Kate Moss was on time.
“Where is everybody?” she wondered aloud, as she walked into the studio at 9 a.m. on the dot for the W cover shoot. It was a chilly Tuesday in London, and although the British Fashion Awards gala had taken place the night before and Moss had been at an afterparty until at least 2 a.m., she was ready to work.
“People always expect me to be late,” she told me. “But I’ve always been on time. Especially for photo shoots.” She shrugged off her cocoon-like faux fur and settled into a couch in the upstairs area of the studio that doubles as a cafeteria. She was dressed unremarkably, in dark jeans and a gray sweater, but the cook, who was making eggs to order, stopped and stared. Nearly everyone walking in and out of the room had the same reaction, but Moss was oblivious to the attention. She waited patiently for the photographers to arrive, paging through a glossy book that had been left on a table. It was a history of fashion photography and, naturally, contained many pictures of her.
“I remember that,” Moss said repeatedly, almost to herself.
If you have had even the slightest interest in fashion in the past three decades, you have been in Moss’s world. Her image (which can morph from waif to vixen to polished to bohemian and back again) and her personal style (which is high-low eclectic and has been widely copied by designers and mere mortals alike) have made her the most sought-after muse of our time. From her first major photo shoot with the late British photographer Corinne Day, Moss was, as the designer John Galliano described her, “a little rough diamond…there was that magic, an enigma, there in front of us.”
Those Day pictures, which appeared in The Face in 1990, were groundbreaking: Moss was either naked or dressed in simple, nondescript clothing, which meant that the photos were about her more than any trend. Her freckles showed, and in many pictures she was making odd faces.
“I was only 16,” Moss recalled. “And I was so nervous. I’m still nervous! We shot the story with Corinne for a month. And then [the art director] Fabien Baron saw the story and showed it to Elizabeth Tilberis at Harper’s Bazaar, who put me with [the photographer] Patrick Demarchelier, and I was on the cover of the Christmas issue. And then Patrick was shooting Calvin Klein. And I met Calvin—and that was when everything changed.”
Initially, Klein wasn’t sure about Moss. She isn’t your typical model: She’s five foot seven (short by industry standards), and she’s somewhat bowlegged. In fact, when Moss was discovered at 14 by the modeling agent Sarah Doukas at a New York airport, her mother was shocked that anyone would want her daughter to pose for pictures.
“My mum said, ‘I don’t think you’re that photogenic!’ ” Moss said, laughing. Moss spent the next two years going out for castings, and when she finally met Day, everything clicked. “From the beginning, photographers always got me to take my clothes off, even though I don’t like my body at all. I just had to get comfortable with being naked.”
Watch Kate Moss, Jennifer Lopez, Taraji P. Henson and Jessica Chastain Sit for their Revealing Screen Tests
Unlike almost every other prominent model from the ’80s onward, Moss has never tried to parlay her success into singing or acting or hosting a TV show. She stuck to modeling. “I’m not really comfortable enough to be an actress,” she admitted. “When I’m modeling, I’m a character. But I’m not really interested in ‘acting.’ ”
What always fascinated her was photography—and photographers. “I want to please the person behind the camera,” she said. “I’m a hard worker. And I like the process of creating an image.” Day, for instance, would intentionally anger Moss, forcing her to react. “ ‘The more I piss you off,’ ” she recalled Day saying, “ ‘the better pictures I get.’ ” Mario Sorrenti, who would become Moss’s boyfriend, emphasized her innocent sort of sexuality. Demarchelier thought of her as gamine; Mario Testino envisioned her as a wild child; Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott, in this W shoot, saw her as confident, strong, and, yes, proudly naked at age 43.
Despite having been photographed countless times in her long (and still major!) career, Moss has remained a chameleon. Even when she designed clothes for Topshop in 2014, she refrained from promoting herself on social media. Recently she opened her own agency and plans to recruit and mentor young models, but it is doubtful that any one of them will have what she has. “There’s something quite hidden about Kate,” Anna Wintour told Vanity Fair in 2012. “Because it was hard to say exactly what she was or who she was, [photographers and editors] could put their own fantasies onto her.”
Back on set, the photographers and W’s Edward Enninful, who is Moss’s longtime friend, huddled in the makeup room. Amber Valletta, a pal of Moss’s and a fellow top model from the ’90s, popped in to say hi. Valletta was in town for the British Fashion Awards, and they had seen each other the night before, but she and Moss embraced like long-lost sisters. When this group gets together, it is easy to sense the clubbiness of the fashion world. “We are a particular tribe,” Moss said. “Fashion can be cutthroat, but we love it.”
When you were starting out, what was your typical outfit for go-sees?
I had a leather pair of hipster trousers, an angora jumper, and a pair of Katharine Hamnett boots. The jumper was brown—like an orangutan.
Do you still have any part of that outfit?
No. I lose things. I lose my clothes all the time. It’s terrible.
What’s your current favorite item of clothing?
The shoes Christian Louboutin made specially for me. I used to wear his shoes all the time, and then he changed them and made the heels a bit thicker. I wanted a thin, proper stiletto. He made them that way in every color and every skin, and he named the style So Kate. The shoes are like jewelry.
When you were young, who did you have a crush on?
Johnny Depp! [Moss dated Depp for four years.] No. No. When I was growing up, I had a crush on Rob Lowe. I had a poster of him on my wall.
Where was your first kiss?
At a school disco, with a guy called Liam. It was good; we were slow-dancing to “Careless Whisper,” by George Michael.
Did your supermodel friends ever give you advice?
Yes. They’d say, “Kate, you don’t have to go to rehearsal for the show—come with us for dinner!” They were so naughty. They got me in trouble.
You were an innocent.
I wasn’t innocent. [Laughs] I looked like an innocent. That’s why I got away with murder. But I’m giving away all my secrets!
What was your favorite birthday?
Last year I had a David Bowie party. I was Ziggy Stardust. I wore a catsuit with a big silver lightning bolt going down the back. The rest of the catsuit was black sequins. It was gorgeous.
What’s your favorite Bowie song?
“Heroes.” We can all be heroes, just for one day.