ALL IN THE BALANCE
FAMILY, FRIENDS, MODELING, BOOK CLUB, BOYFRIEND, THERAPY: IF YOU’RE KAIA GERBER, COMING OF AGE INCLUDES A LITTLE OF EVERYTHING. BY NAOMI FRY.
“For a long time, I thought my face and my body had more to say than I did, because that’s what people thought of me,” Kaia Gerber says. At only 19, Gerber is one of the most successful models in the world and so, to many, a highly controlled, highly burnished product sold to millions on Instagram and beyond. On the gorgeous early-spring day when she and I meet at the reservoir at the foot of the Hollywood Hills, which we are set to loop around, accompanied by Gerber’s enthusiastic rescue mix Milo, her manner is preternaturally poised, that of a remarkably tall and beautiful child who has learned early in life how to talk to adults. Who is Kaia Gerber, really? With a smile or a glance, a well-placed word or a keen observation, she will signal that she is thinking hard about that very question—and beginning to come up with some answers. “I always wanted to be good and easy, not to make trouble,” she says, “but when you do that, you sometimes end up losing your voice.”
Gerber is aware that she has been lucky during a merciless year. She’s had her parents’ house in Malibu, for one thing. “We have a sort of compound with a garden, and a big lawn, and the beach that we could go to every day,” she says. “I’m not blind to the fact that we’ve been incredibly blessed.” Gerber and her brother, Presley, who is two years her senior, have grown up in the seemingly picture-perfect circumstances of Southern California royalty. Their parents are the entrepreneur Rande Gerber, who counts among his endeavors the Casamigos tequila brand, founded with good family friend George Clooney, and Cindy Crawford, one of the most iconic American supermodels of the past half century, whose likeness to her daughter has been a popular subject for clickbait listicles ever since Gerber began modeling. Still, emotionally speaking, Gerber’s last months have been ones of change and transition. “I was always so concentrated on work, and suddenly that was gone. And so for the first time, I could no longer focus on everything outside,” she says. “I was forced to go internal. Work was always a really easy excuse not to do that.”
She was only 13 when she began modeling— shooting for Italian Vogue with Steven Meisel and posing alongside Presley for a CR Fashion Book portfolio by Bruce Weber. As her career kicked into high gear a couple of years later, Gerber transitioned to an online course load at Malibu High, the local public school she and her brother both attended, walking distance from Zuma Beach, where kids would tote surfboards to class, as if in a real-life version of a Beach Boys song. She became an instant runway sensation. “When Kaia started to model, she jumped right into it, loved it, and immediately wanted to do everything,” Crawford tells me by phone from Malibu. “I was very protective at first, and I traveled with her to fashion month. But Kaia has her head on straight.”
Gerber is quick to insist that even as a young teen, she was the driving force behind her career. And yet extreme youth had its drawbacks. “My dad would call me when I’d be in Paris and be like, ‘Do you want to come home?’ At the time I thought I was fine, but now I look back to 16-year-old Kaia and I’m like, ‘Come home!’” She pauses, the gravel crunching underneath our feet, the eager Milo straining at his leash. (“Yeah, bud, I know! It’s really exciting,” she murmurs.) “And I found myself in situations where I was, like, I actually don’t have the life experience that I need to handle this.” When I ask her what she means, she thinks for a moment. “It could be something as small as knowing how to take the bus from the flight to the terminal,” she finally says. “Or, I remember, when I started traveling alone, in Paris, my driver had to check me into my hotel room—I couldn’t even do it on my own.” When I wonder if she is also
“I ALWAYS WANTED TO BE GOOD AND EASY, NOT TO MAKE TROUBLE, BUT WHEN YOU DO THAT, YOU SOMETIMES END UP LOSING YOUR VOICE”