Robyn Lawley was on her way to a modelling job in New York when she heard the news that Beyoncé was wearing a piece from her swimwear range, in a video clip she’d dropped overnight as part of a surprise album. “I cried when I found out. I was super-ecstatic, and it all happened so suddenly,” she says. “Beyoncé’s someone I’ve followed since I was 10; the first album I bought was by Destiny’s Child – and if I could choose anyone in the world to wear my designs, it’d be her.”
Today the 24-year-old Cosmo cover star sits next to me in denim cut-offs and Havaianas, sipping on a bottle of ginger beer. The first thing she notices is my necklace. “I love it, it looks really well made,” she says. Why the keen interest? She’s taking silversmith lessons – while also DJing for fun and preparing for the launch of her first cookbook in early 2015. Is there anything Robyn can’t do? (Uh, no).
Off again, on again
It was negative attitudes to her size that forced Robyn to stop modelling at 17. “After I quit I moved overseas for a gap year. When I came back, that’s when I gave it another go, because I’d found out about ‘plus-size’ models.”
Her agent, Chelsea Bonner from Bella Model Management, recalls meeting a then 19-year-old Robyn for the first time. “I remember clearly the relief in her face when I said I didn’t want her to change a thing about herself. I just wanted her to be a normal, healthy, active person, and see where her natural shape was.”
With fresh perspective and a new agent, it wasn’t long before Robyn fell back in love with modelling. Yet, the wider industry wasn’t so kind. At 20 she moved to New York, only to be disheartened.
“We’d send beauty companies pictures of me, and they’d reply saying don’t ever send us ‘plus-size’ models. The industry was different back then. Now everyone’s nicer; they’ve realised it works better,” says Robyn.
You go, girl
Still, through the rejection there were some big wins. In 2011 Robyn landed the cover of Italian Vogue and French Elle: confirmation that Europe’s extensive market meant more opportunities for her. Then in 2012 Ralph Lauren signed her. “By her second and third year in New York Robyn was getting signed for more prestigious jobs. When Ralph Lauren began looking for a new face she was on their radar,” says Bonner.
Yep, this model eats
“Growing up, all I wanted to be was a chef,” remembers Robyn. “When people suggested to me I do modelling, I’d be like, ‘I just want to eat food!’” It’s a passion she inherited from her mum and grandmother and she’s channelled it into her tantalising food blog, Robyn Lawley Eats, which recently landed her a 350-page book deal. Nice, huh?
Her entrepreneurial streak first started with swimwear, with her range launching in 2013. “I’m always asking my friends that have one, ‘How does it fit?’” she says. “I just want to create heaps of styles that fit women of all shapes and sizes,” she says. And no, Robyn isn't a fan of the term "plus-size" to describe her range or body. "It puts women down and it puts a label on them,” she says. We couldn't agree more.
These days, Robyn can appreciate the place she’s in – far from the emotional distress of her time being beaten down and made to feel insecure as a model at the age of 15. “I’m much more relaxed now,” she says.