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At only 5’7″, Kate Moss wouldn’t have been the obvious choice to become the defining model of her generation.
“I said, ‘Well, I think she’s gorgeous, but she’s really little. I have a feeling that she may not work a lot,'” stylist Paul Cavaco recalled to Vanity Fair about first meeting Moss years beforehand. “So I completely called it wrong. I just loved this child. When she came to my office, I would measure her to see if she’d gotten any taller.”
Hitting at just the right time and with just the right look—in fact, she determined what “the look” would be—the London-born daughter of a barmaid who didn’t think she was photogenic and a father whose job at an airline proved instrumental to his daughter being discovered hasn’t been out of the spotlight, for better or worse, since being discovered at 14.
One of Moss’ mottoes may be that “everything passes,” but the 45-year-old icon herself is proof that not everyone goes by the wayside.
“I’m still working and I enjoy it, just traveling and doing the same,” Moss said, her voice reminiscent of David Beckham‘s in that you’re surprised that modest cadence is coming from such an iconic figure, in a rare interview on Today last September. While her next chapter held more work for her as head of her own eponymous talent agency and as creative director and face of Japanese skin care brand Decorté, it also still holds a whole bunch of modeling jobs.
Moreover, decades-old images of Moss keep finding new life as designers continuously revive them to sell their new stuff, perhaps as a nod to a simpler time (that wasn’t actually simple at all)—or to at least what the fiercely private Moss feels was a “freer” time, before the age of social media and people started judging everyone for everything. Not that they didn’t do that in the 1990s, but Twitter outrage was at least in the distant future.
“I don’t even know what I’m doing,” Moss, still a top supermodel at the ancient fashion age of 38, told Vanity Fair in 2012. “It’s an instinct. I mean, there’s a certain breakdown now, after all this time. I can put on a dress, but still I don’t know. Nobody tells you what to do. So I have to feel, without any words, what they want and where the light is, and what the makeup’s doing, and how I’m going to make it work. It is a puzzle all the time, I think. That’s what’s good about it.”
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Moss was 14 when she was discovered flying standby on Pan Am from New York to London after a vacation with her dad, who worked for the airline.
Storm Models founder Sarah Doukas went up to the teen and asked, “Have you ever thought about modeling?” The rest really was history, although in hindsight, at such a young age (and with her mother not really on board) more was thrown at Moss than any child could have been expected to handle.
As a kid she got to travel a bit with her father to far-flung locales like Miami and San Francisco, and she liked dressing up her brother in girls’ clothes, an early indicator of her interest in fashion, but she wasn’t dying to model, per se. “What I wanted to get out of was the whole thing of, this is it,” she told Vanity Fair. “This is what life is. I never had that feeling of, that’s your lot.”
By the age of 15 she was a regular at some of London’s hippest spots—but older boys knew she was young and stayed away, she has said. Moss left school at 16 and that summer, in 1990, Corinne Day photographed her on the beach, both clothed and nude, for the fashion monthly The Face. The end result ultimately endeared Moss to the likes of Marc Jacobs and Calvin Klein, the latter of which signed her to an eight-year contract after one audition. (Ironically, Vanessa Paradis had just turned them down.)
At the same time, being asked to take her clothes off for a photo shoot for the first time was a traumatic experience, something she couldn’t imagine allowing her own daughter Lila, now 16 and a budding model, to do. “I did not like it at all,” she remembered on Today. But “that was…you know, that was the job. So I kind of just did it.”
“That picture of me running down the beach—I’ll never forget doing that, because I made the hairdresser, who was the only man on the shoot, turn his back,” Moss told Vanity Fair. At the same time, she added, her own palpable youthful exuberance in those early shots also reminded her of Lila.
A couple of years later, Moss posed for what would become one of her many iconic ad campaigns, Calvin Klein’s Obsession fragrance, with her boyfriend at the time, photographer Mario Sorrenti.
“It was young love,” Moss recalled the 1993 campaign, shot when she was 18, to Today. “We were so innocent and young and so exciting about the work, about everything. Everything was so new to us.”
The couple met on a modeling job in 1991. “I think it was something really cheesy like a hair product or Dentyne,” Sorrenti told British Vogue last year upon the release of Kate, full of previously unseen photos of his former girlfriend. “My heart just, like, stopped and I kind of clammed up. I was shy and didn’t have a lot to say. But she was very sweet and talkative.”
If the characterization of Moss as incredibly private seems strange because she’s been such a familiar face for 30 years and her supermodel exploits—the glamorous, the romantic and the downright sordid—are well-documented, both accurately and not, what makes Moss tick does remain a mystery of her own design.
“On the runway, it’s me, but it’s not real,” she told i-D back in 1998. “Obviously, I’m working on behalf of the designer. I’m projecting their thing, not mine.”
“Never complain, never explain” remains another of her mottoes.
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And that may have something to do with being in a business where everyone wanted a piece of her and people were capitalizing on her face and body when she was still just a teenager. She had to protect herself somehow, and just working diligently and earning top dollar—$400,000 for a day-long shoot at one point—was a way to do that.
“The way a journalist can judge a person really spooks me…I started doing interviews when I was 17, when I signed with Calvin,” Moss told i-D in 1998, explaining why doing interviews still freaked her out. “Sometimes the interview can get really deep about everything and I’m like, ‘Really, I’m just doing a job.'”
She noted, “People ask me: ‘Do you consider yourself to be an icon?’ Do they really think that I sit around considering things like that every day?!” While promoting the 1995 art book Kate, she recalled, she did 27 interviews in one day and “I was just meat ready to be slaughtered. Some people said really nasty things just to get me riled up. I was laid out for them and they went for me.”
Over a decade later, after her incredibly eventful ’00s had passed, Moss hadn’t changed her mind about the perils of interviews.
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She told T magazine in 2010 that she simply hated doing them.
“When I used to interviews a long time ago, I used to get very ill just worrying about them before they came out,” Moss said. “I just didn’t like it.
“When I first started out I did press because I wasn’t really aware that they would write something really horrible but then they did, and I was like, ‘Oh no, I don’t want to go back there. I don’t really want to open up myself to that kind of criticism.’ And I think that a lot of the time you walk in a room, they already know what they want to write about you, so it doesn’t matter what you’re like. But sometimes I will do it if I like the person or the project.”
“I had a nervous breakdown when I was 17 or 18, when I had to go and work with Marky Mark and Herb Ritts,” she told Vanity Fair in 2012, referencing the pop culture history that was made with a shirtless Mark Wahlberg and Kate in their Calvin Klein undies. “It didn’t feel like me at all. I felt really bad about straddling this buff guy. I didn’t like it. I couldn’t get out of bed for two weeks. I thought I was going to die.
“I went to the doctor, and he said, ‘I’ll give you some Valium,’ and Francesca Sorrenti [boyfriend Mario’s mother], thank God, said, ‘You’re not taking that.’ It was just anxiety. Nobody takes care of you mentally. There’s a massive pressure to do what you have to do. I was really little, and I was going to work with Steven Meisel. It was just really weird—a stretch limo coming to pick you up from work. I didn’t like it. But it was work, and I had to do it.”
(Incidentally, she agreed to VF‘s close-up look at her life in 2012 primarily because she was close to the writer’s wife.)
She has claimed she’s not even good at taking photographs outside of work, also telling VF, “I don’t want to be myself, ever. I’m terrible at a snapshot. Terrible. I blink all the time. I’ve got facial Tourette’s. Unless I’m working and in that zone, I’m not very good at pictures, really.”
Moss told i-D in 1993 that she didn’t think Wahlberg found her all that attractive—and vice versa.
“We weren’t each others types,” she said. “He was this young homeboy, like really young, and he likes girls with big butts and big tits and s–t and I don’t really fit in that category.”
She also candidly said that it took “loads!” of alcohol to get drunk. “It depends, if I’ve eaten I can drink all night, but it depends on the circumstances and what else I’ve done. I drink gin and tonic. It’s delicious!”
(No wonder when, asked on Today if she thought starting out as a model would be harder in 2018, Moss’ reply was, “I don’t know if it would have been harder. It was more fun when we were doing it—like, freer. You just do your thing and it was just freer, I think.”)
Another 1993 shoot with Corinne Day, for British Vogue, resulted in mass outrage (that would have been all the more massive today) over how young the small-breasted, wafer-thin Moss (who was legally an adult) looked. Moss became the poster girl for that very ’90s descriptor “heroin chic.” (“I had never even taken heroin—it was nothing to do with me at all,” Moss said.)
“Everything was hung on this shoot, and on Kate: anorexia, porn, pedophilia, drugs—the evil quartet,” British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman recalled to Vanity Fair. “One or two maintain that these are still the most interesting pictures we published. I knew they were unconventional, but I never knew there would be this fuss. I would have published them anyway. I thought they looked beautiful.”
Eventually Moss would become the first model to be on the cover of British Vogue 10 times. Day’s portraits of her have hung in London’s National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria & Albert Museum.
“That felt a bit weird,” Moss told i-D in 1993 about the magazine controversy. “I could have said something about it at the time, but that would have just been entering into their game so I didn’t. I knew that the pictures weren’t intended to be what they say they were, and it was really nothing—they just made a fuss about it. They’re going to write things that aren’t true about you all the time—it just goes over your head at the end of the day. I mean, then I was like ‘Oh my God, that’s really horrible saying that.’ Pedophile, uggh. But you can’t let it get to you.”
And by then, naysayers had found plenty to work with in addition to Moss’ career choices.
Moss and Sorrenti broke up at the end of 1992. She was 20 when she started dating Johnny Depp, the Edward Scissorhands star’s first big post-“Winona forever” relationship, and the images of their mid-’90s romance were downright intoxicating.
“I knew from the first moment we talked that we were going to be together,” Moss said. They met in 1994 at Café Tabac in the East Village, a spot so essential to NYC nightlife culture at the time, a movie was made about it.
The couple lived in Greenwich Village, in the same building as Carolyn Bessette when she was still just dating John F. Kennedy Jr.
Their relationship also coincided with Depp’s publicly tumultuous period, including his September 1994 arrest for alleged criminal mischief after trashing his room at the Mark Hotel. Moss was there, unharmed, according to police, and the actor was “in a state of possible intoxication.”
The charge against Depp was dropped after he paid the hotel bill, including around $2,000 to cover damages.
Moss and Depp broke up in 1997, their last rumored hurrah—a request for enough champagne to fill a bathtub at London’s Portobello Hotel in January 1998—only the result of wishful thinking. (Oh, but someone did pour a 36-bottle champagne bath that was unceremoniously drained by a housekeeper—it just wasn’t Moss, according to a rep for Storm Models. A hotel manager told the Independent that an American actor and an English model ordered the bubbly, but “customer confidentiality is extremely important.”)
In town for the 1998 Cannes Film Festival, where the exes were both in attendance, Moss was reportedly told she couldn’t wear just a bikini in the halls of the venerable Hôtel-du-Cap-Eden-Roc, after which she wrecked her room and was banned from the Cote d’Azur resort (the same hotel where Asia Argento alleged in 2017 that Harvey Weinstein sexually assaulted her in 1997. He continued to stay there for many years).
Moss admitted in 2012 that she took the breakup with Depp hard.
“There’s nobody that’s ever really been able to take care of me,” she told Vanity Fair . “Johnny did for a bit. I believed what he said. Like if I said, ‘What do I do?,’ he’d tell me. And that’s what I missed when I left. I really lost that gauge of somebody I could trust. Nightmare. Years and years of crying. Oh, the tears!”
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But back in 1998, Moss kept herself busy going out—and even when she stayed home…”I don’t like going to bed. I, um, drink tea and eat toast,” she told i-D.
And she happily acknowledged enjoying a good party.
“I don’t go to crusty raves,” she said, laughing. “But I do go to sweaty parties. I went to one at the Cobden Club [a members-only spot in Notting Hill]. It was so sweaty it was like a youth club. It turned into a bit of a rave at one point, but I didn’t mind. It was fun.”
Fairly newly single, Moss noted, “It’s tragic being on your own,” in the still-fashionable way that people use the word “tragic.” “It’s just nice to be with someone. Better than just being by yourself, definitely. It’s nice to be single for a minute, then it gets really boring. It’s nice to be with someone you can have a laugh with.”
Among the romantic gestures she appreciated: Flowers and a nice cup of tea in the morning.
Life changed when she started seeing Jefferson Hack, editor of Dazed & Confused magazine, in the early ’00s, and they welcomed daughter Lila Grace Moss-Hack in 2002.
Moss dove into motherhood full-on, bringing her daughter with her on shoots and limiting her travel schedule to only three days away at a time once Lila started school.
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“I love it,” she told Today last year about being a mom. “It’s the best thing. It’s my favorite thing. I was never lonely again, I always had my baby.” Now that Lila’s a teenager, “we’re hanging out like friends. She’s getting older and we can go shopping together, which is really fun.” Last year, mother and daughter looked like style twins while attending Princess Eugenie‘s wedding in Windsor.
“My daughter, Lila, is my style critic,” Moss told Harper’s Bazaar (whose very brand she’s credited with helping establish when the publication was reimagining itself in the’ 90s and put her on the cover). “She’ll say, ‘No, Mummy, you can’t wear that.’ She’s very good. I do trust her instinct.”
Asked if she wanted Lila to go into modeling, Moss said it was up to her and she would support her in whatever she chose to do. In October, Lila made her modeling debut for Marc Jacobs Beauty.
“It was a bit surreal to have Kate in the studio with Lila as it brought back memories of the first time I met Kate when she was 18 years old and cast to walk for the Perry Ellis spring 1993 Grunge Collection,” Jacobs wrote on Instagram. “Kate and I become very close after the Grunge Collection and remain lifelong friends (much of which is very well documented!). When Lila came to NYC to work with us in July to be the face of our latest beauty campaign, it felt a bit like an intersection of my personal and professional life coming full circle as we gathered in the studio with” everyone who contributed to the shoot.
Becoming a mother also made Moss that much more protective of her privacy, now that she was a protector of two. But so long as she was still leaving her house, people would be interested in what she was doing.
While Moss recalled passing on Valium as a teen, she would be linked to much harder substances not long afterward.
“I don’t take any more drugs than anybody else,” she once said, shrugging off the concern with which she was asked about her lifestyle.
In the summer of 2004 she successfully sued London’s Sunday Mirror over a story that claimed she had passed out in a cocaine-induced stupor after a charity event in Barcelona in 2001.
In 2005, when Moss was dating the notoriously hard to keep up with Pete Dohertythe Libertines and Babyshambles musician being in and out of jail, court and rehab seemingly every other day at one point—she was surreptitiously recorded appearing to do cocaine. When screengrabs from the video popped up on the Daily Mirror‘s website, it resulted in the quiet canceling of imminent campaigns with H&M and Burberry, and Chanel didn’t renew a contract that was about to expire.
“It was like rats over the garbage,” Mario Sorrenti told Vanity Fair in 2005, talking about how the paparazzi were all over her one night when they were out to dinner, quizzing her about drug use. “She got pushed and shoved. So did I.”
London hairdresser Sam McKnight, a good friend of Moss who also used to do Princess Diana’s hair, compared the London media’s aggressive fixation on Moss’ behavior with how Diana was hounded by the press.
“This singling someone out, we haven’t seen that for a long time,” he said to Vanity Fair. “I guess it’s because a powerful, strong woman is a bit of an enigma, aren’t they?”
Moss went to rehab in 2005 and ultimately police determined she’d been set up and no charges were filed. Her family, friends and most of the fashion world, including deciders like Anna Wintour, largely stood by her. Alexander Mcqueen wore a T-shirt reading “WE LOVE YOU KATE” during one of his Paris shows. Cosmetics company Rimmel London kept her on as its ultra-iconic face. In 2007, she collaborated on a collection for Top Shop that swiftly sold out, as did the follow-up in 2014. (And even the brands that cut ties in the moment were quick to note their hopes that something could still work out in the future—Burberry and Chanel signed her up again within a year.)
Meanwhile, despite years’ worth of stories alleging this or that instance of hard living (photos of Moss coming home in the morning wearing last night’s clothes don’t lie, but they also don’t say anything other than “I was out all night having a great time”), you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone to say something negative about working with Moss, or about just being around her in general.
Early in her career she was taken under the wings of established supermodels Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington, who have remained friends, and over the years Moss has amassed a bold-faced list of names in her inner circle, from fashion industry insiders to Keith Richards and Jude Law (she’s godmother to his daughter Iris). She has also met the queen, visiting Buckingham Palace in 2004 for a reception for “women of achievement.”
“It’s never a night where it’s just hanging out at the hotel, watching TV,” Turlington recalled hanging out with Moss in the ’90s. “Everything can become the most fun, exciting night of your life.”
“I do know that it’s going to be a good three or four o’clock in the morning,” artist Tracey Emin told Vanity Fair in 2005 about partying with Moss. “I do know there’s going to be a lot of dancing. I do know it’s going to be a lot of fun. I do know it’s going to be related to music. I know this.”
Outraged by the Mirror‘s scandalous reporting on her friend, Emin added, “Kate is fantastic. She not only has a fantastic career—and it’s really professional what she does—she also has fantastic business acumen. She’s also really, really a bloody good mother…Kate is hands-on… She had one mad, lovely party, on her birthday, and, of course, that gets all in the press. You’re allowed to have a birthday party. It’s ridiculous.” (That party was an all-nighter at Moss pal Sam Taylor-Wood‘s house that spilled over to Claridge’s hotel.)
In explaining the seemingly odd coupling of Moss and Doherty, Taylor-Wood said, “He’s much taller than you imagine, and he has buckets of charisma. She was probably attracted to that, because she’s not a dumb model.”
Moss is also apparently so charismatic, she can get vegans to eat bacon.
In 2007, she met Jamie Hince, guitarist for The Kills and a vegan, after first spying his photo online and then meeting him in person soon after.
“Jamie’s amazing,” Moss told Vanity Fair. “Basically, he turned up. I was at [longtime friend Lucie de la Falaise‘s] house in the South of France, and we were Googling men. And I went, ‘Ooh, I like the look of him.‘ A friend set us up. He turned up, and we spent, like, the next four days together. And after we finally woke up, I said, ‘Do you want a bacon sandwich?’ And he just laughed at me. I didn’t know he was a vegan. We’d been together four days.
“He wasn’t a vegan for much longer. I did get him with the bacon sandwich.”
The couple married in 2011.
Longtime friend but recent pariah John Galliano made her wedding dress, Moss standing by the man she had known since she first walked in one of his shows at 15 after when was fired from Dior after making anti-Semitic remarks and ending up in rehab.
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Hince and Moss got married in a church and, between the couple and Galliano and the rest of the glitterati in attendance, “I thought we might all burst into flames, all the crap we’ve done,” Moss’ manager Jen Ramey quipped to Vanity Fair.
“I was supposed to have left a lot earlier than I did,” wedding guest Marc Jacobs, who stayed for five days, told the magazine. He ended up staying five days. “I couldn’t even remember the name of the hotel. You just don’t want to leave when you’re around Kate. You just don’t want it to end.”
Moss and Hince settled down in London’s upscale Highgate neighborhood.
“I don’t really go to clubs anymore. I’m actually quite settled,” she told VF in 2012. “Living in Highgate with my dog and my husband and my daughter! I’m not a hell-raiser. But don’t burst the bubble. Behind closed doors, for sure I’m a hell-raiser.”
Moss opened her doors to British Vogue in 2014, showing off her living room, her garden, her Porsche and, quite excitingly, her closet full of as many shoes, sunglasses and handbags as you dreamed she would have.
Apparently there was never a need for Moss to lighten up, the model, designer and businesswoman remaining the light in every room she walks into according to her many friends who double as fans. But she has loosened the ties on her public image a bit, popping up in 2016’s Zoolander 2 and Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, the film’s plot hinging on the accidental death of Kate Moss (spoiler alert: she was just enjoying some privacy while people thought she was dead).
That being said, the Kate Moss Agency is no-nonsense.
“As a model I am prepared to stand in a bikini at the end of an ice glacier when it’s minus 30, because that is what the client has booked me to do and that’s the job,” she told British Vogue in 2017. “So, as I get older, it seemed like the natural thing to do was to take responsibility for my choices both as a model and with the branding I put my name to.”
As for her own still-thriving career, Moss continues to approach modeling like an actress playing a role.
“I still get nervous when I walk on set,” she said in Love magazine’s January 2019 video issue “#movingLOVE”. “I still kinda think, ‘Oh my God, I don’t really know what I’m doing.’ And then I get on set and then it starts, you know, once one picture’s done I’m like ‘OK, I know what I’m doing.’ It’s more about figuring out who the character is that I’m playing or that I’m going to be that day. Figure out who that is and then I’m kinda OK.”