Coder, baker, philanthropist... Karlie Kloss might well be the hardest-working model around. Stylist tears her away from her insanely packed schedule to find out more
What do you wear to meeta supermodel? In an ideal world, it would be my Whistles leather skirt and silk Equipment shirt. Chic and classic. Or maybe my Paige jeans, backless loafers and a white tuxedo shirt. Casual, yet knowing. What I didn’t envision wearing is old jeans that I never wear, an underwhelming grey jumper and my grubby “walking to the office” trainers, because the heels I planned to change into had gone AWOL. But that’s what I find myself resplendent in the afternoon I get the call to say that Karlie Kloss has some unexpected free time to talk to Stylist. And hence why I’m legging it down Regent Street to Swarovski’s flagship store, hightailing into Liberty en route to check my hair is presentable.
Our chat is taking place in the back of a taxi as Karlie makes her way from an in-store appearance – she has been the face of Swarovski for two seasons – to the swish Berkeley hotel in Knightsbridge, where she will be getting ready for that evening’s Fashion Awards at the Royal Albert Hall. Although jetlagged, she’s in an exuberant mood. “Look at that sky! That red, pink sky!” she implores me. “I’ve never seen that in London! It’s always cloudy.”
It sounds obvious but the first thing I notice is Kloss’s height. Even for a model she’s tall, folding her six-foot-two frame into the car. Despite my sartorial concerns, Kloss doesn’t flinch at my attire, instead complementing my Balenciaga handbag – the only thing I am not trying to hide away under my oversized scarf. She describes her style as “more on the side of timeless and elegant”, sporting a black and white checked Victoria Beckham top and skirt, and black pointed Manolo heels (“They’re the one thing I buy on repeat,” she tells me).
While we’re living in an era where models are bona fide brands with gargantuan social fanbases, what makes Kloss special isn’t her 6.2 million Instagram followers, or her #squad (Taylor Swift, Lily Aldridge and Jourdan Dunn are some of her closest friends) but that at a mere 24 she has her finger in more pies than the Stylist office put together. She is Kloss The Model – one of the three highest paid to boot, tied with Kendall Jenner – with recent campaigns for Versace, Topshop and Adidas and a favourite of Donatella Versace, Michael Kors and Diane Von Furstenberg. She is Kloss The Coder with her own academy, Kode With Klossy, which launched early last year offering career scholarships and summer camps in the US that encourage young women to learn to code (this also makes her Kloss The Philanthropist). She is Kloss The Student, taking coding courses herself in New York. Then there’s Kloss The Baker with her dairy- and gluten-free Karlie’s Kookies being sold in New York’s hip Momofuku Milk Bar since 2012, the profits of which go to global children’s charities. She is Kloss The TV Star, appearing on Netflix this spring, on an episode of talkshow Bill Nye Saves The World, where she will be “talking about every nerdy thing you can dream of”. And finally she is Kloss The Vlogger, with her eminently watchable YouTube channel, Klossy, which launched in 2015, where over half a million subscribers can tune in to watch her making chocolate and vanilla chia seed pudding and waxing lyrical about computer science. Just thinking about it all makes me want a lie-down.
More than any other model, Kloss has astutely curated her life to epitomise the Millennial Dream via the ultimate portfolio career. If ever there was proof needed that models are multidimensional, it’s sitting right next to me now. “The meaning of life is to live it to the fullest, take advantage of everything it has to offer, don’t waste a minute,” she tells me. “I’m a multitasker. I feel like I do 10 things at once – maybe nothing well – but I’m doing lots of things. Doing all that makes me more energised... or maybe I just have ADD...”
The one thing she struggles with? “I tend to be over-ambitious with my time management, so whenever time travel or cloning becomes available, that would make my life easier,” she jokes. “I’m a hard-working, curious person. I think people hopefully recognise and see me as that, not as the label ‘a model’.”
The middle of four daughters – Kristine, and twins Kimberly and Kariann, born to Kurt and Tracy, an emergency room doctor and graphic artist respectively – Kloss was discovered at 13 while walking in a charity fashion show in her hometown of St Louis, Missouri. She lights up when she talks about her family. “My happy place is being back home in St Louis with them and baking with my gram,” she says. “I count my blessings every day that I have such a supportive and loving family. [When I was younger] I’d have ballet recitals so my mom would curl my hair for performances but I was a bit of a tomboy, so I never really paid much attention to it.” Her childhood ballet lessons have, though, played a part in where she is today. “Those years of ballet gave me a high threshold to pain and discipline,” she explains. “I’m grateful for it now, because I can push myself mentally and physically.”
A high-achiever at school, Kloss grew up thinking she’d study medicine but instead, at 16, signed with New York’s Elite Model Management. She was booked for 31 catwalk shows at her first New York Fashion Week and hasn’t stopped since then. In a world where it’s the work you say no to that defines you as much as what you agree to, I wonder if she’s always been selective about who she’s worked with. “I haven’t always had the luxury to say no to anyone,” she admits. “I have learned along the way I want to work with brands that are aligned with what they stand for and what they care about. I really feel lucky that I’m in this position. Someone just told me earlier that 2017 is my 10-year anniversary of modelling, which is crazy. I’m old!”
This awareness of modelling’s truncated life-span may be why Kloss has cleverly embedded herself in the booming world of technology. “Code touches everything we do,” she says. “From how we shop and learn, to how we communicate. Women today represent only 18% of all computer science graduates. It’s not enough. I started taking coding classes and realised how creative coding is, it opened my eyes. When I started my career, I had a flip phone and seeing the total transformation to where we are with mobile devices today is amazing. That’s why for me the focus is on helping and encouraging girls and women into these kind of spaces so that they can be a part of that change and that creation. We have grand ambitions for Kode With Klossy.”
Ambition is a word that crops up at least five times in our conversation. She is a workhorse and I get the impression that every minute is scheduled: when she’s on a flight she’s studying rather than watching movies – although she does rave about Hidden Figures, the box office success about three unknown African American female scientists who helped the US efforts in the Sixties space race, describing it as “amazing”. Her life is exhausting, yet somehow she is bright, alert and focused.
What’s also interesting about Kloss is that hers is a very modern approach to feminism – one where baking and technology combine peacefully, a balance between innovation and tradition. “I live a modern young woman’s life. I am very ambitious but I also care about a lot of things that I will have to figure out along the way,” she says. Although our interview takes place weeks before women across the globe united to protest against the new President of the United States, and Kloss was in Paris for the haute couture shows when the protests took place, her long-term partner Joshua Kushner was snapped at the Women’s March in Washington DC – his brother, Jared, is married to Ivanka Trump and has been appointed senior advisor to the President. Kloss comes across as a strong advocate for women’s rights. “The bottom line is that we all have to support one another. Not just girls helping girls or women helping women – we all have to be conscious of one another,” she says. “Consciousness is key in figuring out ways to support one another. That’s modern-day feminism; it’s equality and support whether it’s in education or in career opportunity.”
We discuss Dior’s cult ‘We should all be feminists’ T-shirt and if finally the great mantra of the Suffragettes, “Deeds Not Words”, is being realised. “I would definitely wear one [of the T-shirts] when I get my hands on one,” says Kloss. “But that isn’t all it takes. There are so many different fronts on which work has to be done to make forward progress, equal opportunity for women, equal rights. It’s about awareness and consciousness.”
What does she consider the biggest challenge for young women today? “One thing I think about often is eventually I’m going to start a family and how to balance that [with a career]. I saw how my mom struggled with that balance and my grandmother who didn’t even have the opportunity. I think about friends who are just coming out of college and starting their careers. Women can do absolutely anything, but the issue of balance is not going away.”
As we get ready to part, I ask what she can’t do but wishes she could. “I’d love to be able to speak every language in the world fluently. Speaking other languages is a great superpower. And I don’t understand quantum physics... but never say never. I would love to learn more.” And the best piece of business advice she’s ever been given? “Don’t underestimate the value of a good night’s sleep, because otherwise you can’t think clearly. My mom told me that.” I head home, not to get an early night myself or look forlornly at the outfit I wish I’d worn, but to plan my next move – be it learning to code, or mastering a language, the time is now...
Karlie Kloss is the brand ambassador for Swarovski. You can buy Swarovski jewellery online at swarosvki.com