It was a few days after New York Fashion Week, and Emily Ratajkowski was at the Gemma restaurant on the Bowery in New York, huddled over a pot of chamomile tea and nursing a cold.
The past week had been a blur of late-night parties for brands like Barneys and Calvin Klein, modeling castings and film auditions. That night, she was confirmed to attend a party for YPlan, a new night-life app.
“You do what you have to. It pays the rent,” said Ratajkowski, 22, who despite her cold showed plenty of skin in leather short shorts and a black low-cut top.
On top of all that, word had recently gotten out that Ratajkowski had landed a supporting role opposite Ben Affleck in Gone Girl, a new David Fincher film.
At this point, you may be wondering: Who is Ratajkowski?
Fans of this summer’s hit song Blurred Lines may recognize her as one of three scantily-clad young women in the music video. She is the bosomy, doe-eyed brunette seen cuddling in bed with Robin Thicke. She appears naked, except for a nude-colored thong and a pair of clunky white sneakers, in a NSFW version of the video.
Rather than become a pop cultural footnote, she has parlayed her notoriety and fame (the video has garnered more than 206 million views on Vevo) into her lifelong dream of becoming an actress.
“I’m not worried about nudity,” she said. But “I’d rather play a complex character who has a love scene than a stupid girl who’s just a girl next door.”
She has met with studio executives and has been offered roles in movies and television shows, but her manager, Evan Hainey of Untitled Entertainment, who has worked with Lindsay Lohan and other young actresses, is grooming her for something bigger.
“There’s been a lot of great offers, but you have to wait for the better one,” Ratajkowski said.
Now, instead of being perceived as a catalog model (she has posed for Nordstrom and Kohl’s since she was a teenager, and scored a few lucrative commercial roles recently for Carl’s Jr. and Nikon), she has become a minor celebrity. Recently, she beat out Jennifer Lawrence in Esquire.com’s first Woman of the Year Award.
“All of a sudden, Hollywood, all of these producers, were like ‘You’re an actress,’ ” she said.
The fashion world also came calling. She appears in a new ad campaign for Rag & Bone. An executive at Tom Ford discussed potential campaigns. In late July, while in Paris for model castings, she met Karl Lagerfeld through the fashion editor Stephen Gan, who introduced her to Carine Roitfeld. Roitfeld would book her for the latest issue of CR Fashion Book, including one of the two covers and an inside spread.
That Ratajkowski would appear topless in some of the photos may come as little surprise. Born in London, she was raised in a permissive household where “Mom was topless on the beach every summer in Majorca,” she said.
When Ratajkowski was 5, her family moved to and around California, where her mother, Kathleen Balgley, was an English professor at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. Her father, John Ratajkowski, worked as a painter, specializing in abstract impressionism and portraiture, and later as an art teacher at her high school, San Dieguito Academy in Encinitas.
By 13, Ratajkowski was a young beauty who was catching the eye of modeling scouts. Yet, whenever modeling agents would approach, “my mom would snap back, ‘She’s going to be a brain surgeon,’ ” she said.
But the opportunity proved too tempting. At 14, she signed with Ford models as a way to get into acting. She would model once or twice a month while getting small television roles, including a stint on iCarly. But she soured on the television industry because of its typecasting.
“I was so tired of auditioning for the bitchy girl in high school,” she said.
In 2009, she enrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles, but left a year later to pursue modeling full-time.
“I started to have the opportunity to travel,” she said.
Her breakout moment came in 2011 when she posed for a pictorial in Treats, a new high-minded erotica magazine based in Los Angeles.
“No one really took much notice of her until she got in front of the camera,” said Steve Shaw, the magazine’s founder, who said that “she had something that was captivating.”
Shaw would feature her three more times, most notably last year for the cover of the third issue. That cover, an artfully composed black-and-white photograph of Ratajkowski sitting completely nude with her knees tucked to her chest, caught the attention of Robin Thicke, who showed it to his video director, Diane Martel.
“She looked smart and stunningly beautiful,” Martel said.
Martel contacted Ratajkowski’s agent about getting the model to appear in the video for Blurred Lines, but was initially turned down.
“I didn’t want to get pigeonholed into doing music videos,” Ratajkowski said. (She was also in the Maroon 5 video for Love Somebody.)
She was persuaded after meeting with Martel and hearing her vision for the video.
“The attitude was silly and playful,” Ratajkowski said. “There isn’t this taking yourself seriously and trying to be sexy.”
But whatever visibility Treats has given her, Ratajkowski seems to have outgrown a certain willingness to take it all off. She will not be doing any more shoots with the magazine, she said. Ratajkowski, who recently moved to the East Village from Los Angeles, has greater ambitions.
“So whether I’m talking about a perfume, a movie or an editorial, there’s always a part of it that’s about me but an equal part that’s about the project,” she said. “I want to be a brand.”