph Lauren, Verus, Abercrombie & Fitch and Cover Girl campaigns, blowing kisses as the face of Cacharel Anais Anais ad and dabbed as "Modern Lolita" after shooting for "Guess" with Ellen von Unwerth. Her career spanning almost two decades included editorials for international Vogue, Marie Claire and Elle as well as advertising for Chanel, Bottega Veneta, Roberto Cavalli, Elizabeth Arden, Bobbi Brown and Clarins, just to name a few.
Indeed, her beauty is the first thing you would think of, but what is also fascinating about this gorgeous model is her attitude towards wellness, the way she combined her love and understanding of fashion with her passion for living a simple organic life to make the world a more beautiful, eco-friendly and healthier place.
I was incredibly excited when Lonneke agreed to be a part of my Pure Beauty talks - so please meet Lonneke Engel, an international fashion model, founder of Organice Your Life, certified health coach, writer, ambassador of the Green Fashion Competition, supporter of the Brook Hospital charity, wife, "mum" to Vito, the dog, Dutch-born New Yorker and simply a stunning and inspirational woman.
What does beauty mean to you?
Beauty has a different definition to everyone. To me it means working with what you've got, with confidence. Bringing out all your best assets in a positive way.
You were discovered very early and within a year or so were shooting with Bruce Weber, fronting Abercrombie & Fitch, Versus and Ralph Laurent campaigns, and meeting supermodels and best fashion designers... What kind of intact such an early start had on you as a growing teen? How, if it all, did it change your perception of beauty?
Because I started so young I was able to meet the most interesting people and learn about different cultures and places around the world. I had daily practice in English, and sometimes even French and German. My overall knowledge increased tremendously because I wasn't at school following what was in the books, just like my friends, but I learned from the real life.
I found out quickly that there wasn't one standard for beauty. There were so many top models that looked so completely different to me - think Kate Moss, Linda Evangelista and Claudia Schiffer - I realised that beauty could come in so many shapes and forms. I experienced that it took a whole team of make-up artists, hairdressers, stylists, photographers and photoshop to make you look like that girl in a magazine.
I became more interested in the beauty of people behind those layers. My friends have since become very diverse, from every age, ethnicity and social group. Just because I leaned from my work that you can't judge somebody by his or her looks.
Did you have a favourite supermodel?
I have respect for every one of them, because they are amazing and unique in their own way, but I've always loved fellow Dutch Karen Mulder, Helena Christensen, Laetitia Casta and Kate Moss.
They say "one must suffer to be beautiful"... Would you agree? Is being beautiful really about suffering or, perhaps, something else?
I think if you want to be perfect, you need to have discipline - work out, eat right, sleep well and everything done to perfection. But I am not so good with self-discipline, and I also don't think that perfection is interesting. I am, for instance, not the "right height", and I have always had hips, but that did not stop me from having a good modelling career.
So where should we turn to find true beauty?
You can find beauty in people who are not trying too hard to be beautiful, but exactly who they are in their hearts. These people are following their passions and showing that to the world. Because that passion shines in their eyes, and the eyes in my opinion show a person's story, and therefore - their true beauty.
Can we use fashion as a tool to inspire our understanding and perception of what truly is beautiful, make the industry work to our advantage? And if so, then how?
These days fashion has become Fast Fashion. Every few months a designer has to come up with a completely new collection. How can it be good if he has to create it so quickly? I know from experience that an artist or designer can only be creative when he feels free and is not tied to deadlines.
Also, a lot of people do not develop their own style, they just become a follower of a trend. I personally don't like to walk in a store to see that of every time there are ten or more of the same design hanging on the rack.
I learned from wearing a lot of clothes during the years what works for me, and what does not. Now I buy and wear what I like, regardless of whether or not it is in fashion. That's why I love vintage. I would not like it if I saw someone else wearing the same thing I am wearing. I like unique things. That's why nowadays I am working with artists like Mano Macchiato who create shoes and clothes that are one-of-a-kind.
I touched the subject of fashion also because the topic often involves fashion models who are often seeing as very confident and absolutely perfect human beings, thorough from where I am it feels that being a model and facing all the other stunning girls in a room can often be more stressful and much harden than being a regular woman having to face the world...
Yes, I totally agree... Imagine a small room full of the most gorgeous women in the world waiting for a casting, looking for one girl only. Even the most confident girl can get a bit insecure.
Every person on Earth has moments of strength and moments of weakness. And if they say they don't, they are not in touch with themselves, as strength and weakness is a part of being human.
Talking of being a model and a human... In 2009 you shot a very special nude cover for the Body issue of Elle magazine. What was the experience like for you?
Funny you mention this. The idea behind this cover was Body and Beauty, inspired by Natalia Vodianova's UK Vogue cover by Mario Testino. When the issue came out, it wasn't like we agreed upon, on many points.
For instance, my private parts would be covered, and the world "Lust" was not going to be on my breasts as that indicated sex instead of Body & Beauty. The pose they chose, together with the wording on the cover, made it all a bit vulgar compared to what I agreed on, as it was, again, supposed to be a Body and Beauty issue...
I was disappointed with them. Since then I have not worked with Dutch Elle and the then-Editor-in-Chief because of them not following our agreement. Luckily there are many other magazines that do keep their promises.
But back to the picture... Despite all that I carried this cover with pride as many people liked it.
Why did you decide to wave Good-bye to the industry? Was it a tough decision to make?
No, it wasn't a difficult decision to quit full-time modelling. I have done this work for 18+ years, have seen it all, got all the great campaigns I could wish for - what else was there to aim for? But the main reason I had to quit was because I couldn't do the work physically anymore. I suffered from a burnout and PTSD, and only recently, two and a half years later, I am starting to feel back to normal again after a long much-needed break.
How did that first modelling-free morning feel like?
I don't remember it really, but I think it felt good and I probably slept in (smiles...)
You surrounded yourself with animals pretty much straight away... First there were horses, then Vito, you dog, walking into your life and now seems to accompany you everywhere... A way to reconnect with nature and normality, or something else?
Spending time with animals in nature is very rewarding. If you have a crazy schedule flying everywhere for different events and shoots, you miss out on the simple daily things that, I found, I really love. Now I have time to spend with my dog Vito whom I adopted from a shelter, and my horses Key West, U2 and Copper Milo. I love animals very much and hope to help many more dogs in shelters without a place to call home.
And, lets not forget, you are one of the first models who introduced the ideal of natural beauty and simple organic living to the public eye.... How important is the subject of wellness to you?
In 2008 I went to school to become a Certified Health Coach. It is true - back then there weren't many models promoting a healthy lifestyle. I started my blog to share my organic and green journey and later on had model friends join me to share their stories as well.
Organice Your Life and its Circle of Five still help me "organice" my life when I am feeling a bit unorganised and hectic. I hope other people get inspired, too. Since I fell ill with a burnout caused by too much stress (of work) over a prolonged period of time, I realised that wellness is not only about eating healthy foods or working out - it is also taking time off to relax and go on vacation, and taking time to spend on things you really find important. Which, for me, was cooking with the family, and walking in the woods with my dog and horses, and not thinking about work at all.
On the subject of cooking... Can you share one of your favourite quick recipes?
My favourite easy recipe, which I eat a lot, especially in fall and winter, is an oven dish made in a pot covered with a lid, with plenty of chopped seasonal vegetables, sea salt, olive oil and some fresh herbs like rosemary and thyme. You put the pot in the oven for a while until your room smells delicious and the veggies are cooked well. You can add protein like fish, chicken or tuff to your liking.
In summer I like quinoa salads with all the leftover vegetables from the fridge, with a bit of olive oil and lemon juice and salt.
Are you particular with what you eat - and don't eat?
I eat 90% good food, and 10% "bad" food. If I eat "bad" food, I try to eat the healthiest version of it, and really enjoy it. I do not overindulge. I don't think it is bad to eat something unhealthy once in a while - the problem is when you do it every day, and lots of it at once.
I eat what I crave, because I believe that if you truly listen to your body, it will tell you what it needs.
What are your rules for feeling your best?
Get a good mattress and sleep enough hours a day. Eat well and on time. Drink enough water. Breathe and count your blessings once in a while, as it is easy to forget when everything goes well. And don't worry too much about stupid little things or about people whose actions you can't change.
And are there beauty products you particularly like?
My favourite beauty brands at the moment are the one that try to bring the organic products truly natural to your skin and hair. I love Tracie Martyn skincare (especially the Amla face wash, but basically I use all of her products), and I love Josie Maran's make-up products. She was a top model as well, and you can see by looking at her skincare and make-up line that she was in the fashion industry. Her products are simple and easy to apply. I like the Argan Matchmaker foundation. I also like the RMS Beauty Living Luminizer. And I love the ILIA organic lipsticks.
Now I am getting older, I use the No.1 Aknari Brightening Youth Serum by MUN. I also love Lemon Myrtle Fragrances Body Lotion that I recently received from my Dutch/Australian friends Will and Sophie. Also, for my hair, I can't live without John Masters Organic Evening Primrose shampoo, and I adore the Pacifica perfume rollers with essentials oils!
My last questions... What advice would you give to girls and women who want to be beautiful and healthy regardless of whether or not they work in fashion?
Try to listen to your inner voice and your gut feeling. You need to experience to see what works best for you in your daily routine, because no diet, workout regimen, beauty treatment or agenda is the same for everyone. When I began to listen to my own voice, and work on what it was telling me, I started to feel better and my health issues began to improve.
Every day is a new day to start the rest of your life being the best possible YOU!
Photo source: Lonneke Engel in Engel in NY / L'Officiel Netherlands April 2008 (photography: Marc De Groot), Fay Fall/Winter 2009 campaign (photography: Hans Feurer), Abercrombie & Fitch 1996 campaign (photography: Bruce Weber), Lonneke Engel & Laetitia Casta wearing Thimister couture in Elle France February 1998 (photography: Dominique Issermann), Elle France October 2010 (photography: David Oldham), Lauren by Ralph Lauren campaign (photography: Bruce Weber), Organice Your Life October 2010 (photography: Alique), Marie Claire Netherlands 2009, Marie Claire Netherlands August 2012 (photography: Hans Van Brakel), Ralph by Ralph Lauren campaign (photography: Bruce Weber), Lonneke Engel wearing Giorgio Armani for L'Officiel France October 2006 (photography: Milan Vikmirovic), Lonneke via Organice Your Life