Taking an Australian to an Australian restaurant is a very Karlie Kloss thing to do. Heartily recommending dishes (green goddess salad! Avocado toast!) and knowing everyone who works at the joint (Two Hands in N.Y.C.’s TriBeCa neighborhood) is also très Karlie Kloss.
Almost 10 years in, her modeling career has encompassed more runways than JFK, more covers than a ... cover band, and more campaigns than some presidents (Swarovski, Express, L’Oréal, Adidas). But the St. Louis–raised Kloss remains a Midwestern girl who was brought up right. She’s three years into Kode with Klossy, her 10-city (and growing) program to inspire young girls to learn coding and enter the tech world, and over a year into her feminist studies at NYU (complemented handily by today’s look: a Dior T-shirt that says “We Should All Be Feminists”).
But right now she’s just going to extend her illegally long legs under the table for a chat.
Behind the Cover: Karlie Kloss
LAURA BROWN: At the British Fashion Awards in London last December, you were posing away on the red carpet in a sparkly Swarovski thing, and it was freezing. I just thought, “How does she keep turning up and doing that?”
KARLIE KLOSS: First of all, I’m a Leo, so when I need to turn it on, I do. I enjoy the adrenaline—not just when I’m walking the red carpet but also when I’m on set or in a runway show or even in the small film things I’ve done. I don’t know; I’m going to throw it to being a Leo because I have no other explanation! But I also know the feeling of being spent.
What happens when you’re spent? I book myself out. I take time. I shut off. I don’t post to social media for a couple of days, and I find that to be really rewarding and healthy. It actually reenergizes me to be able to turn it back on and have fun. We’re multitasking women; we all have a lot going on. But you also have to protect yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally and give yourself time.
“Book yourself out”: I know that’s a model term, but metaphorically, it’s a good idea too. Yeah. Because you know what? It’s not a matter of being lazy—the returns are tenfold: You’ll be able to show up with more energy, more drive, more focus. It’ll pay off.
Are you type A? I don’t know if I’m type A. I’m super-driven, but I’m not a perfectionist.
Women are always told we can have it all, but acknowledging your limitations is a wonderful thing too. There’s a beauty in knowing what you can’t do. There’s also a beauty in not trying to figure it all out. Things like Kode with Klossy happened because after graduating from high school, I was fully focusing on my modeling career but at a certain point was uninspired. That’s why I started taking a coding class.
When you sat down for that first coding class, did it feel like, “Oh, great!” or “Oh, s—!”? I only got myself into that first coding class because I was genuinely curious about it and I met someone who started the Flatiron School … I am someone who if you tell me I have to do something, I’m less inclined to do it, but I took that class because I was really interested in how all this works. It’s how the world is actually built. Code is the secret language that builds all the digital architecture of everything that we rely on. And pretty much a fraction of people know about it, yet we all use it. I’ve always been intrigued by the direction nobody else is going in. Not following the herd.
If anything, the herd is following you, especially when you’re, like, 7 feet in heels. Honestly, I never owned a pair of heels until I became a model. I remember buying a pair of black high heels from Target in St. Louis because I had to practice learning how to walk in them.
OK, set the scene for me, please. I had just turned 15—now 18 is the minimum age to model—and started high school on a Monday, and by Friday I was on a plane to New York for a casting call. I thought, “There’s no way anyone is going to book me for New York Fashion Week, but it’s good to go and see people.” I had my high heels from Target and a little black dress from Macy’s that my mom bought me. It became my lucky little black dress that I continued to wear again and again. That was the outfit I was wearing when I walked into Calvin Klein in 2008 and got cast in the show that launched my career. I look back at photos, and I’m like, “How and why did anybody book me?” I was a child! But I was a very tall child. I’ve always been kind of an old soul, I guess.
You’ve always read older. I’m still surprised at how young you are. I really loved those years. And it was so different. The whole digital situation was different.
Do you think social media makes it harder or easier to succeed? I think it’s a different ball game. You have to have a strong presence on the runway, schlep around the world to build a book for editorial, work with the right people, and be in the right campaigns. You also have to have a digital presence and brand yourself. Maybe it’s easier to break through now because it’s democratized. It’s not like there are three important people in the fashion industry who are going to say, “Yes, you’re going to be successful.”
It’s the people’s choice. Right, and that’s what’s really interesting. Something can become successful if it’s a good idea or if it’s going against the grain. It’s hard to predict.
It’s important to have constants in all this, right? How do you manage a relationship with all your travel and everything else? [Kloss dates venture capitalist and health-care entrepreneur Joshua Kushner.] You make it work. We’ve been together almost five years. Time flies. It’s crazy. He’s a super-solid dude.
Is it nice to know someone’s there? Yeah. I’ve always been super-close with my family. They are my rock. There’s so much uncertainty in every direction, like, “Are you gonna get this job?” So having a solid crew, whether it’s your family or a partner, that’s a big part of being able to function.
What does being a feminist mean to you? Actually, I’m taking a feminism class at NYU right now. It’s about the political history of feminism, really, since the ’60s and ’70s. The term “feminism” means different things to different people; a lot of people throw it around without really understanding the weight of it because it is layered. Two women can identify as feminists and have wildly different ways of living their lives. I love what Maria Grazia [Chiuri] is doing at Dior. She’s such a powerhouse. Having women in leadership positions is so important. Hopefully it will happen in the White House someday.
Would you ever consider making a run for the White House? Never say never, right?
So, we did a superhero shoot together for InStyle. Who’s your real-life superhero? My mom, for sure. She battled really aggressive breast cancer when my three sisters and I were young. She survived by the skin of her teeth. I’ve grown up completely idolizing her. She’s so strong.
Were you ever into superheroes? Wonder Woman, of course! First of all, she’s got great style, hair, and accessories. And I love that she’s fearless. She doesn’t need a man. She’s so independent.
Where would you go if you could fly an invisible jet? I would love to be able to fly, period. Being invisible would be amazing. I’m 6'2", so it’s hard to be invisible, but at times I love just being a people-watcher, whether it’s in a café or the places I travel.
Do you have days when you’re not recognized? I put on a baseball hat and jeans and a T-shirt and nobody pays attention to me. It’s great. I hope that never changes.
Maybe when you hit 25 and get real old. Hopefully I’ll start shrinking too!
When was the moment you knew you’d made it in your
career?I haven’t hit that moment yet, but when I bought my apartment in New York six years ago, that felt like a major milestone.
So you had a mortgage at 18? Yeah. All my friends were, like, just getting their driver’s licenses.
What do you spend your money on? I am very ambitious as an entrepreneur and as a businesswoman, but it doesn’t matter how much money I make. I am frugal. I spend money on experiences. I like to take amazing vacations with my loved ones. I like property. I just bought a beautiful home in St. Louis.
That must be wonderful—coming back home with such success. You know what’s crazy? I bought the house I used to babysit in. My only job before modeling was a $6-an-hour babysitting gig, which, by the way, was great. I feel like I have this Cinderella story, and I’m really grateful for it. It was not the path I was anticipating. Anyway, it’s come full circle for me. I always loved that house.
What’s something you do every day that would surprise people? Indulge in chocolate in some form. Chocolate is my weakness. It’s my Kryptonite.
If you’re really on a bender, what do you do? What’s your “f— it bucket”? Halo Top ice cream. It’s lower in calories. I’ll smash a whole pint. I have a sweet tooth. That’s how Klossies happened, because I love sweets.
You’re super-diligent about working out. Do you try to keep it to a certain time every day? I like to work out in the morning and get it out of the way because it changes how I function the rest of the day. I feel more awake and am more aware of what I eat. Since I’m always traveling and in a different place, I started running. I love running in Paris and upstate New York. I also love strength training. If I work out, it doesn’t immediately change my body, but it changes my clarity, focus, and emotions. My job right now is reliant on my body, but that’s genuinely not why I work out.
What’s your favorite thing to do? Do you cook a lot at home? I love to cook. I love going to the market and getting fresh stuff and just getting creative.
How ambitious are you? I want Kode with Klossy to grow. Last summer we had three camps with 20 girls in each one. This summer we have 15 camps in 10 cities and 20 to 25 girls in each class.
All of this and you’re not type A? I’m grateful that I’m successful at 24 in a way that I never imagined I would be. I feel lucky I started working at 15—it’s been almost 10 years. I feel like a geezer!
What was the last thing you bought for yourself? I bought this sick handpainted Gucci leather jacket. It was from a special collaboration. My frugal self broke the bank on that one. And also the house. [Laughs]
What’s your favorite thing that you’ve worn out lately? It was this cute little Dior sleeveless dress that was just way sexy and athletic. I loved it.
Most important, where are the Target shoes now? My mom has the first crayon drawing I ever made, so I’m sure those shoes are in a box somewhere in the Kloss attic.
Photographed by Carter Smith. Fashion editor: Bill Mullen for Art + Commerce. Hair by Harry Josh for Statement Artists. Makeup by Hung Vanngo for The Wall Group. Manicure by Casey Herman for The Wall Group. Set design: Juliet Jernigan for CLM. Production by Tyler Duuring for Avenue B. Fashion assistant: Raquel Medina-Cleghorn.