It’s no surprise for a model to say she’s having a “busy week” at the end of August, when New York Fashion Week castings are happening and the rest of Fashion Month is fast approaching, but on a recent afternoon that found her curled up in a corner of a WeWork in New York City, Karlie Kloss was having a particularly busy end of summer: She’d just wrapped week one as a camp counselor, coaching the 40 girls enrolled in just one of the 15 free summer programs happening around the country that she organized this summer as part of Kode with Klossy—the coding scholarship program for girls that the supermodel runs in her little to no free time.
It’s spearheading this extracurricular—a descriptor that may seem like an understatement but is in fact literally what it is, given that Kloss is not only a model currently gearing up for the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, but also a student currently enrolled at New York University—that makes what one might call Kloss an extraordinary woman—which is exactly what the luxury leather brand Cole Haan anointed her when it put her at the center of its Extraordinary Women, Extraordinary Stories fall 2017 campaign, out today.
Most importantly to Kloss, though, she’s not alone in the ads: She’s costarring with none other than Christy Turlington, her supermodel predecessor whom at this point she’s been idolizing for at least a decade—and whom, just like the campaign’s photographer, aka the “force” that is Cass Bird, has brought Kloss plenty of laughter and tears along the way of their working (and definitely not working-related) relationship. With the fall semester—and of course Fashion Week—fast approaching, Kloss took a break to talk how she got so close with another extraordinary woman in her life, Jourdan Dunn; how Turlington ended up going from her idol to the one writing her letter of recommendation for N.Y.U.; and how she, like any other human, feels insecure and intimidated “all the time”—and yet still gets it all done.
You have a relationship with Christy Turlington outside of modeling, but had you ever actually gotten in front of the camera with her before this campaign?
It’s funny, I don’t think we’ve ever done a photo shoot before—definitely not a campaign—so it was really special when I first heard about this. I was so excited about Cole Haan’s idea as a whole about extraordinary women and immediately wanted to be involved—but I also wanted any excuse to hang out with Christy. [Laughs.] Obviously in her career and in fashion, she’s a living icon, but being on set with her, I definitely understand why she’s the definition of a supermodel—even though I feel like we chatted and caught up the entire day, so it definitely did not feel like work. She’s flawless and beyond beautiful, but she just has this grace and this presence and this strength that she brings to set. And off-set, she’s obviously an extraordinary human being, a mother, a friend, a philanthropist—really just extraordinary in every facet of her life.
How did you end up getting close with one of your idols?
Christy Turlington is, you know, one of the defining supermodels of our time, and I really just admired her from a distance, long before I even was a model myself. And then when I started my career and got into the industry, I really wanted to learn about the careers of the women who had come before me, and I found in my research Christy’s images were just so elegant and so timeless—and as I learned more and more about her as a person, beyond just her as a supermodel, I grew this tremendous respect and admiration for what she used her voice and career and platform to do—really meaningful work she was really passionate about, and that defied the rules every step of the way. It was around the time she’d produced and directed No Woman No Cry, her documentary [about pregnant women who die to improper healthcare], and it made me realize that Wow, this job as a supermodel—it doesn’t just stop there. Long before she started Every Mother Counts [her nonprofit that provides mothers around the world access to maternity care], she also went to school. I’ve really taken so much note from her journey and the way that she’s lived her life—and all that was long before I met her.
And then, I think I was probably around 16 when Donna Karan invited me over one day. I’d probably been working with Donna for two years, and somehow she found out how obsessed I was with Christy, and she invited me to come to Urban Zen on a day when Christy was doing a photo shoot there. I walked in and didn’t know I was going to meet her, and I was totally—I had this out of body experience that’s never happened before and it’s never happened since, but I basically just burst into tears, out of shock of meeting this woman I’d really admired so much from a distance and knew so much about. In person, her elegance and her grace were just so striking—I think that’s why I burst into tears. [Laughs.] I think she thought I was a little crazy.
How did she react?
She just laughed at me. She found it amusing. Hopefully she doesn’t hold it against me, but I really did have a major fan girl moment.
I don’t think you have too much to worry about, given that she still wrote your college letter of recommendation—and told the New York Times it was all about her “crush” on you. How did that end up happening?
So—hopefully—eventually she realized I wasn’t a crazy stalker, and that I was someone who really admired her and had aspirations to continue my modeling career but also it with my balance my education—that I had ambitions to go against the grain and against the rules in the same way that she did, and kind of march to the beat of my own drum. So she told me about N.Y.U. and Gallatin [School of Individualized Study] and the program that she was a part of, and basically she was the one that proved that you could go back to school and that it could be done—that you could have it all. She balanced her career and education, and has gone on to continue to do extraordinary things and has paved the way.
I know bursting into tears was a one-time occasion, but in one of the videos for this campaign, you touch briefly on how you feel intimidated “all the time.” How have you been able to balance those feelings with such a successful career?
What I meant by saying that is that I am human, and I am a 6’2” or 6’-something human who has insecurities and flaws and fears and anxiety just like everybody else. It’s funny, I think people forget—including, you know, even probably myself, when I had my fangirl moment for Christy: I had idolized her so much from a distance and found her so beautiful and extraordinary just by learning about her story that I put her up on this pedestal. And the more that I got to know her as a woman, as a human, as a mother, as a friend, I did find her to be more and more beautiful, but in a realer and rawer way. For me, that’s what I mean by saying I feel insecure all the time: I’m lucky to have a day job where I get to be a super confident supermodel and put a face on for the world, but at the same time, I’m a 25-year-old girl figuring out life like everybody else. But I think the important thing to learn—and this is something that I feel lucky to have strong women like Christy to learn from—is that you can’t be paralyzed by those insecurities. You have to recognize them, and it’s important to feel them—they can be humbling and keep you grounded and keep you human—but you can’t be paralyzed by those fears and insecurities and feeling inadequate.
Who are some women you consider extraordinary, whether that you know personally or admire from afar?
Well, in my personal life, my gram, who’s no longer alive—she was my mom’s mom and truly extraordinary; she lived through World War I and World War II and some of the most tumultuous times in the last 100 years, but she was so strong and so gentle and so kind. And I have lots of friends I’ve gotten really close to over the last 10 years [while modeling], like Jourdan Dunn—we met backstage at Prada six months into both of our careers, and we’ve been very close friends and in each other’s support system through a lot of these experiences ever since. Those strong relationships with women in your life, whether you’re related to them by blood or not—the family you’re born into or the family that you make—shape the person that you become, or at least they have for me. Christy’s definitely one of them, too.
Empowering women is of course a large part of Kode with Klossy, but as a public figure, do you feel compelled to do so in other ways, too, especially in today’s political climate?
Yeah—I think in the world today, now more than ever, it’s important to be educated and informed on what’s happening and how you can play a role and how you can contribute and stand up for what you believe in. And no voice is too small; no act is too small. I think for me, why I care so much about investing in girls’s and women’s education is that the girls in our coding camps are the future leaders of tomorrow, of whatever industry they choose to go into. Education, for me at least, has been one of the most empowering things—to continue my education, to keep learning and challenging myself, whether in a traditional environment or not. It makes me feel more fulfilled and stronger as an individual, and it’s now more important than ever to be informed and educated and empowered.
Are you going back to school this fall?
Yeah, I’m getting ready. But I’m still in denial that summer’s over.
I loved your Cindy Crawford sweatshirt on your first day of freshman year. Do you have any other back-to-school looks up your sleeve?
She’s another extraordinary woman. I definitely need to do my back to school shopping, but I love sweater weather, I love cozy jumpers and great jeans and boots—and accessories. But usually I’m running from class to the airport—because class is the only constant variable in my schedule—so I’m usually racing to a photo shoot afterwards or to a show if it’s during fashion week, or to an airport. I’m a bag lady.
This is kind of the perfect collection for you, then—it’s all about clutches and crossbodies, and I see even managed to snag a backpack in the campaign. What other items have you been eyeing from this collection?
I’m really excited about a couple of things—there’s this pair of shoes that are leopard print and so chic. They can kind of be worn any season, but they’ll definitely be a key staple in my fall wardrobe.
Getting back to Cindy, her daughter Kaia Gerber, who just turned 16, also just said she “really looks up to” you for pretty much the same reasons you said you look up to Christy. What does it feel like to have things come full circle?
It’s really surreal, especially because I feel like I definitely have a lot to learn myself, and though I have experienced a lot, by no means am I an expert on fashion or life. Still, I’m excited to see the next generation—which is so funny to be saying at 25—and Kaia is very special. I think she’s a really smart young woman who’s going to have a spectacular career in modeling—really, in whatever she wants to do. And I’m excited to share any wisdom or things I’ve learned from my experience with her, because that’s just part of the privilege I get to have, being surrounded by strong women helping other strong women. Kaia’s definitely a future strong lady herself.
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