Chrissy Teigen May Just Be Adweek’s Most Unexpected 2019 Brand Visionary

Rare celeb who can win TV, book, product and endorsement deals with startling candor and stinging clapbacks

Chrissy Teigen
Dress by Elenareva; shoes by Gizeppe Zanotti; vintage belt by Judith Lieber; necklace by Vhernier Photograph by Mike Rosenthal; Styled by Monica Rose, Makeup by Kristine Studden, Hair by Justine Marjan
Headshot of T.L. Stanley

Mass communication is Chrissy Teigen’s lifeblood, with Twitter being her favorite platform (and sometimes weapon) of choice. But the road to social media superstardom has had its potholes, like her July leak of the full premiere episode instead of a brief clip of NBC’s competition show Bring the Funny.

In her patented self-deprecating style, she joked that she’d been fired as a judge for the gaffe: “thank u all for your kind texts and DMs please send job opportunities to same number.”

Other mea culpas in her feed include this 2013 gem: “i am basically the worst person at promo ever hello hi i’m chrissy,” after she had implied that a certain razor was tougher to find in New York City than street drugs. (She was a brand ambassador for the company at the time, and C-suite honchos were not amused). 

Dress by Jonathan Simkhai; earrings by Marco Bichero; rings by Le Vain
Photograph by Mike Rosenthal; styled by Monica Rose, makeup by Kristine Studden; hair by Justine Marjan

“I remember being so anxious about deals back then. I’d ask my team, ‘Do they know how I am? Do they know I’m like this?,” she says about those nascent sponsorship days during a late summer interview at her sleek, contemporary Beverly Hills home, where she’s nursing a stomachache and considering probiotics while sipping LVE rosé (husband-recording artist John Legend’s brand). “I hate disappointing people or letting them down. It’s the worst feeling.”

But she’s not apologizing for a recent high-profile scrap where she shut down the grenade-lobbing social media rant of none other than Donald Trump. (There’s a marked difference, she says, between going rogue and taking a stand.)

POTUS lashed out at Teigen and Legend over an MSNBC town hall (in which she didn’t take part), saying he and other Republicans deserved more credit for passing criminal justice reform (the First Step Act). “Guys like boring musician @johnlegend, and his filthy mouthed wife, are talking now about how great it is—but I didn’t see them around when we needed help getting it passed.”

Teigen responded: “Lol what a pussy ass bitch. tagged everyone but me. an honor, mister president.”

With those three profane, cut-to-the-quick words, Teigen fortified her reputation as queen of the clapback, added to her 11.9 million-strong Twitter following and turned a president’s insult into a rallying cry for every #filthymouthedwife on the planet. That single post garnered 125,000 retweets, 20,000 comments and 800,000 likes inside of two weeks, and lit up the internet with trending hashtags and memes.

As a digital-native millennial, staying silent wasn’t an option, especially since Trump “can’t not attack women at every opportunity,” she says.

“I typed out a million different things. I backspaced,” Teigen says a few weeks later, shortly after the dust had settled. “Do you make a grand statement, or do you go with your gut?”

Ultimately she posted a comment she thought would pierce thin skin, in keeping with the breezy yet biting tone she’s established for various trolls and haters, including the commander in chief.

“Obviously I’m not going to reason with this guy,” she says. “You’ve got to laugh at him and the whole situation.”

All in a day’s work for the self-described “de-motivational speaker” and former “catalog girl” turned multi-hyphenate, a sought-after brand spokeswoman whose every move generates press, from accidentally posting her email address (and taking FaceTime calls from random fans as a result) to scouting grievances for her upcoming Judge Judyesque project on Quibi.

Director: Mike Rosenthal; DP/Editor Brian Henderson

The best-selling cookbook author, TV host and fledgling entrepreneur says she’s often too busy these days for Twitter battles (she’ll make exceptions, of course), but she won’t curate her social presence, come what may from the White House or elsewhere.

“It’s hard for me to be quiet about things because I want to share,” she says, surrounded by her constant companions, a mix of helpers, bulldogs and family members, including 3-year-old daughter Luna, 17-month-old son Miles and her BFF-mother, Vilailuck “Pepper Thai” Teigen. “I feel weird holding back because I feel like I’m being dishonest with people.”

To Teigen, who occupies the highest-paid-model strata with the Jenners and Giseles of this world (estimated net worth: $11.5 million, per Forbes), being opinionated isn’t a calculated move. And perhaps counterintuitive in a landmine-filled climate, it hasn’t dimmed her commercial prospects—in fact, just the opposite. She’s endorsed heavyweights like Procter & Gamble, Samsung and McDonald’s, which latched onto her unvarnished realness, forged alliances with beauty and fashion players and assembled early-stage food and media empires—and for all these reasons, we’re honoring her with Adweek’s 2019 Brand Visionary Award.

A transparency that brands embrace

There’s a charismatic yin and yang to Teigen’s identity: She’s glamorous yet grounded (she’s been called the down-to-earth version of Goop’s Gwyneth Paltrow), posting yacht photos that recall her Sports Illustrated Swimsuit shoots and videos of herself face-planting on a kid’s slide. She has no qualms about doing an interview with me makeup free, wrapped in a bath towel, with Luna streaking through the sun-lit living room after a swim and Miles babbling and toddling toward a sharp-edged coffee table. (Don’t fret—there’s always someone from the tribe there to catch him.)

“She’s a new-world-order personality—she’s Lucy meets Goldie meets Chrissy,” says Casey Patterson, executive producer of Paramount Network’s Lip Sync Battle, which aired its fifth season this summer with Teigen as its “colorful commentator.” “She’s incorruptible. She won’t compromise her place in the world, and she has so much credibility because she’s completely transparent.”

Teigen’s vibe—“bubbly, genuine, hysterically funny”—made her stand apart from the typical runway professionals of a decade ago, says Lisa Benson, vp at IMG Models, who wooed Teigen early in her career to the New York agency that later merged with William Morris Endeavor.

Top by VASKA; pants by Styleland; rings by Le Vian
Photograph by Mike Rosenthal; styled by Monica Rose; makeup by Kristine Studden; hair by Justine Marjan

This story first appeared in the Nov. 4, 2019, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@TLStanleyLA T.L. Stanley is a senior editor at Adweek, where she specializes in consumer trends, cannabis marketing, meat alternatives, pop culture, challenger brands and creativity.
Publish date: November 3, 2019 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT