The Swedish Model

Author image

Lanie Goodman   Contributor

The Swedish Model

Article first published in Forbes Monaco September/October 2020 issue.

Victoria Silvstedt trades in the runway for stock market strategies.

Chances are that you know her face, and perhaps her striking curvaceous figure as well. She has been featured on hundreds and hundreds of magazine covers for over two decades, including Playboy’s Playmate of the Year back in 1997, but that’s not all. Add to that a history of success, starting as a young downhill racing ski champion and beauty pageant winner, as well as a glamorous TV host and pop music singer with two gold singles.

However, if you ask Swedish-born Victoria Silvestedt about how she has built up her still-thriving career, the 45-year-old top model will tell you that nothing was ever planned. “My whole life has been like that—one thing has led to another and I try to make the best out of each situation,” she says with a smile, taking a sip of her citron pressé.

These days, her decision to become a business entrepreneur, she clarifies, was all part of the process of growing, sometimes as the result of previous mistakes.

It is a scorching summer day and we’re sitting on an outdoor terrace, in Monte Carlo where Silvstedt resides about seven months of the year. She has just come from a busy fundraising morning in nearby Fontvieille where she and a small team known as “The Guardian Angels of Monaco” have been selling straw panama hats at a stand outside the Decathlon sports store.

“It’s for a non-profit association and everything goes straight to the homeless in Nice,” she explains. “Every Monday, we drive by all the contributing restaurants with our van—everywhere from the Café de Paris to La Salière—to collect food.” In addition to serving meals, she elaborates, they hand out basic necessities—coffee, water, pasta, bananas, diapers, sleeping bags in the winter, and now gel, for coronavirus. “It’s really a hands-on organization because we deal with these people directly and it’s run by a wonderful Italian lady who started it, Bruna Maule Cassio.”

This may sound like a far cry from Silvstedt’s former glittery days of television fame, when the 5-foot-11-inch tall model pranced across stage in spiky heels and filmy dresses with plunging necklines. There are those who nonetheless recognize her as she dishes out bowls of soup, even with a surgeon's mask and her mane of blonde hair entirely covered. 

But it wasn’t always easy. Silvstedt recalls her early days of her modeling career, when she was 18 and moved to Paris. At the time, she was introduced to another young aspiring model, Melania Knauss, from Slovenia, and they decided to become roommates. “Melania Trump and I were very close,” says Silvstedt. “We had the same goals, we were far from our families and had no other friends, really. She was lovely—very driven, stubborn and serious. Since we’re different types and worked for different agencies, we weren’t in competition for the same jobs. At night, after running around in and out of the metro all day, we’d go out and buy tuna, corn, lettuce and tomato and that was dinner. Then Melania, who was super thin, would say, ‘Oh no, we ate too much. We must run up and down the stairs 15 times!’ ”

In fact, Victoria’s ascent to European celebrity also “came out of the blue,” she says. “In 2006, I was living in New York and I happened to be in Paris on a job. One night, in a restaurant, a man came up to and said, “I’m doing this new TV show, it’s just a pilot”—and he wanted me to come in and try out. I didn’t speak a word of French.”

Landing the role as co-host for Christophe Dechavanne’s popular game show La Roue de Fortune (The Wheel of Fortune) on TF1 from 2006 to 2012 eventually led Silvestedt to other opportunities in film and TV in Italy (La ruota della fortuna from 2007 to 2009), where once again she promptly learned the language.

Now, nearly a decade later, Silvstedt has decided to take hold of the wheel of her own fortune and steer it herself. Becoming well versed in trading and giving talks on stock market strategy has been one of her most recent passions.

“After I got my first big break in America when I was 21 as Playmate of the Year, I signed a contract with Elite models and shortly after landed a huge contract for Guess jeans, and a role in the movie Boat Trip, a 2002 romantic comedy with Roger Moore (also a Monaco resident) and Cuba Gooding Jr. I was working non-stop, putting money in an account with no interest and sometimes got fooled by investors. I was all alone, far from my family, living in LA and later in Paris. In the beginning, I was spending all the money I earned—because you’re living in the now and you’re young,” Silvstedt admits with a rueful smile.

“But then I had a big wake-up call after the financial crash in 2008 and I lost half of my money. I was in shock. Now I’m the one who controls which stocks and bonds that I buy. It became much easier when I became a Monaco resident ten years ago—when you trade here, you don’t have to report the gains, so I was able to build up a great portfolio with the banks. Trading is more exciting than modeling,” she adds with a laugh. “But it’s definitely a man’s world! When I talk to guys they say, ‘Wow Victoria, you really know your stuff!’”

In addition to giving business lectures on stock market investments and bubbles—that is to say, of the financial kind—another recent project has been promoting her own brand of Prosecco, Victoria la Dolce Vita. “When I was in Sweden talking about trading strategies, I was approached by some people who were creating a female- driven company and they really wanted me onboard. It has been three years in the making and it’s taking off internationally.”

Silvstedt also devotes a good deal of time as an ambassador for her latest partnership with a startup company, Base of Sweden, a make-up foundation (“it’s waterproof, it’s vegan and comes in 12 different colors”), that is taking off after only one year of production. “We got a prize for the Best Foundation at the Cosmoprof in Bologna, the world biggest beauty fair,” she says, “and we actually have more orders than we can produce. We’ve already branched out to Scandinavia and Spain, as well as in Asia, and soon, France.”

Has living in Monaco put a different spin on Silvstedt’s daily routine? “I can lead a healthy lifestyle,” she says, “and quietly do my Yoga or Pilates, go hiking or play tennis. I do Instagram almost daily to promote my products and show people how to stay fit after forty.”

And though Silvstedt acknowledges that there may be a few disadvantages (“Okay, there’s a lot of construction!”), she is a strong supporter of Monaco’s green friendly attitude advocated by Prince Albert, which she says is also in her DNA. “In Bollnäs, a tiny village up north in Sweden—I grew up with horses, bicycled to school, and was taught to be respectful of the environment.” She is equally enthusiastic about her involvement with the Princess Charlene Foundation, which organizes events to promote sports and educate children who don’t know how to swim.

“It’s night and day from my former lifestyle,” she continues. “Before I’d decided to live in Monaco, I was based in New York but working all the time in Paris and Rome, like a ping-pong ball between cities with no life. I started coming to Monte Carlo to relax on weekends and a friend of mine told me that I was crazy to pay taxes in America when my all jobs were in Europe. I hated to give up my Green Card, but it was the right thing to do,” she muses. “Now I wake up in the morning and have to pinch myself. The sea view and the beauty of this place is unreal.”

And speaking of beauty—still inextricably entwined with Silvstedt’s promotions, branding and social media image— she is unequivocally frank: “You definitely have to play it up. Use and abuse, as they say! But for me, beauty is really about being a good person. I got my strong discipline and drive from my Swedish upbringing, but my mom is also very spiritual. Even in difficult situations, she will always find the positive side, which is something I’ve hopefully learned from her.”

Author image

Lanie Goodman   Contributor

Born and raised in New York, Lanie Goodman is an arts and travel writer based in the south of France since 1988. She is a contributor to publications such as T-Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Condé Nast Traveller and Departures, and the author of Romantic French Homes . Formerly a Professor of French Literature at CUNY, she teaches courses in journalism and cinema at the SKEMA at  Sophia-Antipolis. Lanie covers arts , travel and lifestyle at Forbes Monaco.