Her mum is Isabella Rossellini, her grandma was Ingrid Bergman, so Elettra Wiedemann Rossellini was born to be an icon. But a more down-to-earth life beckoned. She tells Hattie Crisell why she’s swapped the catwalk for the chicken run on her family farm.
I’ve had models reschedule interviews before, but Elettra Wiedemann Rossellini’s reason for postponing is a new one for me. ‘I’m sorry – I ended up taking a three-day breadmaking class,’ she says when we speak the following week.
‘I’m running my family farm in Long Island now, and we’re going to try to get bread off the ground. I couldn’t really find anybody to make it, so I decided to do it myself.’
It’s an unconventional start, but then Elettra is not a typical model – just as her mother, Isabella Rossellini, has never been a typical model or actress, nor her grandmother, Ingrid Bergman, a typical movie star. Yes, she is the face of a new campaign for Weekend Max Mara. In fact, she spent over a decade posing for the fashion industry’s most celebrated photographers – but at 36, she’s got other matters on her mind.
‘I don’t consider myself a model any more, so when the phone rings and it’s Weekend Max Mara on the line, I’m very happy – but that’s not something that’s happening a lot in my life. I’ve made space for new things.’
She doesn’t just mean carbs. A significant focus is her toddler son, Ronin, two, whose father is Elettra’s partner of five years, Pretty Little Liars actor Caleb Lane. The campaign shoot, which took place on a beach outside Rome, was Elettra’s first work trip without Ronin. ‘It was a pleasure to spend time with everybody and get a little mummy break, but I won’t lie – I think every mum feels the pull.’
The photographs show the mother of one, willowy and graceful, wearing a collection created by the great costume designer Gabriella Pescucci.
‘It’s very clean and simple but also impactful, and I could see that it was the hand of somebody who had a lot of experience in costume,’ she says. It’s almost old-Hollywood glamour in style, with nipped-in dresses and coats and white cropped trousers; the model looks the part too, her hair swept up in a beehive. The standout element of the collection is a print used throughout: oversized, beautifully illustrated seashells.
‘I loved that Gabriella had chosen these quirkier prints,’ says Elettra. ‘I felt like it was something that a woman of any age could wear, because she had trod the line between doing classic cuts, well-tailored, with these prints that made them feel youthful and joyful as well. It exuded a sense of humour that I think Gabriella very much has as a person – she’s a very funny woman.’
The Oscar-winning costume designer (for The Age of Innocence in 1993) is also a family friend – part of what sounds like a sprawling network that Elettra (who grew up in New York but speaks fluent French and Italian) has in Europe. ‘I think it was fun for Gabriella to get to know me, because she knows my whole family – my aunts and uncles – going back to when they were kids in Rome. We had a big dinner with a bunch of other people from Weekend Max Mara, the real Italian way.’
While it’s not the first time Elettra has modelled for the brand, she doesn’t remember her previous shoot; after all, she was only five years old at the time, and posing alongside her mother. She’s been raised in a family with no shortage of style icons.
‘Strong, elegant women are on both sides of my family, maternal and paternal,’ she reflects. ‘They really taught me about simplicity and functionality. The women of my family don’t think that in order to be elegant, you have to be in a gown with high heels. They think that a white shirt and black trousers are elegant… My maternal grandmother [Ingrid Bergman], her entire wardrobe was just black clothes. So they taught me about keeping things very simple.’
Looking at Elettra’s life, you might also conclude that she learned from her mother to develop multiple strings to her bow.
Isabella was a successful model, a US Vogue cover girl, when she made her move into acting. She showed herself to be equally distinctive and talented on screen, in films such as Blue Velvet and Death Becomes Her. She even received a Golden Globe nomination for her role in Crime of The Century in 1996. But that wasn’t the final stop on her trajectory; subsequently, she bought an organic farm in Long Island, New York, which her daughter is now working on, and earned a master’s degree in animal behaviour and conservation.
So it’s no surprise that while Elettra was enjoying her own successful modelling career, she was also studying for a master’s in biomedicine at the London School of Economics (LSE). ‘At the LSE I started researching food policy and food technology, and it just struck me as really interesting,’ she says. ‘A lot of what I was working on were very dense, theoretical papers, but when I started looking at all of that theory through the lens of food, which was something that I was interacting with on a daily basis – to survive – it just opened up this rabbit hole.’ Her dissertation explored the future of feeding urban populations in light of climate change; she gained a distinction.
From there, she returned to New York and launched a pop-up restaurant at fashion week, followed by a cookbook – Impatient Foodie – and her own chic cookery video series. ‘Studying for my master’s led me down a road I didn’t expect – it’s had a clear ripple effect across my whole life for the past decade, and I’m very glad, because I love the fashion industry but I also really love the food industry, and it’s been nice to float between the two.’
Now recipe writing and work in front of the camera have taken a back seat in her life. As well as the bread course, in recent years Elettra has studied medicinal herbology and following her own struggles with breastfeeding – trained as a lactation consultant.
Having moved to Long Island when Ronin was born, the bulk of her attention is now geared towards running her mother’s farm. Her Instagram, for the most part, is not fashion shoots and evening gowns: it’s mud-smeared selfies, freshly harvested veg and, yes, now baguettes too.
Elettra’s plan is ambitious: she wants to turn the farm into a flourishing business on all fronts, hiring it out for events and photo shoots as well as supplying the local community with produce. ‘My mum has done a tremendous job, over the past six years, of turning this land into a place that has infrastructure, water and electricity,’ she says. ‘My job now is to take the reins from my mother, who is always travelling and very busy, to focus on growing the farm. We have a children’s festival there every year and we want to make it more of a destination. So I’m managing all of that – as well as apparently now baking for 50 people.’
It seems idyllic but exhausting – and, indeed, Elettra sounds a bit frazzled. But it’s refreshing to speak to a campaign star who is so unafraid of getting her hands dirty – literally. Will there be another recipe book, more media appearances? ‘Maybe one day,’ she concedes, ‘but for now… I’m just on a very steep learning curve.’
For details of Weekend Max Mara On Set by Gabriella Pescucci, go to gb.maxmara.com