QUEEN OF GEEK CHIC
SHE’S THE ULTIMATE SLASHIE: MODEL/ACTOR/CODER. BUT KARLIE KLOSS’S FAVOURITE ROLE IS THAT OF STUDENT
As a model, philanthropist, coder and student, there’s more to Karlie Kloss than meets the eye. In fact, she’s determined to make a difference.
Consider the supermodel; long limbs, sharp cheekbones, killer smile. American clotheshorse Karlie Kloss ticks all of these boxes, but beyond the photogenic attributes, she possesses traits less indicative of someone who has spent almost a decade in front of the camera.
The one-time Victoria’s Secret model and member of Taylor Swift’s inner circle – aka “squad” – Kloss is carving out a name for herself in realms far from fashion. She’s appeared in Zoolander 2, but has also worked on philanthropic projects and is studying at university. The 24-year-old will also work on an upcoming TV science series for Netflix, Bill Nye Saves The World. She announced her role as correspondent with the words: “We’ll be talking about every nerdy thing you can dream of.”
Her interest in science technology has led to Kloss being lauded by former US President Barack Obama as a “supermodel and supercoder” when she visited the White House during its Science Fair last year.
That’s not her only connection to the highest office in the US. Her boyfriend, entrepreneur Joshua Kushner, is the brother of Jared Kushner, who is married to Ivanka Trump and now holds the title of senior adviser to President Donald Trump – although Joshua and Kloss publicly supported Hillary Clinton’s run for office. Although such matters are often deemed “no-go” zones for interviews, her minders needn’t worry, because this is one whip-smart model who can definitely handle herself.
WHEN STELLAR MEETS with Kloss, she’s halfway through a whirlwind trip to Australia – her first – to work with David Jones as the face of its autumn/winter collection, for which she recently headlined their new-season launch. On set at The University of Sydney for our photo shoot, the model’s time is limited by a frenetic schedule, but her experience shows. While she admits to suffering jet lag, there’s no visible trace as she works her angles; she remains focused when workmen make a racket moving steel poles behind her, and when tourists stop and stare at her 1.9m-frame posing for the camera.
Kloss puts everyone at ease, nails her shots in minutes and improvises when minor issues, such as the shoes proving several sizes too small, crop up. When she spies one of the shots on the photographer’s monitor, Kloss is quick to proclaim herself happy with the results, and it’s clear the praise is meant as a compliment to the stylists and crew.
The academic setting of the university for the shoot was chosen specifically for Kloss, given education bookends her life in fashion thus far. “The hyphenate I’m most proud of is ‘student’,” she says of her many job titles. Apart from her day job, Kloss is working towards a degree at New York University, where she enrolled in 2015.
“It’s been a good challenge. I like having something to focus on outside of fashion; the structure and discipline of school and having deadlines.”
Taking on multiple roles has been part of Kloss’s life for as long as she’s been a model. Discovered at auditions for a charity fashion show in her small town just outside of St Louis, Missouri, her career took off when she was just 15. “I had no idea what was ahead, it’s all been at hyper-speed,” she says of her start in the fashion world. “High school started and [New York] Fashion Week was two days afterwards. I went to New York for the weekend, walked for Calvin Klein and I didn’t come back to school for the rest of that week. So then I had to figure out how to juggle the two – but I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Kloss worked hard to maintain her high-school workload and friendships with peers, and while it required dedication to complete her studies, she clearly enjoyed the opportunities that came with her modelling career, even at such an early age.
“That was a surreal four years,” she says of her time in high school. “I lived this double life of being a normal teenager with my best friends and my sisters, and going to prom and being very, very normal. And then [it was] this Cinderella life, where I would go to Paris, walk in the Chanel couture show, work with Karl Lagerfeld, work with all of these incredible designers and, you know, meet brilliant people in this world that I never knew existed. That was a huge learning curve and it hasn’t slowed down since. [It] was almost like a movie.”
Kloss says her parents encouraged her entry into the modelling industry, and viewed it as a means to a less conventional education alongside her high-school studies. “My parents have been very supportive, more so than I would be as a parent,” she says. “They had the confidence in me, in knowing that travelling and having exposure to
“I LIKE HAVING SOMETHING TO FOCUS ON OUTSIDE OF FASHION; THE STRUCTURE AND DISCIPLINE OF SCHOOL”
different cultures is one of the best educations you could have. It wasn’t like they shipped me off – they were with me every step of the way.”
Nevertheless, Kloss, who says she would have become a teacher or doctor had the fashion world not beckoned, is proud of the fact she maintained her “normal” life, too. “I went to prom with my friends, I graduated at the same time as everyone; I just did a lot of my classes as independent study,” she says. “I was on track with all my peers, and was in class for a portion of the week, but had to be self-disciplined to do the work and learning outside.”
Kloss lights up when talking about her high-school results (“I was very proud of my grades”), which were good enough to grant her entry into the prestigious New York University. But it was before she enrolled in tertiary studies that she happened upon another interest: coding. Kloss took a short course to satisfy her curiosity about technology.
“It came out of wanting to understand what code is; to understand the fundamentals of what powers technology, how it’s built, both the hardware and the software,” she says.
While she felt empowered by what she learnt – she’s also created a few apps as a hobby – Kloss realised that women were under-represented professionally in the field. So in 2015 she started Kode with Klossy, which offers scholarships for girls and women who want to expand their coding skills or career. “The more people you can empower with that knowledge or those skills, the more incredible things that are going to be built in our future as we become more reliant on that technology,” she says.
She’s also led the way for others in the fashion industry to become supporters of women acquiring tech skills. Vogue Australia editor-in-chief Edwina Mccann says Kloss’s work sparked the launch of Vogue Codes, a weekend seminar that started last year as part of a campaign to draw women into technology-based careers. “We realised our audience in Australia was really responding to what Karlie was doing. She was a catalyst for driving us to become involved with this very quickly,” Mccann says.
Mccann adds that Kloss is the only model she knows of who has made the connection between science and fashion, and that in doing so she has the potential to influence many young women and their vocational choices.
“Having role models like Karlie saying computer engineering is cool is changing the whole language around, not just coding itself, but being involved with technology,” she tells Stellar.
Coding is not the only interest that Kloss has managed to turn into a charitable enterprise. She has also developed a line of biscuits sold in North America, the proceeds of which funds school lunches for children in need.
Kloss says both projects came about organically, but that she’s always had a desire to provide for others. “I would always bring cookies to shoots. I have a sweet tooth, but I also try to be a more healthy baker, and I started this thing called Karlie’s Kookies. It’s still ongoing, and we’ve donated over a million school lunches. So that was just on a whim.
“I didn’t set out to be a philanthropist, but any opportunity I can [take] to help others while doing what I enjoy doing is kind of the way I live my life.”
WHILE HER CAREER frequently takes her across the globe (“I look back at 2016 and I was bouncing between countries as though taking the subway”), Kloss credits her family, and growing up in a close-knit community, with cultivating her instinct for goodwill. “It’s the kind of place where there’s one main grocery store, and you walk the aisles and it’s like social hour – you see everyone.
“I like helping people, it’s like something that drives me and makes me happy. I grew up in a small town where everybody just helps everybody. Nobody was particularly well off, but you figure out how to get everybody what they need,” she says.
Kloss also knows that her celebrity status – she has more than six million followers on Instagram – has given her a unique opportunity to take on philanthropic causes.
“[Modelling’s] a foot in the door, and it’s what you do with it. I’ve been really lucky to stay doing it, because it’s such a fast-moving industry. I’ve seen so many people come and go, but I think what keeps the industry interested in me is that I want to do so much more with it.
“I don’t just want to show up and be in a photo, I see it as an opportunity to have a platform and a voice to help do great things and make an impact on the world in a positive way.”
Despite all that Kloss has achieved, she does have detractors. One celebrity gossip website questioned her ability to dedicate herself to her studies after she started university, and another news outlet made light of her admission, via social media, that she was nervous about going back to school, implying that she should be more concerned about her modelling duties than study. Kloss is aware of the criticism, but is quick to deconstruct the notion that models can’t be beautiful and smart.
“There are definitely misconceptions,” she says. “Modelling is incredibly hard work, not necessarily in the same way as other professions, but you have to be very focused. Generally you start at a young age, so you have to be smart. If it’s not in a ‘book smarts’ way, it’s certainly in a ‘street smarts’ way.
“So many models I’m good friends with are studying. Modelling is a career that usually is not anticipated, it kind of happens to you. A lot of us have other life plans and career paths and passions that don’t stop when you become a model; it’s a misconception, I think, on many levels.” She pauses for a moment, then grins, “But it makes me happy to prove everyone wrong.”
KARLIE WEARS Céline dress, and Dion Lee shirt, both David Jones; Givenchy glasses, (02) 9540 0500; Louis Vuitton shoes, au.louisvuitton.com; (opposite page) Céline dress, Bianca Spender shirt, and Chloé earrings, all David Jones; Louis Vuitton boots, as before