When somebody recognizes me, I’m always a little shocked—like, Wait, really?” Karlie Kloss says. “Hang on…me?” But the girl, it must be said, is noticeable, waving animatedly from a stool at One Lucky Duck, a raw-food shop in Manhattan’s Chelsea Market, all six feet one inch of her unfolding like an elongated, enchanting dragonfly. Kloss and Joan Smalls have spent the day across the street being photographed by Steven Meisel, and you get the feeling that the two cover models, who together represent the new face of fashion, may just have to get used to being recognized.
Marc Jacobs has named a bag for Kloss. Smalls’s feline frame was immortalized in this year’s Pirelli calendar and in yellow jeans on a giant Calvin Klein billboard above Manhattan’s Houston Street. These are the signs of certified critical-mass appeal, and yet to each, in her own way, it’s all still somehow unexpected.
“Let’s be honest,” says Kloss. “I think it’s the fact that I’m eight inches above the average person walking down the street. I’m somewhat in my own cloud.” At 19, she already knows how to be disarmingly self-deprecating, but yes, let’s be honest, it’s not just her meteorological height that attracts attention. Kloss also happens to have the face of a fairy, with a small constellation of freckles on her right cheek, and the kinetic effervescence of a sprite.
When Kloss was growing up in St. Louis, the discipline of ballet training provided a positive charge for her lightning-bolt limbs. “You learn to control every aspect of your muscles, your face, your toes, your fingernails,” she says. “And that is how you tell a story, through movement.” Her first shoot in New York, at 14, was with Arthur Elgort, who photographed her doing a split on a ballet bar.
She might look like a living line drawing—one encased in custom-made 3x1 pants, the first jeans she’s ever had that actually touch the ground—but it took Kloss a long time to “own it,” she says. “My sisters have always been these gorgeous glamazons, and I’m, like, this tall skinny stick in the family. And I still am the tall girl, even on the runways. Every time I see Karl Lagerfeld, he’s always, like”—she puts on a German accent—“ ‘Karlie, have you stopped growing yet? Are you taller?’ ” She laughs loudly. “It used to be something that I really disliked about myself, being tall and lanky, but it turned out to be the greatest asset I have—how uniquely weird I am.”