She’s the daughter of a barmaid and travel agent who went on to become one of the most successful supermodels of our time. As Kate Moss turns 40, Louise O’Neill looks back at her life, loves and career.
IN AUG 2013, Interview magazine released ‘The Model Issue’. Featuring multiple covers, the magazine profiled iconic supermodels such as Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Kate Moss and Christy Turlington. These are women who truly deserve the moniker ‘supermodel’, unlike today when as Campbell commented, “everyone’s called a supermodel now. Everyone”.
Yet, for most of the supermodels, the halcyon days of commanding $10,000 merely to get out of bed are long gone. There is one exception. Ms Kate Moss.
Revered in the fashion industry, the search for the ‘new Kate’ has been on-going since the 1990s, prompting Donatella Versace to comment, “I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say they’ve found ‘the new Kate Moss’; however there never was and never will be ‘a new Kate Moss’, there is only one Kate.”
While there have been a number of models who have threatened her position (Gisele, Agyness Deyn and Cara Delevigne) no one has come close to matching Moss’ ability to straddle commercial campaigns and high fashion editorials, producing iconic images that have defined an era in the process.
It’s an impressive feat, not least of all coming from the daughter of a barmaid and a travel agent hailing from what Richard Burton described as the nightmarish “featureless suburb” of Croydon, in London. In a twist of fate, in 1988 Sarah Doukas, founder of modelling agency Storm spotted Moss in JFK airport, saying, “She had a kind of ethereal look about her, a translucency and such phenomenal bone structure.”
Kate struggled at first, her waif-like beauty and diminutive frame being a complete antithesis to the beauty norms of the late 80s. She was working part-time in a newsagent when Corinne Day, an ex-model turned photographer, stumbled across an out-of-focus Polaroid of Kate in the Storm office.
Intrigued, she requested to meet with her and instantly felt a sense of comradeship with the 15 year old, and a single shot from their first photo shoot together was featured in the Mar 1990 issue of The Face.
John Galliano then booked her for his Spring Summer 1990 show, casting her as his ‘Lolita’. She was so much smaller than the other girls that no one even realised she was a model.
Kate told Interview, “All the girls were lined up and I remember [make-up artist] Stéphane Marais said to me, ‘Are you in the show?’ I said, ’Yeah’ . . . He’s like, ‘Oh my god, get her done quick’. I was just sitting there all day. I’d been there since, like, 10 in the morning. They just didn’t take me for a model.”
That soon changed. In Jul 1990, an image of Kate wearing only a denim miniskirt and a huge Indian headdress made the cover of The Face. The accompanying ‘Third Summer of Love’ photo shoot, featuring the teenage, bare-faced Kate on a windswept beach, became a seminal moment in fashion history and, as Kate commented, “captured what was going on in England at the time”.
A year later, the band Nirvana released their album ‘Nevermind’ and kids everywhere were wearing the grunge uniform of plaid shirts, baby-doll dresses and ripped baggy dresses. Fabien Baron, the art director of Harper’s Bazaar, cast Kate and ‘Marky Mark’ Wahlberg in the new ad campaign for Calvin Klein Jeans. Debuting in Sept 90, Kate became an overnight phenomenon, with Calvin Klein commenting, “It’s a new kind of beauty. Not the big, sporty, superwoman type but glamour, which is more sensitive, more fragile.”
Within a year, Linda Evangelista was being photographed makeup free by Corinne Day for British Vogue and Marc Jacob showed his grunge collection for Perry Ellis, which resulted in his being fired from the American sportswear label but ultimately made his name.
“Kate’s look really reflects what has gone in the music world and that has influenced fashion,” designer Anna Sui said as the excess of the 1980s as typified by Gianni Versace and the Amazonian supermodels was giving way to more edgy, minimal designers like Prada and Helmut Lang.
Not everyone appreciated Kate’s brand of beauty. Her Calvin Klein posters were scrawled with graffiti saying ‘Feed Me’ and an underwear shoot with Cathy Kasterine and Corinne Day for British Vogue mired both the model and the magazine in controversy. Titled ‘Under Exposure’ the images showed Kate in squalid flat, fairy lights taped to the wall, as she poses in synthetic knickers and vests and proved to be the most notorious editorial in the magazine’s history.
“The pictures are hideous and tragic,” Marcelle D’Argy Smith, a former editor of Cosmopolitan in the UK, said at the time. “If I had a daughter who looked like that, I would take her to see a doctor.”
Alexandra Shulman, the longtime editor of British Vogue, says now, “Everything was hung on this shoot, and on Kate: anorexia, porn, paedophilia, drugs — the evil quartet.” Kate said, “It was upsetting but I was just young and skinny and some girls just are. That was me.”
Although Day admitted she was influenced by Christiane F, an 1981 German film on teenage addicts in Berlin, both she and Moss strenuously denied ever taking heroin. It was to be the end of both their friendship and work collaboration.
Kate’s relationship with Mario Sorrenti, who had photographed her for the Calvin Klein Obsession campaign, ended at this time and it was at New York’s 13th annual CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) awards that she met Johnny Depp. Moss claimed, “I knew from the first moment we talked that we were going to be together”.
Depp had a huge impact, buying her fine jewellery, introducing her to music by Iggy Pop and the Lemonheads and urging her to read the work of the Beat Generation. Her style also began to evolve.
“I got more glamorous and more sophisticated,” she said, and began to wear more vintage clothing, saying “I’d rather wear something that’s vintage and individual. I don’t want to look like everyone else.” It was said to be Johnny who taught Kate to maintain the trademark silence to protect her privacy and she was devastated when they split in 1998.
Kate dealt with the breakup by throwing herself wholeheartedly into the ‘Cool Britannia’ movement in the UK, socialising with Blur and Oasis and becoming friends with members of the Rolling Stones, Marianne Faithfull and Anita Pallenberg.
Newsweek called London “the coolest city on the planet” and Vanity Fair declared that “London Swings Again” and Kate, in her Clements Ribeiro Union Jack sweater, once again epitomised an era but, behind the scenes the partying was beginning to get out of control. In November 1998, Moss checked into the Priory clinic for four weeks rehab.
It was in the noughties that the ‘Kate Moss Effect’ took hold. Always seen as a style inspiration, it was in Jan 2000 that her ability to start a nationwide trend became apparent. Wearing a vintage pair of slouchy Vivienne Westwood boots from her 1981 Pirate collection to a concert in London with bare legs, a denim mini skirt and an oversized parka, the demand for the boots was so great that Westwood put the original boots back into production within a year.
After growing tired of her Edie Sedgwick-style crop in 2001, she began wearing trilbies and flat caps to disguise her growing out hair and popularised hats for the first time in years. And when, in 2001, she was given a Balenciaga Lariat bag by the designer Nicolas Ghesquiere (the bag was a limited edition because of a production error), within weeks people were clamouring to buy ‘Kate’s bag’.
“At that point, we realised without a doubt, her influence is enormous and global,” said Ghesquiere and the Lariat bag became one of the defining ‘It’ bags of the 2000s. She was named the face of Burberry as newly-appointed designer Christopher Bailey tried to repair the ‘chav’ image of the brand and signed a multimillion-pound contract to star in an advertising campaign for Rimmel.
Her personal life was also blossoming. Dating the cofounder of Dazed and Confused, Jefferson Hack since 2001, she announced her pregnancy in 2002, with Lila Grace being born in Sept 2002. Motherhood did little to crush her rebellious spirit and she made an appearance as a pole-dancer in the video for the White Stripes cover of ‘I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself’.
Neither did it diminish her style credentials. A white Hermes Birkin was used as a nappy bag and her heels were replaced by Roman gladiator sandals and French Sole ballet flats, both subsequently becoming worldwide trends.
Her 30th birthday party in 2004, with its F. Scott Fitzgerald theme, was typically decadent with lurid claims of orgies and wife-swapping emerging in the tabloids. Whatever the truth, her relationship with Jefferson ended soon, although the two have remained close friends since. A year later, at her 31st birthday, Kate met Peter Doherty.
Doherty, described by author Angela Buttolph as ‘a tortured poet, petty thief and drug addict’, was the lead singer of the band The Libertines and Babyshambles. Similarly to all her exes, a great deal of Doherty’s appeal to Kate seemed to lie in his ability to expose her to literature and music that she was previously unfamiliar with, recommending the poetry of Baudelaire and Emily Dickinson and gifting her with Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis.
Their relationship truly did seem to echo the Babyshambles song ‘La belle et la Bete’ (Beauty and the Beast) and the tabloids had a field day when photos emerged in Sept 2005 of Kate allegedly snorting cocaine in a recording studio in London.
The story exploded internationally, many of her contracts were cancelled and Kate issued a public apology and checked into rehab. Her much extolled loyalty to her friends was rewarded and many in the fashion industry rallied around her; Alexander McQueen wore a t-shirt saying ‘We Love You, Kate’ and Carine Roitfeld, the editor of Paris Vogue said, “For me the scandal is over”, when in Jan 2006 any charges against Moss were dropped
. Pete and Kate did get back together, even becoming engaged, but their attempt at reconciliation ultimately failed in 2007 with Doherty commenting “She’s had enough of the dirty fingers and whatnot.”
Far from ending her career, the ‘Cocaine Kate’ scandal improved her professional reputation and in Nov 2006 she was named as ‘Model of the Year’, at the British Fashion Awards, her earnings increasing by $3m the following year.
She launched her own perfume, designed bags for the label Longchamp, and in 2007 she made a business proposition to the owner of Topshop Philip Green, by saying “I’m a girl from Croydon, you’re a boy from Croydon; why don’t we do something together?” That ‘something’, the launch of a Kate Moss for Topshop collection, garnered £3.5m in sales in its first week alone, boosting Topshop sales by 10% and selling out in almost 21 countries worldwide.
Reportedly worth £3m to Kate, not including royalties linked to sales, it was a savvy move by a model who, at 33, must have been aware that she couldn’t continue modeling for the rest of her life. Her private life was also moving on, and she began dating The Kills’ guitarist, Jamie Hince in late 2007, and they got engaged in Mar 2008. She married Hince in 2011, asking disgraced designer John Galliano to create the cream bias-cut dress with gold lead embroidery over a sheer skirt and a vintage veil. It was a gesture typical of Kate’s abiding loyalty to her friends.
To celebrate her 40th birthday (and the magazine’s 60th) she has posed for the cover of Playboy, with their editorial director, Jimmy Jellinek telling the Los Angeles Times that Kate was the perfect poster girl for the magazine. “It started with Marilyn Monroe on the cover of Playboy 60 years ago, an icon for her time. Now we’ve got Kate Moss!”
She was last year named the second highest paid model in the world, with estimated earnings of $9.2m, and there are rumours that an OBE for the model is imminent. Kate Moss is more than a model; she has become a cultural icon. Depicted artistically so many times, by artists as renowned as Lucien Freud and Marc Quinn, a selection of artwork featuring Moss called The Collection went on sale in the auction house Christies in Sept 2013.
James Fox, in a recent profile on Moss in Vanity Fair, said, “I don’t remember, as a journalist, writing about anyone else as powerful and famous who was liked without exception or condition by everyone I spoke to, even if they were talking off the record.”
Anna Wintour says, “There’s something quite hidden about her. And I think that’s why so many photographers and editors — and, later on in her career, artists — were always drawn to her. Because it was hard to say exactly what she was or who she was, and they could put their own fantasies onto her.”
So, do those 25 years feel like a lifetime to Kate herself? “It doesn’t feel like, Oh, my God, I’ve been doing it that long. I don’t really feel old — that’s for sure,” she says, “I still think I’m seventeen!” The last word is with designer Tom Ford: “I have a feeling that Kate will be embodying the spirit of the times for decades to come.”
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