"Karlie Kloss is my age?" I thought to myself, scrunching up my nose after a quick Google search. But I can barely get into an R-rated movie without being asked for my ID, and she's, like, Karlie Kloss. Fast forward to a few days later when I was standing in front of Karlie herself in her dressing room at The Pageant in St. Louis. Karlie was throwing a fashion show for her debut design collection with Express and she chose a very appropriate venue: the concert hall she was discovered in at age 13 in her hometown.
Downstairs, Karlie's friends, family, old babysitters, and fans mingled and enjoyed burgers and cups of delightfully creamy soft serve from the famous Ted Drewes shop. (This is a definite thing, if you ever go to St. Louis and are interested in dessert after your BBQ.) These people made up her 700-person entourage, and they were beyond psyched Karlie was back in town. So psyched, they formed a mosh pit in the center of the catwalk, cried tears of joy when Karlie took the stage, and danced their asses off with Karlie to Charli XCX's set after the show.
Before the night unfolded, I was on a mission to get to the bottom of the hype. What was really so great about the girl who's scored 35 Vogue covers, founded Kode With Klossy in 2015, bakes delicious cookies known as Klossies to raise meal money for those in need, and also decided to go back to school to get her degree in the midst of walking the runways during Fashion Month? I guess the answer seems obvious.
Looking up at Karlie, exuding cool-girl confidence in her self-designed trousers and olive tee, glowing with excitement (and possibly unaware of the moth ball smell in the dressing room that had been masked with some sort of cinnamon spray), I wasn't convinced. Karlie looked just like every other model I had ever interviewed — flawless skin, giddy about her latest project, and tall. Really f*cking tall. She checked herself out in the dimly lit mirror across the room from the couch and invited me to sit down, throwing more Klossies my way in their signature packaging. I took this as an opportunity to break the ice. I, too, have a "famous cookie recipe" my friends are constantly begging for, for which I shave, chop, and fold three different types of Ghirardelli chocolate into the batter. From there the conversation seemed to flow naturally.
"So, I'm going to ask you about the collection now . . ." I began, when Karlie quickly cut me off. "We can talk about cookies all day, I'm just fine with that. That's fine by me." Karlie and I were having girl talk, and she wanted to keep going! She wasn't cautious about what she might say or how she might say it, as I've experienced with other interviewees who are media trained. When you ask them questions, they are like your Waze GPS, instantly able to reroute the path at the sign of congestion ahead. While Karlie has surely experienced this training over the course of the past 11 years — representing established, world-renowned brands like Victoria's Secret and L'Oréal Paris — cookies were a piece of cake.
Still, it was time to move on, and we had a pleasant exchange about Karlie's power outfit of choice, what it's like to share clothes with your sisters, and Taylor Swift's signature red lip. "That girl can rock a red lip like nobody's business. She rocks a high-waisted situation, whether it's a cute skirt . . . she's got great style. But that red lip, she can rock that with anything," Karlie mused of her fellow Vogue cover pal.
But it was when I asked Karlie about her signature power outfit that I realized we had more in common than cookies. "I just feel more powerful when I wear clothes that flatter my body and that I feel extra confident in. You feel like you can conquer the world. When you're not feeling like something's going to fall out or something's too loose — when you find clothes that really make you feel your best, you shine extra bright. That's the power of fashion — it's self expression. This white pantsuit is a boss-lady look." Immediately, I thought back to the last time I wore a "boss-lady look" and landed upon the coordinate set I slipped on to present my final project at New York University, where Karlie happens to be a student. Another Karlie connection. "YASSS! I love it! What did you study!?" she shrieked. I was in Gallatin, so I created my own concentration. HER TOO!!!
"Wait," she began, clearly amped up. "Well, I'll let you ask your questions, then we can talk about school." But I couldn't help myself. I had to know if Karlie had Moya Luckett, who taught the fashion and media class I recommend to everyone who shares my major. Karlie was, in fact, in Moya's class. I begged her to tell Moya I said hello, and Karlie and I shared a brief moment of appreciation for our liberal arts education.
It was kind of quick, but in a flash, I remembered what it was like to turn off my phone and listen to Professor Luckett's lovely British accent weave me through a lesson about Alexander McQueen's iconic spray-painted dress installation at Spring's 1999 RTW presentation. I pictured class projects for which I had to stand up and perform in front of a lot of people, a little like Karlie did on stage after the event. (I watched her practice thanking her fans for 20 minutes before they actually showed up, her PR team confirming she was projecting loudly enough to reach every corner of the room.)
After we compared NYU notes, Karlie seemed to relax a little. Eventually I asked her about her role models in the industry, to which she responded, quoting Diane von Furstenberg's mantra ("Be the woman you want to be") and highlighting her relationship with supermodel Christy Turlington: "Speaking of Gallatin — Christy Turlington! — she was also a Gallatin girl. There was public health involved in her major, but she just got her undergrad at Gallatin, then went on to start [the charity] Every Mother Counts. She wrote my letter of recommendation, so she was really one of the people who helped inspire me there."
Karlie finished on an inspirational, but somewhat expected cliché: "I could talk about Diane all day, but in general, I want to try and share her message with the girls on the runway today: you are most beautiful when you are true to that inner light and inner self and you have that confidence. No matter whether you're walking down the street, or into a boardroom, or onto a runway. It starts with self-love. You think about all the exterior pressures that we have, but you've got to block out all that noise. It doesn't matter what anybody else says about you. All that matters is who you want to be. Believe in yourself — anything is possible. I'm such a believer in that. I never would have imagined that when this whole wild ride began I would be back here."
That's when I realized what's so great about Karlie: in a sea of supermodels who got swept off their feet and thrown into rigorous careers in the spotlight, she was "back here." She wasn't afraid to go back to her roots, and she isn't afraid to plant new ones either — leading groups of girls who suddenly decide it'd be cool to learn to code or sitting in class and letting someone else be her teacher.
After we spoke, Karlie was needed downstairs, and she made her way through the hall followed by a line of people who were definitely expecting a media-trained Karlie Kloss to take the mic. But it was amusing to see a celebrity forget, for a second, about the product she was supposed to be plugging or the project she was supposed to be promoting and just talk about school. It felt really nice to indulge in a nerdy moment with a fellow 24-year-old who just happens to be really f*cking tall.
Travel and expenses for the author were provided by Express for the purpose of writing this story.