If you’ve ever thought, Winnie Harlow seems like the kind of girl who’d be fun to have a few drinks with, let me tell you she definitely is. While we haven’t actually sipped cocktails together in real life (yet?), we did have a fun ki-ki about them over Zoom and it was an absolute vibe.
The fashion model and businesswoman who rose to fame as a contestant on the 21st cycle of America’s Next Top Model in 2014 and became the first model with vitiligo to walk in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show just two years later, recently partnered with SKYY Vodka for the launch of their new flavored offering, SKYY Infusions Espresso. And like many of the Toronto native’s ventures, as she details in our conversation below, the partnership was completely organic.
“So, having my skincare brand, Cay Skin, and espresso martinis being my go-to drink, I made this funny video over the summer making the cay-licious cocktail, which was just a cute little version of an espresso martini,” Harlow explains. “I feel like everybody got wind that that was kind of my zhuzh. So, when SKYY reached out to me, I was really excited because it’s definitely one of my favorites.”
As a loyal vodka soda fan myself, I needed to know more about what I was missing out on when it comes to expresso martinis and all things Harlow, from her holiday plans to holding it down with her beau Kyle Kuzma. Check out our girl chat to see what I found out.
First and foremost, tell me what’s special about SKYY Infusions Espresso.
Winnie Harlow (WH): So, what I love is that it makes it so easy to make an espresso martini. It’s already infused with the amazing coffee flavors, so you get an extra punch. And it also just makes it easier. You can forego a lot of extra ingredients and just make it with three: the vodka, cold brew concentrate or espresso, and simple syrup.
I feel like espresso martinis are an after-dinner drink. What’s your take?
WH: I get that because it has that dessert type vibe, right?
WH: I love that. But I’m more of a savory girl when it comes to eating. So, for my drinks, regardless, I prefer sweet. It doesn’t really have to be an after-dinner thing for me. I can have an espresso martini where I’m chilling at home. I can have it at a party, vibing, too.
Okay, so tell me your go-to cocktails for each of these scenarios:
WH: Mimosa, I mean, of course. But you know what? With a mimosa, I think I would mix it up and add some more juices and make it tropical. So maybe a fruit punch or an orange, mango, pineapple mimosa. I just made that up, but I think it sounds good.
Poolside on vacation?
WH: Ooh, this one is one where I think I could have an espresso martini. And, you know what? It depends on where I’m at, because if I’m South of France, I might want a little martini glass to be cute. But being a Caribbean Island girl, I might do a Jamaican rum punch or a Sorrel drink. But, if I’m on vacation out here in LA or if I go to Miami, I don’t know, there’s just something about that nice, creamy coffee foam. I just love an espresso martini.
I feel like it could be good for Christmas too.
WH: Definitely. For sure.
The holidays are coming up. Are you big on dressing up for Halloween?
I am and, actually, I wasn’t for a long time, just because my family didn’t play that. But, as an adult, and getting invited to Halloween parties by my peers and stuff, I started taking it seriously. The first year I dressed up, maybe five or six years ago, I did RuPaul, and I got my first Mac campaign through that. So, ever since then, it’s been so iconic to me that a project that I worked on and produced myself could gain so much attention. It was really rewarding for me to work on something myself, shooting for people year-round, and for the first time ever, just doing my own thing, hiring the people I wanted to, and shooting the looks I wanted to shoot, and communicating with everyone on hair, makeup, the designs for clothing, everything. It was really fun for me. So, I definitely take it pretty serious now.
What about Thanksgiving? It was actually just last Monday, the 9th, in Canada, right?
WH: It was. Funny enough, I’m so used to the American calendar now, I actually didn’t remember. My mom messaged me, “Happy Thanksgiving.” I was like, “Oh my goodness. I am so sorry.” I’m here waiting for November now. But if I do have time around this time of year, I do go back. Last year for Thanksgiving, I went back to Toronto for theirs.
Was Thanksgiving a big deal growing up there the way it is in the U.S.?
WH: Yeah, definitely. And being from a Caribbean background family, we definitely still would have ham and stuff like that, but we’re not big on Turkey. We’d rather have some oxtail on the table, some jerk chicken, some curry goat. We’re going to have those type of things for Thanksgiving. But we’ll have the ham, the mac and cheese, and all that good stuff too.
Now, are you big on cooking?
WH: I’m more of a baker myself. I was actually just talking about this recently. I feel like, for me, I’m not a stay-in-the-kitchen type of person. I’m a, ooh, have fun, mix things together, put it in the oven, and come back to it girl. I don’t want to stand over the stove until a meal is done. So, if I have a 30-minute period where I can just pop something into the oven, and then boom, weigh out everything, measure everything out perfectly, and add my own little two cents to it, I’ll do that. One thing that I did make when I was living back home with my mom that she taught me to make was oxtail.
Nice. Now, what cocktail are you pairing with your oxtail?
WH: Ooh, with the oxtail? Okay. So, it depends. Are we talking Thanksgiving?
Yeah, let’s do Thanksgiving.
WH: I would say, like you said, the espresso martini is such a holiday drink so that is a good one to have for the holidays. I’m even excited to try and experiment with it. Like what if I put a little eggnog in there? How does that taste? You know what I mean? I want to see what other types of concoctions I could create. We have a lot of amazing drinks and stuff in the islands, like Sorrel, which is a really big Christmas drink for us. We have peanut punch, which has all these types of flavors that I think would complement Infusions Espresso as well.
Being in a relationship, how do you navigate each other’s crazy schedules during the holiday times?
WH: You know what? It’s actually not that crazy, only because he’s in the NBA. So, it’s like we’re wherever he’s playing. You know what I mean? I think at the beginning it was tricky because it’s like, okay, we just started talking. Do I spend the holiday with you? Or do I go home to my family? But I think even from that first year, especially being in the pandemic, I think it became easy, only because that first year he couldn’t go home. The bubble had come into play, and I didn’t want him to be by himself for Christmas. I felt it was a little selfish that I could go home, and he couldn’t be with his family. So, I just made the choice to be like, yeah, I’ll stay with you, even though, I technically was just with the dog all day, because he had to play basketball. But at least he could come home, and we cooked late at night, made mac and cheese. So, it was good. And I got really good gifts as well. So, I think it was worth staying—for the love and the gifts of it.
Amen. I love the story of how you got together and your decision to move to LA to be with him. Like, you know what? I’m going to take a leap. Would you recommend other women do the same?
Yeah, going all in, moving, taking a chance.
WH: Here’s my thing, right? I feel like people should do whatever makes them happy. I don’t think you should take my lead. Also, my choice was a little easier to make because we were in the pandemic, we had nothing to do. So, I think that the timing that we are in, and before the pandemic and now, you do have to focus on your goals in life as well as making space for other people that you love, their places in life, and supporting them, but also supporting yourself and feeling supported by the people around you. So, whatever feels like the best choice for you, if you feel like you can make that leap to support someone and feel like it’s going to be reciprocated, by all means. But it’s you and God first.
It was so funny when everyone saw the Usher concert moment, they were like, “Oh my God, I wouldn’t care if I had a man if Usher was in my face.” What did Kyle say after that whole thing?
WH: So, it’s pretty funny with this whole story, right? Obviously, we had all seen what had gone on with Keke, right, the first time around when she went. My take on it is she didn’t do nothing wrong. First of all, the whole conversation was about her outfit, and I feel like she looked great. But it made me think, maybe I want to know what my man would want me to do in that situation if he’s right there. You know what I’m saying?
So obviously, we’re out there, and he was just like, “Yeah, I don’t know if I want you dancing or whatever. I’m sitting right there. I’m like, “Yeah. No, I completely get that.” I have a different opinion for myself. Like if we went to the Beyoncé concert and Beyoncé wanted to give him a lap dance, I would beat his butt if he was not running to stage expeditiously. I would carry him up there. But, again, it’s whatever works for you. I feel like people took that as me taking a jab to somebody else, and it’s really not. It’s whatever makes your own household happy. You can’t really care about what other people think or other people’s opinion. All I know is that my man was happy.
WH: And that’s what matters. And Usher is a friend of mine as well. So, it’s perfectly fine. No shade, no tea. And I’m obsessed with Keke Palmer. So, you just got to make choices for what you feel would make you happy. That’s it.
Period. Well, what else is coming up for you?
WH: Cay Skin is available at Sephora and online at cayskin.com and sephora.com. I’m really proud of the brand’s growth, and so excited to see the new things that we have coming next year, the new launches that we have to drop. So, definitely stay tuned for that.
I actually just got a sample in the mail, and I love it. It really blends into the skin nicely.
WH: Thank you. That was my goal. When it comes to SPF, I wanted to make sure that I was creating SPF that everybody could use. And, that goes for all skin tones, types, conditions. Obviously, not only am I a Black woman, but I also have vitiligo. And so, I wanted to be fully aware of the fact that SPF doesn’t work for every skin tone. And, I’ve also had problems with SPF being that, having vitiligo, I have to protect my skin as much as everybody else needs to protect their skin too. So, it was just really important for me to create a brand that is very true to me.
I feel like a lot of times people get very wary of celebrity brands. And what I wanted to do, especially for the first brand that I ever created, was make sure that it was something that I was completely passionate about. With VC fundraising and when I have to go and talk to people, and do this stuff for myself, it’s one of those things where you become an adult and you realize we’re just kids that are grown. You’re thrown into these new worlds sometimes in business or whatever job that you go forth in, and it feels like the first time you took a bus or rode the subway. So, it was a new world for me and I’m really proud at the growth of the business and me as a businesswoman as well.