Magazine: Lucky Magazine (October 2014)
Title: A View From The Top
Photographed by: Paola Kudacki
Styled by: Karen Kaiser
It’s one of those late summer days in New York City when the humidity index lingers horrifyingly around 90 percent and the air feels like hot corn syrup. Karlie Kloss is in downtown Manhattan at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge—and so am I—but although we have both apparently arrived at our agreed-upon meeting place, it is proving impossible to find each other. Around 7,000 people cross the bridge each day, and a large portion of them have seemingly chosen this moment to clog the entrance. Rush hour is kicking into gear, vendors are hawking bottled water and fit-looking European tourists are zooming past on Citi Bikes. Finally a recognizable blond head appears six inches above the crowd, scanning the terrain. We spot each other and wave frantically. Karlie!
The plan is to stroll over the bridge, stop for ice cream and walk along the promenade until it gets dark or starts raining, whichever comes first. But it looks like we’ve wandered into hostile territory, because after exchanging hellos, Kloss says, “I’m afraid we’ve got company.” A good quarter of the surrounding people are not civilians but paparazzi, and they are hoisting video cameras overhead and snap-snap-snapping away at their target.
“Time for plan B,” Kloss says. “We’ll jump in a cab and go straight to ice cream.” We race over to the corner of Centre and Chambers, where, she reasons mid-stride, it’ll be easier to get a cab. The photographers follow in a loose, undulating pack on all sides, which feels like a combination of playing dodgeball in third grade and having that nightmare where you’re naked in public. But Kloss just smiles, hails a cab, apologizes 10 times and explains that the paparazzi chaos isn’t usual. “The thing is, I just had lunch with Taylor,” she says (see if you can guess which one), “and that’s where it got a little intense.” After hugging her best friend Ms. Swift goodbye in Tribeca, Kloss hopped on the subway and was trailed downtown, where she was photographed waiting patiently on a bench and then searching for me in pictures that popped up online exactly two hours later. But for now, we’re safe in an icebox-cold cab, hurtling across the East River to an ice cream joint for sanctuary. “Isn’t it crazy?” Kloss says.
Her skin and hair are golden, her Theory tee is ash-colored, her Ann Demeulemeester sandals are gray, and her skinny jeans—from the Forever Karlie collection she designed with Frame Denim—are white and very, very lengthy, all the better to suit her 6’ 1″ self. (The line is geared specifically toward tall girls.) The collaboration is just one of a handful that the Chicago-born and St. Louis–raised 22-year-old has launched over the past couple of years, along with her cookie partnership and sunglasses with Warby Parker. “I’m absolutely an entrepreneur at heart,” she says.
But she’s still very much a model, too, and one with an admirably diversified portfolio: a Victoria’s Secret Angel since 2013 (she’s the youngest member of the pack), the first face of Chanel’s Coco Noir fragrance, a zillion magazine covers, a Nike campaign and regular appearances on runways from Isabel Marant to Oscar de la Renta. When she chopped her hair into a swingy chin-length bob in 2012, the event was newsworthy enough to warrant an 800-word article in The New York Times. “Supermodel” is definitely the appropriate term here.
At The Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, mercifully, she’s left in peace: The median age in the room is 10 years old and even Kloss can’t divert attention from the prospect of banana splits. She gets in line and samples a couple of ice cream flavors, orders two scoops of coffee and chocolate chunk, asks the guy in front of her what flavor he ordered because it looks good, and then begins to regret her own order before rationalizing that we can always come back for seconds. Outside, the sky has turned an ominous yellowy-purple, but Kloss is prepared: “A five-dollar umbrella from the deli is a classic accessory—the most important accessory I can possibly walk out of the house with,” she declares, retrieving the item from a black Dolce & Gabbana Sicily bag (customized with a brass ‘for karlie’ nameplate from the designers).
Like many models’ careers, hers began with a fluke: A family friend asked Kloss, at the time a lanky sixth-grader, to participate in a fundraising fashion show where a scout happened to be in the audience. The rapid acceleration that followed—crack-of-dawn flights to New York, shoots with Steven Meisel, runway appearances at Calvin Klein—was a sharp contrast to Kloss’ normal schedule of ballet, homework and hanging out with her three sisters. “The night before photo shoots, I wasn’t going out to dinner or partying, so to pass the time, I’d make cookies with my red KitchenAid mixer,” says Kloss—an activity not exactly typical of many models. “It was my therapeutic evening routine. I was convinced that the only reason I kept getting booked for jobs was because I brought fresh-baked cookies with me.”
After a few years of this, Vogue creative director Grace Coddington pulled her aside and said, “Karlie, you have to do something with this. Fashion’s Night Out is coming up—maybe you can do a food truck.” (“Smart Grace!” Kloss says.) Soon after, she and Momofuku Milk Bar chef/owner Christina Tosi developed Karlie’s Kookies, which would marry Tosi’s Willy Wonka affinities with Kloss’ interest in nutrition. Her Perfect 10 Kookie—a hearty chocolate-chip-studded morsel—doubles as Kloss’ breakfast of choice. “It’s like having a little bit of oatmeal, a handful of almonds, a little sweetness,” she says. A far cry, to be sure, from the cookies she was raised on: “Growing up in the Midwest, I was never even aware of nutrition. Nobody was! I was a stick my entire life—a tall, skinny beanpole—and it didn’t matter if I ate candy for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Kloss says. “It wasn’t until I moved to New York that I realized food could not only taste good, but change how you feel.”
Off duty, Kloss’ style is ladylike but unsnobbish: floral rompers by Reformation, Repetto leather flats, crisp oxford shirts and simple black sweaters paired with twinkly diamond stud earrings. (She’s a fan of New York’s Citi Bike program, and her personal style seems ready-made for a spontaneous ride.) As someone who grew up wearing Limited Too shirts and Gap hand-me-downs, Kloss finds a princessy novelty in donning gold-lamé cloque and feather embroidery: “I remember the very first time I modeled for Marni. They gave me a voucher to spend at the store in Milan—everything was so beautiful, so expensive. I didn’t know where to start!”
The thrill of transformation has yet to wear off. After being mildly traumatized by an adolescent haircoloring incident (red dye, photo shoot), she was recently asked to lighten the ends of her sandy brown locks—and, for the first time in five years, agreed. “I thought, Yeah! Why not? Live a little. I can always dye it back,” Kloss says. “I sat down in the chair, and when I left I was completely blond.”
After the shock dissolved, she was into it: “Playing with your color or cut immediately changes how you dress, how you act, how you feel. It sounds a bit dramatic, but it’s the easiest way to transform yourself.” Besides, bleaching her (head) hair is way more fun than bleaching her eyebrows for shoots, which always makes it hard for her to look in the mirror without laughing. “Having your eyebrows bleached is … indescribable. It’s almost like your features are wiped away,” Kloss says. “The entire feng shui of your face is thrown off. Especially because I’m so expressive with my eyebrows—I feel incomplete.”
By necessity, Kloss has become an expert at life-hacking her time in the makeup chair: She books flights, reads, talks to her mom on the phone, taps out e-mails. “I’m more productive in the hair and makeup chair than anywhere else,” she muses. “Partly because I can’t move.” Another skill at which she’s attained black-belt status? Traveling. “I love a flight where there’s no Wi-Fi, no distractions. My ability to sleep on airplanes is my proudest skill.” For drifting off, Kloss has hammered out a surefire strategy: “I always bring an eye mask and an extra pair of socks in my purse, and I put them on before we take off. I get a window seat, and I take my six-plus feet of limbs and curl up into a ball.” A black Moleskine notebook filled with graph paper is always tucked into her bag for taking notes, organizing thoughts and writing down ideas for businesses. “I have a lot I want to do in the next five years,” Kloss says. “I keep my notebooks under lock and key because I don’t want anyone to know the things that go through my brain!”
While her brainstorming is done the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper, Kloss is ahead of the pack when it comes to social media. (Over a million followers click on her Instagram to watch her study on the Harvard campus, eat apple slices with crunchy peanut butter, doodle karlie <3 taylor in the sand at Big Sur and give designer Azzedine Alaïa a hug in Paris.) “Growing up, I never spent much time online. It wasn’t the way I was wired. But I’ve become much more savvy—and not just me, but the whole world.” (She gives Lucky’s editor Eva Chen credit for teaching her how to tweet—a lesson that took place years ago backstage at Jason Wu.) Our ice cream is long gone by the time thunder begins roiling above the Brooklyn Bridge, and Kloss is a quick draw with her deli umbrella. A taxi is flagged and Kloss jumps in so she can continue to the next item on her agenda: “Taylor and I are going to cook dinner tonight—it’s our girl’s day today.” She insists on giving me a ride home and then, when I refuse (it’s ridiculously out of her way), sticks her arm out the cab door to pass off the deli umbrella, so I can stay dry for the 30 seconds it takes until another taxi comes along. “But you’ll need this!” I yell as the cab rolls away, and Kloss makes a pssh face. “It’s only five dollars,” she calls back. “And such good karma!”