Wednesday 18 January 2017

Karlie Kloss: The supermodel face of Topshop who's inspiring a generation of female coders

She's now the face of Topshop, but the model with four million Instagram followers has designs on her future. We meet a walking business empire

Victoria Moss

Published 26/02/2016 | 07:00

Karlie Kloss is the supermodel who is also building a business empire. (Photo: VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images)
Karlie Kloss is the supermodel who is also building a business empire. (Photo: VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images)
Karlie Kloss
Karlie walks the runway for Jeremy Scott's Fall 2016 collection at NYFW. Photo: AP Photo/Richard Drew.
Karlie Kloss hangs backstage at Diane von Furstenberg’s NYFW show with fellow model Kendall Jenner.
Karlie Kloss attends The Elle Style Awards 2016 on February 23, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Anthony Harvey/Getty Images)
Karlie with squad member Taylor Swift.

At an Amazonian 6ft 1in, 23-year-old American-by-way-of-St-Louis-Missouri, Karlie Kloss folds herself into the backseat of the car that will take her from her London hotel residence of less than 24 hours to her fitting for the outfit she will wear to Topshop Unique's London Fashion Week show the next day.

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"Oh, there I am," she exclaims cheerily in her mellifluous Midwestern sing-song accent as we pull up outside Topshop HQ, where a giant floor-to-ceiling billboard of her is facing the street.

Karlie Kloss attending the Elle Style Awards 2016 held at Tate Britain in Millbank, London
Karlie Kloss attending the Elle Style Awards 2016 held at Tate Britain in Millbank, London

In an industry that is notoriously fickle, and careers shortlived, with the majority of models coming and going in an anonymous abyss, Kloss has weathered an impressive eight-year stint, and become one of the world's most highly paid, recognisable and bookable faces.

That she can do both edgy and girl-next-door helps. She recalls a fashion show season where "it was all about bleached eyebrows. I'd have them bleached in the morning, then drawn back, then bleached off again later. I remember going back to school with no eyebrows, and my friends were like, 'What parallel universe do you go to?'"

Modelling, in some ways, requires a lack of vanity: "You have to be able to transform, let go a little bit, and be okay with that," says Kloss.

She is quite mesmerising in person, all golden skin tones and soft, green eyes, as well as being endearingly polite, eloquent and charming.

Taylor Swift and her 'squad': models Gigi Hadid, Karlie Kloss and Lily Aldridge. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images)
Taylor Swift and her 'squad': models Gigi Hadid, Karlie Kloss and Lily Aldridge. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images)

For someone who's starred in her friend Taylor Swift's Bad Blood music video (and is a key member of the world's most fawned-over "girl squad" with Kendall Jenner, Lena Dunham, Gigi Hadid and Swift) and swept down a Victoria's Secret catwalk, she does not appear to have starlet-syndrome or even much of an ego.

She's sharp and clever. As much as she talks of "the effortless cool" of the likes of Kate Moss, she is clued-up on the business side of the industry, and has as keen an interest in that as in the creative elements.

Karlie Kloss with Divya and Gloria who the model says are the
Karlie Kloss with Divya and Gloria who the model says are the "next gen superstars are combining their passion for social good with the power of computer science". Photo: Karlie Kloss / Instagram.

"I've always had a very professional approach," she says.

She is shrewd on the value of her star reach, saying of her four-million strong Instagram following: "It's part of what you have to bring to a brand. It's added layers to the job title and what it means to be a model."

You don't, however, get to be name-dropped as a supermodel without fostering a style-signature. For Kloss, this is her prowling, balletic (eight years of lessons as a child) catwalk walk.

"There are people who really like my walk, and others who think I look absolutely ridiculous. In my mind I'm doing the same thing as the other girls: look focused, look at the end of the runway, put your shoulders back, stand up tall, be confident," she laughs. "Sometimes it works for me, sometimes it works against me."

A video posted by @karliekloss on

As the star of its latest advertising campaign, her image is currently being beamed out of every Topshop store and bus stop near you, as well as online (naturally). She has now ascended to the status where she can watch a fashion show from the front row with her fellow A-listers, rather than doing the hard work of schlepping down the catwalk.

At Sunday's Unique show, she giggled next to her best friend and fellow model, Jourdan Dunn, who she met, fittingly, on her first significant campaign shoot for the high street label at the start of her career.

"I kind of watched what Jourdan was doing and thought, 'Okay, I'll do the same'," she says.

From this, her career sky-rocketed, and there is barely a brand whose show she hasn't walked in: Calvin Klein, Dior, Chanel, Givenchy, Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton, Alexander McQueen...

US model Karlie Kloss poses as she arrives for the amfAR 22st Annual Cinema Against AIDS during the 68th Cannes Film Festival
US model Karlie Kloss poses as she arrives for the amfAR 22st Annual Cinema Against AIDS during the 68th Cannes Film Festival

She has also fronted coveted campaign slots for DVF, Oscar de la Renta, Versace and L'Oreal, to name but a few.

The fashion world is currently reeling from - and catching up with - the rampant demands of an online world. Does Kloss think that magazines, whose circulations are dwarfed by her and her friends' number of Instagram followers, are still relevant? She nods her head.

"Absolutely. When you work with magazines, you create images which aren't for campaigns, you don't have to hold a bag a certain way to sell it. It's about an idea. It's in the vein of creating art. I don't think magazines or runway shows are going to disappear, but the way people absorb media and communicate has changed."

Model Karlie Kloss attends Kanye West Yeezy Season 3 on February 11, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Yeezy Season 3)
Model Karlie Kloss attends Kanye West Yeezy Season 3 on February 11, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Yeezy Season 3)

What hasn't changed, however, is the scrutiny that the women in her industry are under.

"I've had to learn how to transition from being a 15-year-old girl who was super tall and slim and ate candy and pizza for breakfast, lunch and dinner, to when my body started to change and I had to completely relearn how to think about food and exercise," she says.

"There's pressure to be a certain shape or size because the clothing is a certain shape or size. As a model, you want to be booked in the show or in the campaign, so you have to fit the clothing.

Model Karlie Kloss prepares backstage at the Jeremy Scott Fall 2016 fashion show during New York Fashion Week: The Shows at The Arc, Skylight at Moynihan Station on February 15, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for NYFW: The Shows)
Model Karlie Kloss prepares backstage at the Jeremy Scott Fall 2016 fashion show during New York Fashion Week: The Shows at The Arc, Skylight at Moynihan Station on February 15, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for NYFW: The Shows)

"I'm always very supportive of the conversation around rethinking sample sizes. I'm taller than all of my peers, my body is just different from everybody else's to start with, so the idea of having one-size-fits-all that everybody needs to shape themselves to fit is not realistic."

Alongside modelling, Kloss has impressed with her extra-curricular activities: in 2012, she launched her Klossies cookies with hip New York City bakery Momofuko, which raises money for the Feed charity.

She is currently studying computer science and coding as an undergraduate at NYU. She has set up a related scholarship fund (Kode with Karlie) for underprivileged young women, and has her own YouTube channel (Klossy).

Model Karlie Kloss attends 2015 Glamour Women Of The Year Awards at Carnegie Hall on November 9, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Glamour)
Model Karlie Kloss attends 2015 Glamour Women Of The Year Awards at Carnegie Hall on November 9, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Glamour)

She's impressively hard-working, and says - leaning over to give me a jar of Klossies - "I don't like taking it easy. I aspire to build a business, and fill my days with lots of projects and philanthropy."

Will she always keep a hand in the modelling world?

"I hope to have at least a foot in the door, for as long as they'll have my big ol' feet."

A photo posted by @karliekloss on

One can't imagine Topshop is going to push her off the front row any time soon. © Daily Telegraph

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