Fame & Fortune: Daisy Fuentes

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It’s hard to imagine that sizzling supermodel Daisy Fuentes could have considered anything other than a cover-girl career. The bronze-skinned Cuban-born MTV veejay-turned-actress, TV host and now clothing designer boasts one of the most coveted looks in print and on screen.

But back in 1985, the yet-to-be-discovered Latin beauty was studying journalism and communication at Bergen Community College in Paramus, N.J. She never finished. Instead, she got a job working in television working part-time as a weather girl. Once she got her foot in the door, she quickly climbed the ranks to evening news reporter.

Born in Havana to Cuban father and Spanish mother, Fuentes fled Cuba with her parents in 1969 at the age of 3. The family left behind everything they owned. They began a new life in Madrid, Spain and lived there for five years, until 8-year-old Daisy and her parents moved to New Jersey.

Fuentes became a household name in the under-25 set and a role model for many young Latinas when she joined the ranks of worldwide Revlon spokesmodels, becoming the corporate giant’s first Latina face. Her lucrative multi-year contract elevated her into an elite group of women that include Cindy Crawford, Halle Berry, and Claudia Schiffer. She has since made appearances on numerous television shows including HBO’s “Dream On”, and “The Larry Sanders Show.” She even became the host of her own talk show on CNBS, “Daisy” and went on to co-host ABC’s “America’s Funniest Home Videos” for two seasons.

These days, Fuentes is busy helping to create her namesake clothing line for Kohl’s department store, with more than 542 stores in 36 states. “I’ve always been interested in fashion,” says Fuentes. She’s even able to look back with wry amusement at some of her early fashion statements. With her new clothing line, says Fuentes, “I want to make pieces that look like a million bucks but are really inexpensive.” Daisy also shares with Kohl’s the goal of supporting children’s charities through The Kohl’s Cares for Kids program that promotes children’s health and education in the communities it serves.

Bankrate: Are you into wearing designer clothing along with your own line?

Daisy Fuentes: I like Christian Dior, and Ralph Lauren, who has a great classic style. I love to blend something really classic from Ralph Lauren with something I picked up at a flea market for $2. I like to have a nice, expensive piece of clothing that I know I’ll have forever with a really inexpensive find that people can’t believe was under $15.

Bankrate: So you like to conserve money sometimes and shop bargain basement?

Daisy Fuentes: Anyone can go into a chic boutique on Madison Avenue and drop thousands of dollars but that doesn’t ensure a well-put-together outfit. I do like shopping at thrift stores and putting together different pieces — maybe a designer piece and one from a thrift store bin or even my own Kohl’s design.

Bankrate: How much influence do you have on the design and quality of your clothing line?

Daisy Fuentes: A lot of input. The one thing I have to offer is my sense of style, my experience throughout the years with fashion, trends and just being in the business. I’m not a kid anymore; I work, I’m busy and I still want to look good. I want to have quality fashion but I don’t want to pay a lot for it.

Bankrate: You didn’t come from a wealthy family. How influential was your upbringing to the woman you are today?

Daisy Fuentes: I remember a photograph of me with my granddad carrying me and a bowl of food because sometimes I would insist that I be fed when the pigs on the farm were fed. That’s a lovely memory I have of my grandfather in Cuba. I think my humble background really does round out who I am and what I’m made of. I know that my first language, Spanish, opened up some doors for me. But I never take for granted what I have been blessed with in my life because I remember where I came from.

Bankrate: What is an expensive indulgence?

Daisy Fuentes: Smoking premium cigars and drinking fine Cognac with my good friends. Since I was a little girl I was surrounded by the cigars that my father and my granddad smoked. I would steal a puff and ask them for details about the cigars.

Bankrate: Do you spend a lot on pampering yourself?

Daisy Fuentes: I get my hair done; I get massages, but I’m not above doing my own nails before heading out to a party. I’m comfortable in sweats, hair in a ponytail and no makeup. Then I don’t look like myself and nobody recognizes me as Daisy Fuentes.

Bankrate: When you started out, it was a different world for Latina performers. Do you think it’s easier or more difficult now?

Daisy Fuentes: The word crossover wasn’t thrown around as much back then, which was a bad thing and good thing — bad because there weren’t that many crossovers to be talked about and good because it wasn’t something you had to think about. You just did it. Now there’s so much attention focused on Latina performers that it does make it a bit more difficult. There isn’t that much room for learning or for mistakes.

Bankrate: You are known for your fashion style and sense but can you remember when you weren’t so chic?

Daisy Fuentes: The entire 1980s. Big hair was in and I had to have the biggest hair. Long nails were in — my nails had to be the longest. When I see pictures of me from that era, I totally laugh at myself. But I’ve always loved to play up the trends and adapt them to me. Not so much now because I’ve learned from so many years of working in this field what really works for me. Now I’ve learned that I still want some element of trend because I want to be modern but it has to mix in with my basic sense of style which now is a bit more classic. I don’t like trashy. I think the worst fashion trend lately is when it went from glam to grunge. I don’t think ugly and dirty is ever in.

Bankrate: What would you say is the sexiest outfit a man can wear and the sexiest a woman can wear?

Daisy Fuentes: I think a man can’t go wrong in a gorgeous tailored suit and I don’t think men wear suits enough. I think men assume suits are for weddings or funerals. For women, the sexiest thing they can wear is a smile because women are sexy no matter what they’re wearing.