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28 abr. 2011

Jennifer Hawkins: Australia's body corporate

Jennifer Hawkins: Australia's body corporate
bY Elissa Blake - April 28, 2011 - 3:32PM

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Seven years ago, Jennifer Hawkins was earning $70 a match as a cheerleader. Now she's transformed her body into a brand worth $5 million a year. Elissa Blake meets the model more focused on her property portfolio than partying.

"Jewels? Am I wearing jewels today?" asks Jennifer Hawkins, shooting a sideways glance at a security guard standing next to a humming soft-drink vending machine. We're in a steamy photo studio in Alexandria. The security guard is trying not to look at the luminous 180-centimetre-tall blonde. And Hawkins is trying not to look too pleased.

She has just been chauffeured from a racing-carnival event - only 30 minutes late - and is now in a simple black singlet dress and thongs. Already made up and looking prettier and softer than her photos sometimes suggest, she makes a beeline for a table where $260,000 worth of jewels are laid out for her. Hawkins strokes the diamonds.

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"How much is this worth?" she asks, holding up a $10,200 ring. "Ooh," she coos. "What about this one?" She lifts a white-gold, diamond-encrusted $108,000 necklace to her collarbones. "That's the one I want to wear."

An eye for quality stones is just one of the sophisticated traits that Hawkins has developed in the seven years since she won Miss Universe. At 27, she is Australia's highest-earning model (just pipping Miranda Kerr), although these days she might prefer to call herself an ambassador or businesswoman, even a property developer, rather than a model.

Hawkins is No 25 on BRW magazine's Entertainers Rich List 2010, with earnings of $5 million, up from $3.3 million the previous year. This income comes from shares in Myer - the company she fronts - lucrative endorsements and television contracts, her own line of swimsuits and high heels and a bulging property portfolio.

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It has taken more than a year for the (sydney) magazine to secure an interview and shoot with Hawkins. Her management team is very protective of her time and her image and while she is usually happy to do photo shoots, there is caution around lengthy interviews. But today, perched on a leather couch, she seems happy enough to chat. She speaks with a soft Australian accent, dotting her conversation with self-conscious giggles and the occasional steely-eyed response to indicate that she is not going there. When she talks, her eye contact is steady, sometimes unnervingly so. She's keen to discuss how much she has grown up and how she is looking beyond the years where she is valued for her looks. "I just love getting older," she says. "I have a lot more business savvy these days."

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When she won Miss Universe in 2004, "I was such a girl. I was really young in the head, I didn't have any experience of anything. Now I've experienced a lot. I've grown a lot. I'm a woman now!" Hawkins is said to have accrued income and assets in excess of $12 million since winning the internationally televised Miss Universe pageant in Quito, Ecuador. A lot of that is thanks to one of the most aggressive managers in town, Sean Anderson of 22 Management. She also counts Donald Trump, who co-owns the Miss Universe organisation with US television network NBC, among her advisers.

Hawkins is slowly building her brand to rival that of Elle Macpherson, a model she admires, although she cites German supermodel Heidi Klum, a woman with four children and business interests ranging from maternity wear to jewellery design, as her main inspiration. "I love her business mind," she says. "I love how she does lots of different things. And I like Jennifer Lopez - she's someone I really admire because she's family-oriented but then she's got her business as well."

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Dianne Taylor, who signed Hawkins as the face of the lingerie label Lovable in 2005, thinks Hawkins tends to play down her intelligence. "Jennifer is smart but she doesn't publicise it. She doesn't believe she needs to be aggressive; she's just quietly growing an empire."

Iconic social photographer Bill Ranken is more blunt: "Other models are out there buying cocaine and fast cars; Jennifer is buying apartments."

Jennifer Louise Hawkins grew up in Holmesville, 20 clicks west of Newcastle, with no strong ambitions in any direction. The youngest of four children to Gail and Robert Hawkins, she was a carefree and pretty child who loved ballet. As a teenager, she bounced happily into the cheerleading squad for the Newcastle Knights and life seemed complete. Sunny days, fun times at night - what more could a girl want?

Her elder sister Kristy, also a cheerleader with the Knights, urged the blue-eyed teenager to get into modelling. Hawkins was working as a secretary for a solicitor and initially felt shy. But she loved a party and was always looking for a good time. Soon she was entering low-profile bikini contests in Newcastle every second weekend. "She was very sweet and enthusiastic but she never won," says photographer Rob Bini, who judged a number of these contests. "But all those bikini parades gave her the body confidence she needed in Miss Universe."

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Things picked up when Hawkins was crowned NRL 2001 Cheergirl of the Year. She secured a Sydney agent, Platform Models, and moved to a shared flat in Bondi. But she struggled as a model, barely earning enough to cover the rent, and drove back to Newcastle every weekend to cheer for $70 a match.

Hawkins says she was okay with that. "I was always ambitious in that I wanted to make money and be successful but I didn't know what it was that I wanted to do. Modelling was just a job. I was young and just having fun with life."

By 2004, Hawkins was doing promotional work with Grant Dwyer's Adpro Management Group, an established promotions and management company that had sent Ashlea Talbot to Miss Universe the year before.

Suddenly Hawkins found herself in the Miss Universe Australia finals in an upmarket restaurant in Double Bay with 120 people attending. No one was surprised when her name was read out as the winner.

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"She had the right personality, very vibrant and exuberant," says Ashlea Talbot, who was judging on the night. "She had the X factor."

Bini recalls Hawkins telling him that night that she'd never even been on a plane before. Only her boyfriend, Jake Wall, an apprentice carpenter from the central coast, knew she was entering. "She said she had even thought about not showing up that night," says Bini. "When she won, she was just happy to be going overseas on a holiday."

Hawkins had just one month to prepare for the Miss Universe pageant in Ecuador. Dwyer, sensing he had a winner on his hands, put together a team to groom her and says "the stars aligned" for Hawkins once she arrived in Quito. For a start, she was experienced and relaxed in a bikini, while some of the other girls were culturally more modest. Her cheerleading chops meant she was unafraid of big crowds and she could dance, too, picking up the choreography easily while the other contestants practised all night.

When she won, Trump - known to be partial to leggy blondes - declared Hawkins "the most beautiful Miss Universe I have seen in many, many years". Some pro-Russian media suggested Trump had hand-picked Hawkins but she paid scant attention to the sniping. "It's true I wasn't like many of the other girls," she says now. "Some of them were very prim and proper and staged. I was just myself."

Four months into her reign, Dwyer organised and funded a "homecoming" to show Hawkins off in Australia and secure lucrative contracts. But by the end of the year, Hawkins was at a crossroads: it was time to choose an ongoing manager. Dwyer felt he had earned the gig by working 18-hour days negotiating deals for her to take up on her return from New York and by arranging the homecoming that made her a household name in Australia and secured her financial future.

But other managers were banging on the door. One of them was Sean Anderson, formerly at management firm IMG Australia. At the time, he had just three clients on his books: former Australian rugby star Phil Kearns, television personality David Koch and former Australian cricketer Michael Slater.

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After pitching to the Miss Universe organisation - which was advising Hawkins on representation - and flying to New York for a half-hour presentation, Anderson bagged Hawkins as his No. 1 client. Since then, his stable has grown to include Jamie Durie and Juanita Phillips, along with a sideline in "crisis management", having negotiated deals for rescued Beaconsfield miners Todd Russell and Brant Webb.

Hawkins's decision to change managers was an enormous shock to Dwyer, who claims he spent more than $250,000 of his own money to create the Jennifer Hawkins fairy tale that leveraged the career she enjoys now. In 2006, he told the media he planned to sue the star for $1 million but he didn't go ahead. Dwyer now says he has no animosity towards Hawkins. But he would like Adpro to be acknowledged for its guidance and financial contribution to her early success - and to be reimbursed, along with a formal apology.

"There is no question in my mind that Adpro really got her going, particularly when she came back to Australia for her homecoming," says photographer Bill Ranken. "I was photographing her at events all over town."

Hawkins won't discuss why she didn't continue with Dwyer, though she says it was "nerve-racking" making the change.

"I just got a feeling that Sean was the right one," she explains. "He's a lovely person and he gets on with my family. I trust him completely. He's not a 'yes person' to me, you know? He'll give me an honest answer - completely raw and honest, so I know that there's no fluff."

Anderson also has a reputation as a ruthless negotiator. A very public spat with Myer - allegedly over appearance money, although all Anderson will say on the matter is "not true" - led to Hawkins being dropped from Myer's show at the G'day USA showcase in Los Angeles in January. The issue was finally settled in a reportedly heated meeting in March. Myer is believed to have won more time from Hawkins to do promotion for them - a bugbear for them, as they felt they were being relegated to the sidelines - while Hawkins walked away with a three-year extension to her contract to sell her swimwear line, Cozi, in Myer.

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"I was the subject of the dispute with Myer but it literally had nothing to do with me," says Hawkins icily, the businesswoman coming through. "My management, Myer and I went to a meeting and it's sorted out. [G'Day USA] was one event but sometimes the media blow everything up. I was disappointed not to go to LA because it meant Cozi wouldn't be on stage there." Hawkins insists that it's Anderson who works for her, not vice versa. "He works my diary but he's not a playmaker, telling me what to do."

The tension between Myer and Anderson is said to have started when Hawkins posed nude - and unretouched - for the cover of Marie Claire in January 2010 without the department store's knowledge. Editor Jackie Frank says it wasn't the shoot Myer was upset about - which was intended "to encourage positive attitudes to body image" - but the media "beat up" that followed. Some commentators, notably radio personality Bianca Dye, felt a naked photo of Hawkins, even if it wasn't retouched, was an unattainable body image for most young women. For Hawkins, that was "all a blur". "I was in New York when I found out. I didn't realise it would cause a kerfuffle."

With the spat behind them, Myer CEO Bernie Brookes has nothing but plaudits for Hawkins, describing her as "a wonderful advocate" for the department store. "She represents everything about the brand - fun, fresh, accessible."

Hawkins is the first "face" of Myer since 1996, when model Deborah Hutton officially finished her 11-year reign (although she was associated with the store for some time after that). Rival store David Jones signed Sarah Murdoch (then O'Hare) as their face in 1997; then American model Lauren Hutton (at 56) took over until 2001, when Megan Gale was catapulted into the limelight. Gale remains a brand ambassador for DJs, despite handing her fashion ambassador crown to Miranda Kerr in 2008. "Australia is one of very few countries that have department store ambassadors," says The Sydney Morning Herald's fashion editor, Georgina Safe. "Jennifer, Megan and Miranda give the public an easier entry level into the department stores; they put a real face to the faceless stores."

While the early faces were glorified models, Hawkins's deal includes share options, an enticing incentive for her to contribute to the success of the company. "There's more of a vested financial interest for her in terms of spruiking the brand," says Safe. "But more than that, she has parlayed that into successful brands of her own. So she's managed to springboard herself. The challenge now is how she juggles those commitments and the greater scrutiny on her private life. It's a bit of a double-edged sword in that respect."

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Remarkably, Hawkins has no skeletons coming out of the closet, no compromising photos or disgruntled exes. There are rumours of cosmetic surgery - nose, eyelids, lips, chin - but Anderson says there is "no truth to any of it". Adds Hawkins: [Surgery] is not in the forefront of my mind."

Her mother, Gail, says the one thing her daughter has had to overcome is "worrying about rumours and silly stories in the media. It's been seven years of craziness but she has adjusted."

Hawkins says most of her time is spent working on her signature line of high heels, JLH for Siren Shoes; her swimwear brand; and building her property portfolio. She has a pinboard on which all her goals are laid out. Some are ambitious (more property) and others are simple (a large indoor gym). She works out with a personal trainer (kickboxing, weights) and has a treadmill in the Coogee home she shares with Jake Wall, Milly, a Staffordshire terrier, and Coco, a Burmese cat.

She shows me the rock she's wearing on her left ring finger. The $200,000 custom-made Nic Cerrone diamond engagement ring is set with upturned horseshoes. "Hopefully, they will bring good luck." Wall proposed on her 27th birthday (December 22) while the couple were on holiday in New Zealand. "I was so surprised," she says. "He proposed with just the diamond and then we chose the setting together."

They've been together since she was 20 and he was 21 but she laughs when I ask if he was her childhood sweetheart. "No, I've had many boyfriends. I had a long-term boyfriend in school and then a crazy period after that."

She says they've been through trying times when both have been travelling. Wall was a carpenter who turned to modelling and TV appearances - winning Nine's Dancing on Ice - but is now back in the building industry and seems comfortable with the huge disparity in their incomes. "Jake is like a glass of red wine," says Hawkins. "He has this calm influence over me but then he loves to have fun and be just crazy with me as well."

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The pair celebrated their engagement with a lavish Moroccan-themed party at the Palm Beach holiday home of former Myer chairman Bill Wavish, the man responsible for recruiting Hawkins. Guests partied under a giant Bedouin tent and dined from a menu created by celebrity chef Pete Evans.

Hawkins and Wall plan to start a property-development business together, buying land, building homes and selling them. They've just bought a block in North Curl Curl. "It's an investment thing but we'll live there for a while. It's really casual up there, really laid back. I feel free. I can go to the beach and lie under an umbrella and just really be myself."

Hawkins says she's addicted to her iPad and iPhone but there is no evidence of this today. Her gadgets stay in her Mulberry bag. She bristles when the photographer's iTunes kicks in with Rose Tattoo. She prefers Temper Trap, Jay-Z, Rihanna and Beyoncé. But when asked if she'll ever release a song herself, she says, "No, no, no!"

She adds that she wouldn't say no to a movie role, although she's not pursuing an acting career. She has had some lessons to help with her television presenting, however. "That was to get out of my skin. You have to be able to share with the audience every part of yourself and not worry - not enclose yourself."
Does she still feel like a Newcastle girl? "Not really. I've grown a lot," she says quietly. "I've changed as a person - I don't want to just put myself in one little box, do you know what I mean? In five years' time, I might be somebody totally different." She wanders over to the table to touch the diamonds again before sitting down for hair and make-up.

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THE BUSINESS WOMAN
Jennifer Hawkins is No. 25 on the 2010 BRW Entertainers Rich List with earnings of $5 million last year.

Endorsements
In 2009, she re-signed for a further four years with Myer, setting the record for the most lucrative modelling deal ever done by an Australian-based model (she'll earn about $1 million a year from the department store). The contract also included equity in the company, making her a substantial shareholder.
Other lucrative endorsement deals include contracts as the face of Siren Shoes, Lovable lingerie and German car manufacturer Audi. And her own business empire has expanded to include her line of swimwear, Cozi, and her own range of high heels for Siren Shoes, under the name JLH for Siren. She is also the face of a five-star hotel in Hong Kong, Grand Waterfront.

Television
Late last year, she ended her long relationship with the Seven Network, where she was a reporter on The Great Outdoors, hosted Make Me a Supermodel and was rumoured to be earning between $700,000 and $1 million a year. Now she reports for the Nine Network's travel show Getaway, filming in the US, Tahiti and England.

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Property
Hawkins has a growing property portfolio, including five blue-chip properties estimated to be worth $5 million in total.

Her first property purchase, in 2006, was a three-bedroom house in the Newcastle beachside suburb of Merewether for which she paid $469,000. Three months later, she bought a second home in Merewether, this time paying $620,000. The following year a two-bedroom Bondi flat was added ($895,000), as was a three-bedroom house in Minmi, an outer suburb of Newcastle ($345,000).

Her next purchase was the lavish three-bedroom Coogee home she shares with fiancé Jake Wall, picked up in 2008 for $2.27 million. The home has a pool, home theatre and a top-floor master suite with ocean views.
Most recently, she and Wall paid $1.375 million for a beachside block of land in North Curl Curl where they intend to build another investment property.

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