Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Just an hour earlier, over lunch at a neighborhood restaurant in Tribeca, a few blocks from where Karlie has an apartment (though she still calls St. Louis home), I had offered some ideas of what we might do this afternoon. The seventeen-year-old supermodel doesn't walk her first show until tomorrow, and she's taking advantage of the rare day off to hang out with her high school buddy. This is Brittney's first time visiting Karlie in New York and catching a glimpse of her friend's "other life." I had suggested pedicures or shopping, thinking a little pampering would come as a welcome treat. "I kind of "—Karlie hesitated, not wanting to hurt my feelings—"would you want to go to Central Park and make snow angels with us instead?"
It's impossible to open up a magazine these days and not see Karlie Kloss's face in it. Smoldering as a modern-day Lauren Bacall in the Dior ads. The picture of undone cool in the Marc Jacobs Lola fragrance campaign. Her unique ability to morph into different characters has made her one of the most in-demand models in the industry. "She's a chameleon," says Dior designer John Galliano. "She becomes this other creature in front of the lens. She thinks about her role, her pose, her part. She's able to step in front of [photographer] Steven Meisel and all of us and be totally in control and self-assured, delivering pose after perfect pose."
Standing six feet tall with the natural grace of a dancer (she studied ballet for six years before she started modeling), Karlie is a photographer's and designer's dream. She leaps across the page in pictures (quite literally!), and her commanding, gazelle-like walk has made her runway royalty. "She's my lucky closer," says Jason Wu, who has assigned her the coveted finale spot at his show for the past four seasons straight. "She has such presence. You see so many girls who are so young; it's not very often that you find one with Karlie's poise. I don't think we've seen that since the supermodel days." Galliano agrees, "She has a frisson of old-school glamour."
ontrast that with the down-to-earth, unassuming Midwesterner whom you meet off camera, and you begin to see the wonderful contradiction that is Miss Karlie Kloss. "She baked me peanut butter cookies when she came in for her fittings," marvels Alexander Wang. "How sweet is that? At the end of the day," he adds, "even if you're the most beautiful girl in the world, if you make everyone's life miserable, you won't get far. Karlie is a rare balance of beauty and personality."
A DOUBLE LIFE
To say that Karlie Kloss is straddling two worlds would be putting it mildly. On the one hand, she's a typical seventeen-year-old. She's reading F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic The Great Gatsby for her eleventh-grade English class; she drinks hot chocolate, not coffee; and she recently got her driver's license, enthusing, "I cruise around to absolutely nowhere!" On the other, she's the new face of fashion. She logged more than 150,000 airline miles just in the last year, is on a first-name basis with Karl Lagerfeld, and is considered by some of the biggest names in the industry to be the next great American supermodel, a species believed to be on the verge of extinction not too long ago.
"It's ridiculously corny," she says, "but I feel like I have the best of both worlds. I'm able to travel and work with these iconic people in the industry, and then come home to St. Louis, go to school, and see Brittney and my friends in class. I just keep thinking how lucky I am that I haven't had to sacrifice anything." (She's worked out a special arrangement with her school whereby she takes courses online when she's traveling.) When I mention seeing a photo of her reading a book backstage at one of the shows, she laughs and admits that she was doing homework. "I have to show that to my teacher Ms. Brewster!" The hometown response to Karlie's success has been "incredibly supportive," she reports. "Everyone just kind of accepts it," says Brittney. "They've gotten over the shock of 'Oh my God, she's a supermodel!' It's just Karlie."
If you've ever been backstage at a show, you know that the sight of a model solving algebra equations isn't the norm. Parents are also few and far between. You're more likely to spot a boyfriend, and unfortunately, smoking is the favored activity. Karlie is at the opposite end of this spectrum. For one, she's always accompanied by an adult, be it her English teacher, who traveled with her to the Paris couture shows last summer (yes, really), or her uncle Keith, whom Karlie jokingly describes as a "big bodyguard." She adds, "I don't think guys have the nerve to come up to me with him around!" Having a chaperone is important not only to her family but to her. "I need that support," she says. "I don't want to be on my own yet. I'm not ready for that." It also "turns it into a vacation. We explore, visit museums, go out to dinner. It doesn't feel like work."
FINDING MR. RIGHT
THE NEXT CHAPTER
(The full story is in the May 2010 issue of Teen Vogue)