Wife, mother, daughter, friend, philanthropist, businesswoman, model and designer: The art of juggling multiple roles and shining brilliantly.
It is 9 a.m. on an unseasonably warm December morning. The crew is assembled in a small studio on the Eastside for our over shoot with Camila Alves. Everything is in place: makeup palette, various hair products and paraphernalia, more than $80,000 of clothing hanging on racks, lights, backdrops and green juices to get us through the day. The stylist holds up a pair of $48,000 diamond earrings that have been registered with the Smithsonian and everyone swoons.
Austin Woman Creative Director Niki Jones and I discuss our plan for the photo shoot with the photographer as the anticipation grows. Although Austin doesn’t really lend itself to a celebrity culture, we are, after all, preparing to photograph one of Austin’s most visible, glamorous and recognizable women, and we want to get it right. Expecting that she will arrive with an entourage, or at least a couple of assistants, I barely recognize the woman who rushes in alone. Dressed for comfort, she is wearing a white cotton buttondown shirt with sleeves rolled up and a pair of cream-colored jeans. The first thing I notice is the way her long tousled hair moves, but when she removes her sunglasses, her smile fills the room, and as everyone relaxes and goes about their jobs, I know it is going to be a great day.
There is an art to cutting diamonds into multiple facets to best release the fire and the brilliance of the stone. Camila Alves is a woman whose life has taken many twists and turns, testing her often and allowing her to define her priorities and values. In the process, she has become multifaceted, and like the strongest stone on earth, she shines brilliantly. Juggling these facets and making them all mesh has released her fire and passions. While she is frequently strolling down the red carpet with her accomplished husband, Matthew McConaughey, the role she most cherishes is being a mother. She has, after all, spent 15 years as a professional model, so it comes as a surprise that she is slightly anxious about this cover story.
“Sorry, I am a little tired,” Alves says, talking to the hair and makeup crew. “I didn’t get much sleep last night, up with one of the kids.”
I reassure her that she couldn’t be any more beautiful.
“I never do interviews here in Austin because this is Matthew’s hometown, the place he loves, and I really respect that,” she explains. “I want this to be the way people in Austin get to know the ‘real’ me.”
Determined to honor that heartfelt request, I decide on the spot to let Alves show off all of her facets and tell her story in her own words. There are many words that I would use to describe this high-profile woman—strong, determined, faithful, intelligent, loving, passionate, talented, beautiful—but the one word that encompasses all of the facets is “genuine.” She is the real deal.
Watching the transformation from everyday Camila to supermodel bewitches everyone in the studio. As she steps in front of the camera for the first shot, she is completely on. The camera loves her and she loves the camera. Never pretentious but always confident in her look and what will look right for her, Alves works with the team on all aspects of the shoot, from wardrobe to hair to makeup.
She is a total pro and, before I know it, she is back in her street clothes and we are sharing a Chinese chicken salad during the interview like old friends. The interview goes longer than expected and ends when her phone notifies her of a prior engagement with her No. 1 priority. She hurriedly says her goodbyes as she rushes out the door to spend time with her children. She is perfectly backlit as she opens the door of the dark studio, a woman whose many facets are shining brilliantly.
Coming to America and Becoming a Model
I came here when I was 15 to live with my aunt in L.A. When I left Brazil, my family, my friends, my culture, I left everything I knew. I was so young, but once I got on the plane, I knew I wasn’t going back. I didn’t speak English; all I could say was “Hi, how are you?” “How much does this cost?” and “I don’t speak English,” but I didn’t have the luxury to call my parents to pay my bills, so I cleaned houses and worked in restaurants as I learned English and saved to go to New York to look for an agency to represent me.
Growing up, I was always the ugly duck of the group. I was super skinny and my hair was super curly and big. All my friends had boyfriends, and I was the only one that didn’t. I never really looked at myself as beautiful. My mom said that I would look at pictures and magazines. I saw a Chanel ad and told her that was what I was going to do. When I was 14, I was tall for my age, and someone stopped me and asked if I had ever thought of being a model. That is when the seed was planted and things started to happen.
I was dating a musician who was on a tour and he was going to New York City. He asked me if I wanted to go with him to see the modeling agencies, so I literally went to every agency in the city and they all said no until I was in the street with my portfolio under my arm, crying, thinking it was all over and not going to happen for me. I was thinking I might have to go back to Brazil. The last agency I went to was Major Models. They are still around today and they said yes, they wanted to work with me.
I am a very optimistic person. My dad taught me to never sell myself short, and in the few times I have felt like giving up, I looked to the sky and said, “God, if I don’t have something important to do here, then take me back to the things I know, to my family and my friends, back to Brazil.” Every time that happened, I felt like God opened a door and was saying, “No, you have to keep going this way.”
On Matthew McConaughey
We met at a bar on Sunset Boulevard. It is public knowledge, and it was one of those things. He was trying to call me across the room, but I am not that kind of woman, so he got up and came over to me. We started talking and didn’t stop. From the moment we started to spend time with each other, we have not been apart.
I left my apartment and everything in it in New York, and came to live with him in the Airstream in Malibu. My father is Old School, and he thought I was crazy. We don’t even have trailers in Brazil. It took him awhile to come around.
When we decided to have kids before we got married, that was a big thing for my family but not for us; it was a conscious decision for us. I told my mom, but I made Matthew tell my dad. They had dinner and because my dad doesn’t speak English, my brother had to translate the conversation. It was tricky.
One thing I love about our relationship is that we really want to see each other do their best at whatever we want to do, to be their best at whatever we want to be or choose to do. We have a lot of respect for each other, and respect is a big thing for me. Respect is the key to any relationship.
My everyday life is very different than my red-carpet life. On the red carpet, I have a full team that helps me because it is like getting ready for a wedding day every time you go to an event. I do this out of respect for Matthew and for what he does, his talent and his work. We have created a plan with the children’s school, which allows all of us to travel together when he is on set. We live in the Airstream and I am cooking for him every day.
I always knew I wanted to have a family and that I wanted to have my children when I was young. Motherhood is the kind of thing that no one gets you ready for. It is the most beautiful thing, but it is hard work, an adventure every day.
One of the things I love about motherhood is that the minute you become a mother, every single one of your priorities changes instantly, and I didn’t realize that would happen. Everything I thought was important, all of a sudden, it was not important and it became easy for me to make decisions because every decision I made was for the best for my family. If it takes away from my family, I am not doing it and it is not going to happen.
Having kids has made me sensitive to the things around me. My capacity for love for the whole world is bigger. I am more empathetic and less selfish. Now I feel really bad being selfish, even if I need to be.
My style changes all of the time, depending on where I am and what I am doing. Before I had kids, I wanted to be sexier, and after I had kids and got married, I still wanted to be sexy but also respectful of what I carry behind me.
I like to have fun with style and also like things that are timeless and ageless. I like a mix of vintage and designer clothing, and jewelry things that are very beautiful and tasteful. I mix and match a lot. I get my $9 earrings or clothes from Target, and I mix with very fancy pieces. Most of my expensive jewelry has been given to me as a gift. I love collecting vintage pins and jewelry.
I always mix high and low. I have a really hard time paying a lot of money. I come from a simple background and I love a bargain. In my life, I always had to make things look better than what they cost.
The biggest mistake women make is when they try to look like someone else. The beauty of fashion is that every single woman can look different; they can put their own flavor on an outfit. When I need to get inspired, I watch the everyday woman.
On Her Priorities
My No. 1 priority is my family. I love them the most. After I had my third child, my time became more limited and my husband was working a lot, project after project. And time is a limited thing, so I started to think about the things I really enjoy doing and decided that is how I am going to spend my time, do the things that I love: cooking, decorating, entertaining and my kids’ activities. I enjoy anything that is related to creating a beautiful lifestyle.
If I wanted to be present in my kids’ lives, I had to shift my priorities, and that was very important to me. I stepped back from my handbag-design business that I created with my mother. I realized how hard it is to be a woman and juggle everything. Deep down, I think all women want their home to be beautiful, they want to look their best and they want to cook for family and friends. I am passionate about sharing those things, and anything I can do to encourage and help other women makes me happy. I like to touch people on a deeper level, bring a smile to their faces and share the things I love to do.
I always try to be in a good place in life. I can’t stand false drama. Life is going to bring real drama naturally, so save ourselves for when that happens. Right now, I’m just enjoying my life. I am my husband’s biggest supporter. I want to see him doing the best that he can. That makes me extremely happy. I believe that everything falls into place when it is supposed to.
I have to work. I have worked my entire life. Otherwise, I would go crazy. In my mind, I have always been a businesswoman. I love marketing ideas and developing products. I love to hear stories of how businesses got started and how they grew, how they operate and connect.
When you are creating a business, it is a big commitment. The first question I ask myself is, “Do I love it?” You can never succeed in something you aren’t passionate about. I am very excited by my new partnership with Target, which will allow me to share tips and advice for other moms about all of the things I am passionate about, from decorating and entertaining to beauty and cooking.
I have always done charity work, ever since I was a kid. Growing up in Brazil, it is almost impossible to ignore the need. We started JKL [Just Keep Living Foundation] when Levi was born. We sold his baby pictures to fund the foundation, and people questioned that, but we wanted to control those first photos and gave 100 percent to fund the foundation, and it has become more successful than we could have imagined. In six years, we are in 24 schools across the country, in L.A., Austin, Dallas and New Orleans.
I call the work of the foundation the science of happiness. Happiness is the result when it all comes together, and we have proof of our success, from the grades to the graduation rates to the jobs our kids are getting when they participate in the program. It has four pillars: fitness, wellness, service and nutrition. It started as an after-school fitness program for teenagers during their most vulnerable years. We wanted to give the kids a safe place to go. We included all kids: those with special needs, the athletes and those with low self-esteem and weight problems. We talked about the problem of bullying in school, taught them about nutrition on a budget and took them outside of their neighborhoods to see that there is a big world around them. They are learning how to be a productive and active part of their community. It is amazing to see how it has changed them.
Matthew has a long history with Austin. He made most of his good friends here when he went to UT. He genuinely loves this town and we really wanted to raise our children here.
The thing that I love most about Austin is the way the people are, who they are and they own it, not trying to act like something else and not trying to look like something they are not; they are who they are. People here don’t expect you to be like anyone else. They are not overly impressed with celebrity. They are very accepting, proud but not trying to prove anything. Austin people just smile when they see us in a grocery store and give us a high five like they are happy we are here.
People who live in Austin are happy to live in Austin and they are happy with what they are doing. My children’s teachers are happy to be teachers, content with their life. People here think outside the box and there are a lot of talented people here. Everyone wants everyone else to do well and succeed. People want to share their happiness. There are a lot of smart people here and people believe in each other.
We go to church every Sunday when we are here. Our kids are learning to be part of the community. We can share traditions, family and sports. Austin is a liberal city in a conservative state and we like that balance. It is a good place to raise our kids.
Bringing high style to the runway for the third annual Mack, Jack and McConaughey.
“This event is very important to us. Raising funds for the organization to help kids and families is near and dear to our hearts, so when the guys [Mack Brown, Jack Ingram and Matthew McConaughey] got together and planned the weekend with the concert and the golf tournament, I started to think about what the wives were going to do if they didn’t play golf, and I came up with a fashion show and put it together with Neiman Marcus. It has grown and this year will include a Champagne reception, runway show and luncheon to be held at the W Hotel.” – Camila Alves
“Mack and I have been so thrilled that Matt hew has brought Camila into our lives. Everything is more joyful when she is around. She epitomizes beauty and elegance and is brilliant and funny. Working with her and playing with her are equally great. Through the fashion show, she has added her personality and style to MJ&M.” – Sally Brown
Five-minute Q&A With Camila Alves
Austin Woman: What are the five things you can’t live without?
Camila Alves: My family, floss, my tea, my blessed charm necklace and steak every so often!
AW: What’s one thing you would rather do without?
CA: E-mails. I am really bad at it and prefer a phone call.
AW: What’s the Camila style?
CA: My everyday outfit is jeans and a button-down shirt and my old gray and pink Converse shoes.
AW: What’s one thing that sets an outfit apart?
CA: How you make a basic outfit unique to your taste and personality.
AW: What do you look for in accessories (handbags, shoes, jewelry)?
CA: For me, it has to be practical and unique. I am not a big fan of wearing one brand head to toe or wearing something that I see five other ladies wearing.
AW: Who are your favorite designers for clothing and jewelry?
CA: I love so many designers, from fancy to simple, I could go on and on about, but I will tell you that for jewelry, I love Neil Lane.
AW: What are the best-kept secret places to shop in Austin for costume/vintage jewelry, as well as clothes?
CA: OK, I do have my favorite place about 30 minutes away, outside of town, but if I tell you, it won’t be a secret anymore and I won’t be able to find the vintage jewelry that I collect anymore! So I am going to keep that one to myself!
AW: What are the things you like about Austin, places to eat, things to do?
CA: My favorite sushi restaurant in the world is Uchi, and when I say that, I mean it! I have been to sushi restaurants all over the globe, including Japan, and every time I am there, I wish I was at Uchi! My fast grab-and-go food places are Fresa’s Chicken and Maudie’s Mexican food. I can’t have enough of them too! I love to take the kids kayaking on the lake. Even my little guy loves it and sits through it the whole time.
On the Quirks That Make Her Who She Is
- I love floss, can’t go anywhere without flossing. I have to have it in my purse at all times.
- I am obsessed with documentaries.
- I have a fascination with the premade homes. Every time I see one, I have to go inside.
- I love flowers and making my own arrangements. I do it for my house and my friends. It is my therapy.
- I love chocolate, peppermint tea, chips and salsa, french fries and my husband’s steak.
- I love to travel and I love Greece.
- I love my kids’ laughs. It is the best sound in the world.