April 18, 2018
Last fall, when she was chosen to model the Victoria Secret’s diamond-and sapphire-encrusted “Champagne Nights Fantasy Bra” at the lingerie brand’s fashion show in Shanghai, Lais Ribeiro became one of the most famous strutters on the planet.

The 27-year-old, who has graced the covers of fashion magazines around the globe, follows in the footsteps of fellow Brazilians Gisele Bündchen and Adriana Lima, who’ve also donned the bejeweled brassieres. (If modeling had a knighthood, this would be it.)

But Ribeiro still has to fight for recognition in her hometown of Miguel Alves — a sleepy municipality of neat stucco houses with terra cotta roofs, deep in Brazil’s hardscrabble northeast.

“Every time I go home, everyone still knows me as Seu Pereira’s granddaughter!” she says with a laugh.

Raimundo Pereira, 87, owns the only general store in Miguel Alves, where Ribeiro used to hand out flyers for fashion shows put on by a friend’s agency. (Ribeiro was deemed too skinny and, at a towering 6 feet, too tall to work the catwalks herself.)

“In that part of Brazil, the preference is for curvy girls,” she tells Alexa. “I started training to be a nurse, but I was a single mother and wanted to earn some extra money.”

In 2009, a year after giving birth to her son and just shy of her 19th birthday, she was discovered by a scout from São Paulo, who whisked her away to New York and Europe. Ribeiro soon found herself walking in shows for Tom Ford, Chanel, Christian Dior and American Eagle. By the time she returned to Brazil in 2011, she was the most sought-after model for fashion weeks in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, starring in 27 shows in São Paulo alone.

But Ribeiro considers Victoria’s Secret, where she’s been modeling since 2015, to be the pinnacle of her career. When she was chosen to wear that coveted bra, worth more than $2 million, she Skyped her family in Brazil.

“I couldn’t stop crying, and they couldn’t stop crying,” she says. “I’d worked for years to wear that bra, and at that moment I saw my entire career pass in front of me.”

In addition to her runway success, Ribeiro is a devoted mom to her 9-year-old son, Alexandre, who lives with her in New York. “He is a very sensitive kid and has a really good heart,” she says. “If he sees a homeless person on the streets, he asks me why we are just walking by and not stopping to help. When you hear this from a child, it forces you to confront certain things as an adult.”

The family — which now includes boyfriend Jared Homan, a professional basketball player (most recently for an Israeli league) — attends church on Sundays and then heads to Berimbau do Brasil on Carmine Street, where Ribeiro indulges in her favorite dishes, such as rice, beans and stroganoff.

“I have to be careful of my metabolism as I age, and before a show I always have a fairly disciplined routine, but I don’t deprive myself on weekends,” she says. “I love the food I grew up with.”

Like his mother, Alexandre speaks Portuguese, and they spend most of their holidays back in Miguel Alves. Ribeiro has a great-grandmother in Brazil who just celebrated her 99th birthday. “We call her the young woman!” Ribeiro says, laughing.

Grateful for her deep roots and her high-profile career, the model says she feels a big responsibility to give back.

“I am a public person, not just in Brazil, but in the whole world, and I want to use whatever notoriety or fame that I have for good,” she says. “Whatever I do, I am always conscious that I could be doing a lot more.”

Her efforts include encouraging young models to stand up to sexual harassment through the #MeToo movement.

“I came to New York to pursue my modeling career as a young mom, and thankfully was given advice to always stick up for myself and tell someone if I felt like something wasn’t quite right,” she recalls. “To the young women who, like me, are just trying to go after their dreams, I would remind them that modeling is a job like any other — they deserve to be treated with a certain level of respect and professionalism at work.”

In Brazil, she’s bravely backing local initiatives for justice. Last month, after the murder of a Rio de Janeiro councilwoman who fought against police brutality, Ribeiro felt compelled to speak out on Instagram. “Revolting,” she wrote (in Portuguese) after the killing of Marielle Franco, a slum activist and single mom, who was gunned down by assailants March 14. “She should inspire a torrential insurgency of feelings and actions and an entire generation of women like her.” Ribeiro shared the post with her 1.6 million Instagram followers.

She’s also an ambassador for Bottletop (founded in conjunction with luxe fashion label Mulberry), which helps artisans in developing countries to craft handbags out of locally sourced materials (like bottle caps, rubber and seeds found in the rainforest). The foundation also funds health care initiatives and skills training for at-risk youth in Africa and Latin America.

“I am really happy to help young women in some of the poorest parts of Brazil. But I want to do a lot more,” says the highly motivated Ribeiro.

Although she has no plans to leave modeling, Ribeiro is eager to add acting to her resume. “I am ready for other challenges — I’m not afraid, and I want to learn.”

As for her time in Miami (which the model frequently visits for shoots), she loves to explore the latest restaurants, boîtes and shops. But she spends most of her free time at the beach.

“I’m Brazilian, after all!” she says. “Brazil will never ever leave me.”

Made in the Jade

We photographed our cover star, Lais Ribeiro, in one of the lavish Sky Villas at the 57-story Jade Signature in Sunny Isles Beach, Miami. Those Sky Villas (available from $14.3 million to $16.5 million) boast 20-foot ceilings in their living areas, private elevators, smart technology, service quarters and PYR-designed bathroom cabinetry. The two-story villas command breathtaking ocean views from oversize terraces, which range from 1,161 to 3,908 square feet.

For those in need of an even more magnificent space, the building’s two full-floor penthouses feature private pools, custom gyms and 360-degree views of the Atlantic Ocean, the Intracoastal Waterway and the Miami city skyline. The five-bedroom, 7.5-bathroom penthouse, on the 55th floor, is priced at $22.3 million, while the upper seven-bedroom, 9.5-bathroom penthouse on the 56th and 57th floors is on the market for $32.9 million.

The Jade — a 192-unit building designed by Pritzker Prize-winning Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron (known for their work at the Tate Modern in London and Peréz Art Museum closer to home) — was developed by husband-and-wife team Edgardo and Ana Cristina Defortuna of Fortune International Group. It offers resort-style amenities, including a free-form swimming pool, secluded cabanas, an oceanfront restaurant, on-demand concierge service and a spa appointed with a sauna, a hammam and a relaxation zone. Ommm.