This year is turning out to be a busy one for Lorraine Downes. She's launching her memoir, Life, Loss, Love – an honest retelling of her well-publicised personal highs and lows, from being crowned Miss Universe at the age of 19 to the untimely death of her soulmate, Martin Crowe – while in the midst of putting the finishing touches to her newly renovated home on Auckland's North Shore.
It's surely an emotional time in her life – but you'd never perceive this on the day Simply You photographs her for its cover, on location at an art-filled private residence the crew is calling home for the day. Sharing a laugh with her team and doing whatever it takes to get the perfect shot, she's the composed centre of the shoot as everyone rushes around her. At 53 and with a calm confidence, she's a true professional who can outshine any younger model.
Of course, Downes is no stranger to being the focus of attention. From her divorce from All Black Murray Mexted, with whom she has two children, to the devastating loss of her second husband – beloved Black Caps batsman Martin Crowe whom she cared for as his primary caregiver for the four years following his lymphoma diagnosis – she's used to the public watching every step. "Naturally, there are times when you don't want to have your life shared with strangers," she says. "But it is something I have just learned to live with, and I accept it for what it is."
When you live your life in the spotlight, you need somewhere to get away from it all. Fittingly, Downes' new home (not pictured here) is inspired by Balinese retreats – the Indonesian island captured her imagination after she spent time there enjoying the nurturing natural landscapes and welcoming, friendly culture.
Her aim with her new home was to capture a serene Balinese feel through a colour palette of white walls and dark floors. Natural fabrics and a few décor pieces she picked up while over there have ensured the house both looks and feels comfortable and authentic.
White flowers are a favourite accessory and greenhouse plants fit the tropical brief. Scent is also very important to enhance the sense of relaxation she wishes to nurture. Calling herself the "queen of candles", Downes burns soy candles and is always on the hunt for new diffusers. "I hope my visitors leave feeling like they have rested a little," she says, before catching herself. "There's one exception to that, as my close friends know. I love turning up the music and dancing in the evenings!"
Hooked on the Argentinian tango since her winning turn on New Zealand's Dancing with the Stars in 2006, she dances once a week. Last year, she even went to Buenos Aires and spent three weeks studying the tango. "I love it because it is a dance which is ageless and you don't have to have a partner. You can dance tango anywhere in the world."
A life member of Les Mills ("since 1983!"), Downes has a stamina that belies her slight figure. Her workout regime also includes a walk for 45 minutes most days, and a weekly yoga session and spin class. After her walks, she tries to fit in a few sit-ups and push-ups.
While she's more than happy to be draped in statement gold jewellery and strut in impossibly high heels for Simply You, she admits to being more of a jeans person for day-to-day. Downes' favourite outfit at the moment is a pair of white frayed jeans paired with an oversized white cotton shirt. She's currently coveting monochromatic looks with a mixture of textures. "I love natural fabrics against my skin," she says. "I feel comfortable in a simple colourway of white, black, navy, and every now and then I will wear colour, such as fuchsia."
Leaning back in a smooth-to-stroke velvet armchair from Studio Italia during the photo shoot, she looks the picture of contentment and ease. Holding this particular pose for more than an hour, however, is much more gruelling than it looks.
To read the full-interview with Lorraine Downes, including more details on her gorgeous new home, favourite fashion finds and beauty and wellness secrets, pick up a copy of the new look Simply You today