Karlie Kloss, left, at the age of nine with her sister, Kariann, look at flowers at a nursery in Webster Groves, Missouri, in 2001. Right: Karlie is now a 20-year-old international supermodel appearing in runway shows and the pages of top fashion magazines.
How did Karlie Kloss become that rare beauty who is sought for high-fashion and commercial work? Debra D Bass reports
For five years, Karlie Kloss has been one of the most-watched models on international runways. This season, Kloss was even more omnipresent as the face of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York.
Kloss, who was raised in St Louis, stars in the luxury car company’s autumn 2013 advertising campaign, Untamed. It debuted at Berlin’s fashion week. The Berlin edition of The Daily Front Row, the fashion industry’s guilty pleasure newspaper, featured Kloss alone on the cover with the headline: “Fashion Week begins ... with Karlie.”
The announcement of her latest deal is the start of another whirlwind year for the 20-year-old model.
She’s the rare beauty who is sought for high-fashion and commercial work.
Most models are pigeonholed in one category or the other, and their income is restricted accordingly. Commercial work is more lucrative, but any model who says she doesn’t want to be featured in an 18-page spread in Italian Vogue (see Kloss in the December 2011 issue) is kidding herself.
Kloss gets to have it all.
“Yes, it’s completely amazing, and it’s rare that you can do both high-end designer artistic fashion shoots and commercial pop culture stuff,” Kloss said during a phone interview from New York.
It takes a one-in-a-billion collision of genes, personality, style, temperament and management to be a top model. Kloss described herself as 5ft-12 (“I’ll never say 6ft,” she told Vogue when she was 17 and still growing because of the industry taboo of being too tall). She has a 23-inch waist and poses as naturally with cat-eye make-up and a black leather whip as she does with rosy cheeks, pigtails and ruby sneakers.
And she maintains her sweet reputation. Her profile in New York Magazine’s model database sums up her attributes succinctly: “cover girl, established, good girl.”
“Whatever it is, she had it,” her father, Kurt Kloss, explained by phone from upstate New York. “It’s like if we had a son who could throw a 100-mile-per-hour fastball; she has a special gift.” Kurt and his wife, Tracy, said the realisation that their daughter could achieve fashion celebrity status was both exhilarating and terrifying.
The roller coaster began when Karlie was discovered by Jeff and Mary Clarke of Mother Model Management at West County Center in Missouri during a model contest. Karlie was 13 years old and 5ft-7.
The budding ballerina didn’t win the model competition that day, but her distinctive walk and looks caught the Clarkes’ attention. Within a year they placed her with Elite Management in Chicago, then New York. Within another year, the Clarkes took her to Next Models, where she remained until last year. She’s now with IMG Models.
Surprisingly, Karlie Kloss spent an amazing amount of time in her own bed.
When she was home, she went to Webster Groves High School and ate lunch in the cafeteria with friends. Then, usually midweek, she’d fly off to work.
“She’d be back home by Sunday night and back at school Monday morning,” Tracy said. While she was away, she studied and chatted online and by text with her friends. She managed to go to her senior prom, graduate with a 4.0 grade-point average and be a cheerleader her freshman year.
Now she has been signed as a Victoria’s Secret model, co-hosts MTV’s House of Style, and owns a new condo on New York’s Upper West Side, rumoured to cost just under $2mn.
If you don’t already know Karlie Kloss as the world’s No. 2 ranked model according to models.com, a respected industry directory, then this is a good year to become acquainted. She appears destined for No. 1.
Vogue ran a four-page spread in January on her new haircut and declared it the “hairstyle of the year.”
The fashion magazine called the cut “The Chop” — 7 inches of honey blond hair was lopped off — but everyone else is calling it The Karlie. The New York Times and Time magazine’s style section have both concurred that the swingy, chin-length cut (don’t call it a bob) with bangs is indeed the haircut of the moment.
In 2011, Kloss was dubbed the new “Body” by Vogue Italia, an accolade only bestowed on one other model: Elle Macpherson during her heyday. Then in July, Kloss was hailed as “The New Face of Fashion” on the cover of W magazine, one of fashion’s most elite publications.
Last autumn, she sauntered down Victoria’s Secret’s iconic runway in lingerie. She’s a fresh-faced real-life Midwestern cover girl for Teen Vogue and a raven-haired dominatrix in a racy fashion fetish video for a film exhibition.
It is Kloss’ duality that makes her such a coveted commodity.
“It’s all very different, no doubt about it,” she said. “But no matter what it is that you’re wearing or not wearing, you have to have confidence.”
Before she made her first trip to New York, Kloss’ father said that someone pulled him aside and said, “Karlie is going to be the next Kate Moss ... and at that point I really had to look up who Kate Moss was.”
He said that he couldn’t grasp the scope of it all. The first time Kurt saw Karlie on a runway was in Paris. He was in awe.
“She came out in this incredibly, beautiful soft white lighting, and she’s in this white gown, and they were playing this Carpenters song ... and it’s one of the things I’ll never forget,” he said.
“To see your baby and there’s like 3,000 people watching and hundreds of photographers and she just comes out ... it was ... uh ... kind of overwhelming,” Kurt Kloss reminisced. “I was so proud. And at that point I recognised that she had this opportunity ... to be the best in the world at something.”
Her mom said it’s amazing how Karlie handled the lifestyle of an international top model and a Webster Groves, Missouri, high school student.
“Her sisters helped a lot to keep her grounded,” Tracy said of her three other daughters: Kristine, the oldest, and younger twins Kimberly and Kariann.
Kloss now lives with sister Kristine, who has a fashion communications degree from Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri.
When Kloss realised that she wouldn’t be able to travel home to St Louis as often, she asked her family to consider moving closer.
Kurt, an emergency room doctor, ended up moving the family to Goshen, New York, about an hour north of Manhattan.
In spite of a “good girl” mystique, Kloss’ career has not been without its controversies. Her image has been posted on pro-anorexia sites as “thinspiration.” The Native American-inspired headdress she wore during the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show was cut from the televised programme for cultural sensitivity, and the company issued an apology.
An image flaunting her slim, slightly twisted physique in Vogue Italia was criticised for setting a bad example and was removed from its website.
When that only fuelled more controversy, the magazine’s editor apologised for censoring but did not apologise for the image saying, “The picture is beautiful, and that’s all.” The image was suspected of being digitally altered, but it wasn’t.
Ironically, Kloss’ favourite pastime is baking cookies. Her Karlie’s Kookies line includes “The Perfect 10 Kookie,” a collaboration with Christina Tosi, chef and owner of Momofuku Milk Bar in New York. Proceeds from each tin of Karlie’s Kookies benefit the FEED Foundation.
“Regardless of (model) stereotypes, I love to bake and I love delicious cookies,” Kloss said. “You should be able to have a cookie and not sacrifice or feel guilty for eating something delicious. You don’t have to sacrifice taste.”
Kloss has career ambitions beyond modelling.
She wants to go to Harvard, most likely to study business. Kloss told a Berlin tabloid: “I’m 20 years old! I feel fortunate to have an incredible career ... but there is so much more that I want to do with this career and with my life. Harvard at some point is in the plan, but all in good time.” — St Louis Post-Dispatch/MCT