Fashion model Behati Prinsloo has plopped down on this particular couch in this particular atelier in downtown Los Angeles on this particular mid-December evening to talk about her new creative collaboration with L.A.-based denim label THVM. Thanks to a rapidly rising professional profile — not to mention her engagement to Maroon 5 frontman and "The Voice" coach Adam Levine — she's doing more than introducing around a dozen pieces of apparel to the world. She's been introducing herself too.
Not that Behati (pronounced Bee-OTT-ee) Prinsloo is exactly new to the scene.
"I started modeling when I was 15 or 16," says Prinsloo, 25, who was born in Vanderbijlpark, South Africa, and raised in Grootfontein, Namibia. "I got scouted in Cape Town, moved to London for a year, and I've been living in New York City for the past eight years now."
With a look that can morph from runway glamazon to Woodstock ragamuffin in an instant, she's compiled an impressive catwalk CV, including runway turns for the likes of Chanel, Prada and Miu Miu, and ad campaigns for H&M, the Gap, Tommy Hilfiger and Marc by Marc Jacobs.
Prinsloo's also earned her wings, appearing in the high-profile Victoria's Secret Fashion Show for the last seven years, having started out as the face of the label's Pink brand in 2007 before making "Angel" status in 2008. For the 2013 show, which aired Dec. 10 on CBS and was seen by 9.71 million pairs of eyeballs, she hit the runway in skimpy outfits that included a bodacious Buckingham Palace guard with gilt-edged wings and a smoldering bra-and-pantied snow angel. Models.com, which keeps track of such things, currently ranks her at No. 14 on its list of "sexiest models" (between No. 13 Irina Shayk and Erin Heatherton at 15).
In photo shoots and on the runway, Prinsloo comes across as so flawlessly beautiful it seems time, space and dimension might well slow in her presence. But in person, her wide beatific smile and fresh-scrubbed look are pure girl-next-door, and it's not her beauty but her demeanor that stands out — nonchalant, laid-back and playful. She's quick to laugh (a real belly laugh too) and she pretty much gambols into a room she could just as easily strut through.
She doesn't seem to have the trappings, or sense of entitlement, that are supermodel standard issue these days, arriving at this particular interview without an entourage (though a driver waits in the car outside) and wearing what she says is pretty much her everyday outfit when she's not being paid to wear other people's clothes: black jeggings, a baggy black T-shirt, a vintage denim jacket, black wide-brimmed Rag & Bone hat — and a good-sized diamond engagement ring on her finger, of course.
"I just love being comfortable," she says. "I can't put my style in one word. I'm drawn to something different or old, more of a feeling."
That notion of dressing with ease and comfort is exactly what made her a good fit with THVM, says co-founder Brian Kim. The L.A.-based brand — whose name is an acronym for "This Here Very Moment" and pronounced "them" — was launched in 2009 by Kim, his wife, Olga Nazarova, and their business partner, Nicola Scagnolari. Kim, who designs THVM along with Nazarova, says the line was envisioned as a simplified, stripped-back response to the overwrought, over-embellished and over-priced denim of the time. Stores that sell the made-in-L.A. jeans, which range in price from $110 to $250, include American Rag and Mohawk General Store.
"[Behati's] really great. She has this really natural sensibility," says Kim. "She could wear very flashy things or very sophisticated things and pull them off with ease."
"It's a kind of humble elegance," Nazarova adds.
"We kind of had been following her — this was pre-Adam Levine, by the way — and we wanted to do a collaboration," says Kim. "And we were thinking about our usual route of art and music." But then Scagnolari suggested looking for a model instead. "Today's models are essentially rock stars for people who follow fashion. And she was the one who came to mind," he says.
"I looked at a lot of punk inspiration," Prinsloo says, explaining how she began developing the collection. "And I loved this pair of black-and-white striped pants. It was very English. And it all came together from there. We decided to keep it in black, white and red. Since it was such a small collection, we wanted to keep it simple and not over the top."
The Behati in This Here Very Moment capsule collection, which will be rolling out to retail in late January and early February, consists of just 14 pieces: five jeans (a skinny jean in two washes, two versions of the boyfriend jean and a high-waisted skinny jean); a red tuxedo-striped pair of leggings; the black-and-white striped trouser; two mid-length, lightweight unlined coats; a knit tank, a blouse and three screen-printed T-shirts. Retail prices range from about $105 for a T-shirt to $462 for a coat.
One of the T-shirts is dominated by an outsized silhouette of a red bat, which also appears in a smaller size on the leather patches on the back of the jeans. When asked about its significance, the model's face lighted up.
"I'm just obsessed with bats and always have been," she says. "As a kid we used to have these huge fruit bats that would just sort of [wrap themselves] around the clumps of bananas, and I was just fascinated by them. ... It was a way of making this something more personal."
Prinsloo pulls another T-shirt off the rolling rack and holds it out for inspection. The words "deep sea" fill the front. "It's from a Lykke Li song ['Follow Rivers']," she says. "When something goes wrong or whatever, I'm like: 'I'll follow you deep sea.' It's been something I've always said to my friends. It's kind of like you're saying you'd go to the ends of the Earth with your friend."
Even though her fiancé recently launched a denim-based line of his own (the exclusive-to-Kmart Adam Levine collection, which had its debut in the fall), Prinsloo says it isn't as if the couple spent countless hours talking about rivets, denim and trim like a pair of garmentos. "We'd kind of taken a break when this [project] came up," she explains before giving People magazine's 2013 sexiest man alive a good-natured ribbing: "Mine is so much better! He totally knocked me off — I did it first!"
[For the record, 11:34 a.m. Dec. 24: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said Prinsloo was born in Cape Town, South Africa, and raised in Vanderbijlpark, Namibia. She was born in Vanderbijlpark, South Africa, and raised in Grootfontein, Namibia.]