You recently worked with Steven Meisel for Vogue Italia but you have worked with him before. What kind of relationship do you have?
Steven is a good friend and we have worked together a lot in the past. Back in 1990 we were on set and at the end of the session I wasn’t sure I had given it my all. So, I said to Steven, ‘I don’t think you have it’. He was a little annoyed and replied firmly, ‘Kim, we’re done, I got it’. But I wanted to give it another go, so I told him I blinked in the last image. I didn’t blink and he knew that. He had all his assistants and editors around him and I thought he was going to thrown me out. But he just laughed and held out his hand, the assistant passed the film and we started shooting again. In that last round we definitely got it – a cover for Vogue Italia.
How did you first start out as a model?
I was discovered at this little charm school. The woman that ran the show took me to New York on a convention. She kept telling me that I would do very well as a model because I was picked on in high school. The kids would throw me into the rose bushes and laugh at me. I suffered so much abuse as a child because of the way I looked.
Was high school like boot camp for the modeling industry?
Absolutely, it prepared me to hear negatives. When I first moved to Paris, all I heard was ‘no, no, no’. The other American girls who were cheerleaders and beauty queens couldn’t handle the rejection and they left. But for me it was easy, I had been dismissed all my life. I just kept thinking one day that ‘no’ is going be a ‘yes’ and I’m going to hang in there until it is.
You had a lot of success in Europe why did you decide to leave?
I was 25 when I moved from Paris to New York and I left because I just wanted to go home. When I arrived Elite Models weren’t very positive about my future there. I went on a lot of castings but things didn’t work out. Eventually, I said I wanted to quit and they agreed it was good idea. However my intention was to quit the agency but not modeling all together. In my last meeting I remember the door closing behind me and I heard all the people in the office laughing at me. I felt awful and thought how cruel people could be.
But that didn’t stop you, right.
It did not! I went on to Click Models and soon after I shot for Vogue and I started to do really well in America.
You are very close to your family back in Kannapolis, how did they react to your success?
I would tell my mother that Irving Penn photographed me and she would say, ‘I wish I knew who Irving was so I could be more excited for you’. My mother is very intelligent but fashion is just not part of her world. She was more excited seeing me in the McCall’s catalogue than Vogue because it meant more to her. I think their happiest moment was when someone in my hometown told my father that I was just like Dale Earnhardt the famous racing car driver from Kannapolis. My dad was so proud and for me it was very humbling to be compared to him. He was such a legend.
How does it feel to be back in the industry after all these years?
This industry is hard but it has been really good to me. The best years of my life began when I started modeling. I didn’t think I could come back to it but it’s kind of like getting back on a bicycle. I also feel very grateful, I have been really heart broken because of a divorce but now I am around people that I have missed dearly and I feel like I am healing again.
PHOTOGRAPHY Wikkie Hermkens - STYLING Sonny Groo - TEXT Savi Kuruppu