Text by Kee | Main photo by Jeff Ip
Jon Kortajarena for Bulgari's Save the Children campaign
Jon Kortajarena at Bulgari's B.Zero1 20th anniversary celebrations
Bulgari's Octo timepiece campaign
Jon Kortajarena

The mould was broken after they created this heartthrob known as Jon Kortajarena. The 33-year-old Bilbao-born model, actor and original clickbait – he is also currently the longest serving spokesperson in the Bulgari household – is the definition of that guy who could sell ice to Eskimos.

It’s not an urban legend that some humans were born to be rare breeds of flawlessness. They are the ones who don’t require any Photoshop or photo-editing filters, and most probably, they don’t even know what Juno and Lo-fi are. Meet them in the flesh and they look like carbon copies of those glossy photos in magazines. Jon Kortajarena is one of those heavenly creatures. Pore through his Instagram feed to observe his just-woken-up candids, all-my-friends-look-beautiful-too group selfies, and random-but-welcomed shots of his naked torso and ass cheeks. Admit it, you would post the same pictures if you were this stock photo-level of beautiful. What is perhaps even more outrageous is that this Spanish model and actor has a heart of gold to match that floppy hair, pretty eyes, and sexy five o’clock shadow. Kortajarena is active in his role as an ambassador for Save the Children and Greenpeace, and even his current pooch was a rescue (yes, he is trying to save the kids, animals, and planet all at once). Currently, the veteran model is in a pretty cushy spot, having scored some decent movie scripts (The Aspern Papers) and recurring roles on television (La verdad), which hasn’t impacted his place in fashion one bit. The favourite of Tom Ford and Olivier Rousteing is still in high demand from labels looking to plaster his sexiness and marketability on their wares, whether they are from fast fashion retailers or big guns like Bulgari.


MANIFESTO: You’ve represented Bulgari for a few years now. Explain your relationship with them.

JON KORTAJARENA: Yes, even if you don’t know much about brands and luxury, you know a big brand like Bulgari. They are known for sophistication and high quality products so I felt so honoured and excited that I get to represent them. I first met the people working for Bulgari in 2015 [about being their ambassador] and they explained the values of the brand to me.

M: Not many people know you were in an Aqua fragrance campaign for Bulgari prior to being an ambassador for their wristwatches. Maybe because you look much younger then?

JK: Yes, I started with that and it went really well for them, so they continued working with me. So, it was working with them on fragrance that they introduced me into the watch world. You know, before watches just looked beautiful but after working with them they taught me what makes a watch special, what the mechanisms are inside, what the goals of watchmaking is for the future, and how special it is to make a watch that is so thin. There is also something about the watches that are very Italian.

M: You’re Spanish, so what connects the both of you?

JK: I think I like how much they push themselves to get to a higher level. I love beauty and this is extremely beautiful and masculine too. I like that their watches are classic and they are something that I can give to my kids in the future. Even my watch has its own community. Yes, it is a piece of luxury but it also has a lot of sentimental value.

M: You speak so passionately about them. Why haven’t they co-branded a wristwatch with you?

JK: We are going to have to talk more about this matter! (Laughs) It needs to happen!

M: What were your first memories of Bulgari?

JK: When I was much younger my first impressions about them was that it was inaccessible but it was extremely sophisticated. I remember when I turned 21 and my mom told me, “Jon, you are now a man and every good man must have a good watch.” And she gave me my first Bulgari watch.

M: Wow, is that a true story?

JK: Yeah! 21 was a long time ago but this a true story! Of course now, Bulgari gives me very sophisticated watches but I still have the one that she bought me because I came from a humble family so even the simplest Bulgari watch was like wow for me.

M: Who did you call first to share the news about Bulgari then?

JK: My mom, obviously. This has happened a lot in my life – maybe it’s the law of attraction – but I started working with brands that I find a connection with even before modelling. Like with Tom Ford, it was the same. I didn’t know about him before but when I was a teen, I saw his work in a magazine and I thought, “I’m going to work with this guy one day!” I have worked with him for six years now – 12 seasons – and now we are friends and it’s been a long relationship. With Bulgari, it is similar. My mom could have bought any watch for me – she didn’t have a lot of money – but she has good taste…

M: You’ve been modelling for roughly 15 years now. Where do you see your career going?

JK: I’m still enjoying that modelling part of my life.

M: Has work in that department slowed down?

JK: I think that when you get more mature, you’re in a good position as a model and you’ve access to more interesting jobs because you can create a relationship with the people you work with. I remember in 2007, I had 10 campaigns. And when I was looking inside a magazine, I saw I had five of my ads in there. But deep inside I didn’t have a strong connection with the brands. It was just another day and another job.

M: But the money was coming in.

JK: Well, now the money is still coming in and it’s better than before. The good thing is, I sign with people like Tom Ford and I sign for a year and a half. It’s similar with Bulgari. I rather be exclusive with certain brands and I think for me as a model that’s more exciting as it’s structured. And anytime spent doing this, it is also time away from my acting career. I’m working a lot as an actor. I just did a movie with Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Vanessa Redgrave called The Aspern Papers and then I have another movie in Barcelona and I’m doing another TV series right now (High Seas).

I think my ambitions are more relaxed and healthier than before. I feel like I’m in a position that I should be grateful about. I’m taking extra steps to feel more productive and to feel happy. I’m trying to be a good human being. I’m doing more charity work now because I need it. I’m nothing; I’m just a small piece of sand in a very big desert. I’m an ambassador for Save the Children and Greenpeace, because those two things to me are important… I feel like a protector.

M: It could be the age talking.

JK: (Laughs) Yes, it could be the age but when I went with Save the Children to Nepal after the earthquake, you really gain perspective. You see the children… it really changed my life and it changed the priority of my values and what’s more meaningful in life. In 2017, I went to Vanuatu with Greenpeace. We were there to talk with the first climate refugees (people who are forced to leave their homes because of local environmental changes). It was overwhelming. They were telling me that they have a style of life and what we are doing is affecting their world. They are located on a little island in the middle of the ocean and I feel we should be listening to them about what we are doing to our planet. And what are we waiting for?

M: On a more superficial topic, you are someone who often finds himself on the annual list of the sexiest people. What does being on these lists mean to you?

JK: (Laughs) Beauty is just someone else’s point of view. I feel very honoured and I think it is fun. But it doesn’t go further than that. Sometimes when I wake up and I look really ugly and my lips are big and my eyes are small. On those days, my friends would come to me and say, “Dude, are you really that guy that this magazine says is the best looking?” They laugh at me. But I really appreciate receiving such admiration from people but I don’t take it too seriously.

M: In Bulgari, the energy is getting younger with the likes of Bella Hadid, Kitty Spencer, and Koki as fellow ambassadors. And you guys have been chosen because of your connection with the next generation. As the oldest in the group alongside Lily Aldridge, do you feel like you share the same energy?

JK: I’m thankful that Bulgari see beyond the superficial and it makes me happy to know that they still think of me and that my personality fits with the brand and that there is still a space for me in this industry. We live in a frivolous world at times.

M: Do you have a daily routine?

JK: It depends. Everyday I’m taking a flight or heading from the hotel to work.

M: Where do you consider home then?

JK: I’m based in London. But home will always be Bilbao. London is a good base for catching flights and acting jobs. I’ve friends there as well. But I’m a big fan of Rome, Paris…

M: You don’t find yourself in Asia very often.

JK: No, it’s crazy. I don’t come to Asia often. I really want to go to Tokyo since I was a kid and I’ve never been. If it is not happening in the next three years for a job, then I’m going to go there for a holiday.

M: Where is your next ideal holiday destination?

JK: I really want to go to Buenos Aires and Egypt. Egypt isn’t the safest place at the moment but life is about risks. The world is upside down but I still want to meet the people who live there.

M: What is the feeling of seeing yourself in a campaign?

JK: I remember early on in modelling, I was in a Versace campaign and I saw it outside Times Square. It was huge. I thought “Wow, this is something very special.” Then, I remember reaching into my pocket and I didn’t have a cent on me. Sometimes – especially in the beginning – you get onto a billboard but it doesn’t mean you are rich because of that.

M: When did you know you have made it in the modelling industry?

JK: I don’t think you can ever feel like you have made it. Life is full of moments but I feel especially grateful to people like Tom Ford, Karl Lagerfeld, and Olivier Rousteing. At different moments of my life, they really taught me so much and they make me feel like I’ve made it on a personal level. They teach me everything about fashion, how to wear a suit, how to treat people. They are smart; they are talented and hard workers and they are so inspiring. My success in this business is a reflection of my success in my personal life. I have a lot of things missing in my life. There are a lot of things I want to do and I know where I want to go in life, and I know how to go about doing it. I feel super lucky because there are a million people more handsome and more talented than I am.

M: What is your life motto?

JK: Be happy. Be free. And don’t break any bones along the way.

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