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Kate Moss Inc: How the World-Famous Supermodel Is Building a Business of Her Own

In her first ever business interview, Kate Moss speaks exclusively to Imran Amed about the future of ‘Brand Kate’ and why now is the time to launch her own talent agency.
Kate Moss | Photo: Nikolai von Bismarck
By
  • Imran Amed

HYDRA, Greece — For almost three decades, Kate Moss has been one of the most recognisable, most photographed and most talked about people on the planet. She has graced more covers of Vogue around the world than anyone else — so many, her team does not have a final tally — and has been the face of countless brands, notably Calvin Klein, for which she appeared in some of the most controversial and influential advertisements in fashion history.

From her earliest shoots with Corinne Day that helped to launch fashion's grunge movement to the glossy Mario Testino campaigns that helped to reinvent Burberry to her most recent work with Adidas and Supreme targeted at millennials, Moss has demonstrated remarkable tenacity and longevity, growing from a shy and skinny 14-year-old from the London suburbs into one of the top-earning models in the world for over two decades, surviving — even thriving — through fiery controversies, personal crises and rehab.

Today, Moss is the only one of the 1990s-era supermodels who still has an active and lucrative career in modelling. According to analysis conducted by Forbes, she earned $5 million between June 2015 and June 2016, ranking her 13th amongst the 20 highest earning models in the world. This may be less than in years past, when Forbes says she earned up to $13 million or more, but at 42, Moss is the oldest model on this year’s list and has the longest uninterrupted streak at the top of the modelling game, making her one of the richest women in Britain with a net worth estimated by The Sunday Times to be more than $75 million.

So, if you’re Kate Moss, already one of the world’s most famous fashion icons, what do you do next?

Earlier this year, Moss took the industry by surprise when she left Storm Models after 27 years. Instead of going to a rival agency, however, Moss brought her agenting in-house and quietly began acting on a plan that could transform her from supermodel to budding businesswoman.

To learn more, I meet Moss for her first ever business interview on the picturesque Greek island of Hydra in the Saronic Gulf. Moss is notoriously reticent about interviews. She rarely speaks, known for her motto "Never complain, never explain," said to have been coined by former British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli and introduced to her by her one-time boyfriend Johnny Depp. Indeed, this has been key to the mystery and fascination that surrounds her. That she has agreed to an in-depth interview with BoF to explain the thinking behind her new business seems to underscore just how important a career transition this is.

When I arrive at Moss’ private villa, accessible only by water taxi, she greets me warmly, clutching a pack of cigarettes. Her skin is sunkissed and the vibe is relaxed. She is wearing a simple, monochromatic leopard-print linen dress that shows off her tanned shoulders. She has gold hoops in her ears, and several gold necklaces of varying lengths dangle delicately from her neck.

Moss has been vacationing — in Greece, and before that, in Bali — for most of the summer with her aristocratic boyfriend Nikolai von Bismarck, a photographer whom the tabloids report has given her the massive sapphire ring she is wearing on the fourth finger of her left hand. (Von Bismarck also shot the exclusive images of Moss for this story, captured at her home in London earlier in the summer.)

This week, the villa in Hydra is also hosting a full house of friends and family. Media impresario Jefferson Hack, chief executive of Dazed Media and Moss's former partner, is dancing with their 13-year-old daughter Lila Grace to an eclectic soundtrack of Cat Stevens, Van Morrison, Talking Heads and Patsy Cline. Longtime friends Tricia Ronane and Fran Cutler are here too, milling about the swimming pool.

But despite the holiday vibes, Moss appears clear and focused on the new business she is building and understands exactly how 27 years in the fashion industry — including a slew of ad campaigns, design collaborations and styling gigs — have set her up for this next step.

Kate Moss | Photo: Nikolai von Bismarck

I start by asking Moss about her decision to leave Storm. “It’s a grown-up thing,” she says reflectively. “I felt like I wanted to do things that were more than modelling. It didn’t matter how much we would try and do it together with them, I was always going to be the little Kate that they’ve known since I was 14,” she explains. “It was like leaving home. I had to leave, and they were very understanding about it. They were like, ‘Yeah you’ve got to go now, we’ve done as much as we can do.’ I wanted to spread my wings.”

Moss says this decision has altered the way she sees herself; no longer just a model for hire, but someone in full control of her own destiny. “I didn’t realise how much it was going to change the way I feel because it is like taking responsibility for my own [business], whatever I do, instead of being the model who’s being sent on jobs to turn up and just be whatever they want you to be.”

This month, Moss is launching her own talent management agency: Kate Moss Agency. “It’s a dream! It’s so weird,” she laughs, at the prospect of spotting and backing new faces. “You know that film ‘Gia’? Faye Dunaway plays the agent. I could so do that! But I want to focus more on managing people’s careers than just [running] a modelling agency. I don’t really want pretty people, I want people that want to sing and dance and act — I want to create stars,” she says.

At first, the agency will work with a handful of talents and represent them as models. To make her vision a reality, Moss has quietly been building a small team to work alongside Lucy Baxter, her longtime booking agent, who also left Storm earlier this year.

The supermodel-turned-businesswoman is also expanding the Kate Moss lifestyle brand with a string of new collaborations and projects set to roll out later this year. The move is a natural extension of her previous work for the likes of Topshop, Longchamp and Equipment, all of whom have banked on her brand power, working with her during her time at Storm to launch new products bearing her name.

I've definitely been there and done it all, and I know the things that you don't have to do and maybe things that you should, which aren't the normal way of doing things. It's just how I know the business.

“For them I think it was still about money, whereas I’d rather do something I was really proud of as a product rather than the ka-ching,” says Moss. “As a modelling agency, they book models to do a job. You’re not as associated with the brand, you’re just the face of. But to do a collaboration and put your name on a product is a big thing for me. It’s something I need to believe in.”

Moss realised she needed a manager — not an agent — to think more strategically about her business partnerships and align them around a longer-term strategy. Earlier this year, she appointed Camilla Johnson-Hill of The Production Club her brand and business manager. “It was really the right time. I’d thought about it for a couple of years because I’ve collaborated with other people and stuff. Then I met Camilla and it was the right time for her too. It was so perfect to get somebody that understood me and what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go with it,” Moss explains. “She’s a doer. I love doers.”

But this doesn’t mean Moss will be giving away any decision-making power. “Kate makes all her own decisions. She’s the CEO. I bring things to the table and add some things and help shape things, but every project is hers,” clarifies Johnson-Hill. “One thing that I’ve learned about Kate since I’ve been working with her is that she will not do anything that doesn’t seem authentic to her. Every project is led by her, creatively and business-wise.”

THE RISE, STUMBLE AND COMEBACK OF AN ICON

The Kate Moss story is the stuff of fashion legend. She was discovered in 1988 by Storm's Sarah Doukas at the age of 14 on a flight back to London from JFK airport. Just under 5 foot 7 inches, Moss was on the shorter side to be a runway model, especially when compared to the glamazons of the day. But according to Doukas, Moss had incredible bone structure and something special — call it charisma — that made her stand out.

So different was her look that, at the start, the only paid work she could score was for lowly catalogues. “I didn’t want to do catalogue work, I wanted to do The Face. I didn’t care if the catalogue was going to pay me $200 a day, I’d rather work for The Face for free than do that shit because it was just horrible, boring clothes that old ladies would wear. Even though I was 15, they’d dress me like a lady. It was really weird. The Face felt more like my generation — what we would wear.”

Kate Moss' 1990 cover shot for The Face | Photo: Corinne Day

Things began to pick up in 1989, when she auditioned for John Galliano and walked in what was to be his last fashion show in London. The next year, Moss appeared on the cover of The Face twice. First for the May issue, shot by Mark Lebon, and then in July, shot by Corinne Day. It was the latter shoot — featuring her crooked smile, freckled face and a quirky feather headdress — that put Moss onto the radar of fashion insiders. The raw, unvarnished, black-and-white images proposed an altogether new fashion aesthetic, far from the glossy artifice that dominated mainstream fashion magazines at the time.

That same year, John Galliano called again on Moss, this time to appear in his first ever Paris show, her first time walking with the reigning supermodels of the day: Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista and Naomi Campbell. Moss has fond memories of those early Galliano shows. "Before a show, I'd ask, 'Who am I, who am I?'" she recalls. "He'd give me a persona and say, 'You are a girl from Croydon who has never had sex and is gagging for it and loads of sailors have just come into town and you've had a shot of tequila,' and he would be like, 'and gooooo!' and push you out. That was so exciting, It was brilliant!"

But things really began to take off for Moss commercially when she went to America in 1991 with her new boyfriend, Mario Sorrenti, the handsome and well-connected photographer whose family lived in New York. Moss and Sorrenti had developed an almost obsessive creative partnership. "We would stay up all night and he would spend all of his money on books and he would be in the dark room and I would be playing music," remembers Moss.

By then, the Corinne Day story from The Face was on the radar of Harper's Bazaar editor-in-chief Liz Tilberis and creative director Fabien Baron. Soon after they met Moss, she was featured in a nine-page editorial feature shot by Patrick Demarchelier for the magazine's relaunch in September 1992.

Demarchelier and Baron also happened to be working with Calvin Klein, who was in search of a new face to revitalise his fashion empire. Reached by phone at his home in the Hamptons, Klein vividly recalls his first interactions with Moss. “I had been to a number of shows in Paris, and I noticed that all the models that I had thought were special in my show did every show there, so they were less special to me,” he says. “So I was looking for someone young, what we used to call in those days ‘downtown New York’ — someone with an edge. I discussed this with Patrick Demarchelier and he called me and said, ‘You know, someone just came in, this young woman and I think this might be what you're looking for.’ He sent Kate over to my studio and I could tell that she was exactly what I was looking for,” recalls Klein. “I was coming out with a collection called CK and she would be the face of that, as well as the fragrance and jeans. She could be anything I wanted her to be.”

Over the next few years, Moss rose from relative anonymity to being the global face of Calvin Klein, signing an exclusive five-year deal reported to be worth millions of dollars, including campaigns for CK, shot by Patrick Demarchelier; for Calvin Klein Underwear (with Mark Wahlberg), shot by Herb Ritts; and most importantly, for Calvin Klein Obsession, shot by Mario Sorrenti.

“The head of the fragrance company called about Obsession — a fragrance that was very big in the 1980s but whose sales had started to slip — and said, ‘You have to do something,’” recalls Klein. “I looked at these images that Mario took of Kate and I thought, Obsession. He was obsessed with her. I wanted to project that as the new image for the fragrance. So I sent those two to an island, so that Mario could photograph her and do a commercial.”

Kate Moss for Calvin Klein Obsession | Photo: Mario Sorrenti

The campaigns caused sensation, driving the Calvin Klein business, while thrusting Moss into the centre of a debate about the sexualisation of young women and so-called “heroin chic.” Even Bill Clinton, in his second term as US President, weighed in on the debate, which continued to rage on a few years later. “Fashion photos in the last few years have made heroin addiction seem glamorous and sexy and cool,” said Clinton. “You do not need to glamourise addiction to sell clothes. It is not creative. It’s destructive. It’s not beautiful. It is ugly. And this is not about art. It’s about life and death. And glorifying death is not good for any society.”

“I’ve had controversy since the 1970s,” responds Klein, when asked about the global reaction to the new, so-called waif look he was proposing. “Controversy wasn’t really something new to me — the title ‘heroin chic’ was — but the idea that people were upset about something that we were doing, I was used to that.”

But it was new to Moss, something to which the young model would have to become accustomed as her star continued to rise over the next decade. The most bruising period came in 2005, when grainy photos emerged of her on the front page of The Daily Mirror under the headline “Cocaine Kate,” sparking a global story that threatened to ruin her career.

At first, some of her clients — including H&M and Burberry — dropped her. But industry friends rallied to support her. “She’s human. You get this life thrown at you and you deal with it,” says Lucy Baxter, who has worked with Moss for almost 20 years. “They had a sort of fashion family, they supported her. That just shows the love and loyalty and respect that she has in the industry.”

Eventually, Moss apologised and was cleared of all drugs charges. The next year, she racked up a record £30 million in earnings, shooting 14 advertising campaigns for brands including Stella McCartney, Versace, Burberry, Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior and, of course, Calvin Klein Jeans.

BUILDING KATE MOSS AGENCY

Moss continues to model today, demonstrating unusual staying power in an industry known for casting older models aside in favour of newer, younger faces. She still regularly does covers for Italian, French and especially British Vogue and, this year, has fronted campaigns for Charlotte Tilbury, Decorté, Naked Cashmere and Alberta Ferretti, as well as longtime clients David Yurman, Equipment, Rimmel London and Calvin Klein.

“That’s the thing, women do grow up as well,” says Moss. “Some of them have grown up with me, the women that buy clothes, that have been my age and followed me since I’d done Obsession. We were 18 then and I’m 42 now, and they’re just buying the clothes I’m modelling now instead of buying CK One or whatever.”

The artist Marc Quinn, who has immortalised Moss in a series of 18-carat gold and painted bronze sculptures, has called Moss the Venus of our age; "An idealised figure who is more of a cultural hallucination than an actual person of flesh and blood." Similarly, Alexandra Shulman, editor-in-chief of British Vogue, which has featured Moss on the cover 37 times, says in a new BBC2 documentary celebrating the magazine's 100th anniversary, that "On some of the covers, she has been used as a symbol rather than a person. A symbol of fashion, Britishness, Vogue. There aren't many people who have that symbolic power."

Going forward, all of Moss’ own modelling will be overseen by Baxter and managed by the new agency, which plans to set itself apart through the link to its namesake founder, her connections and her ability to spot talent and make the right strategic decisions to build a model’s long-term career.

“I’ve definitely been there and done it all, and I know the things that you don’t have to do and maybe things that you should, which aren’t the normal way of doing things. It’s just how I know the business. I chose the jobs I wanted to do and it seems to have worked for me. It’s about being selective and doing things that are true to yourself...” she trails off. “I want to start small. I don’t want to be like, having a whole board of models.”

“It’s more of a management company with creative people, but we’ll be working with them as models,” elaborates Johnson-Hill. “So there will be people such as artists or designers or curators or dancers — all people that have creative interests as part of their personalities.”

Indeed, Moss isn’t looking for just any old models — she is seeking multi-faceted talents with real star power. “I think it’s like an innate thing, something you’ve got inside. You can meet somebody and just know they’ve got it. I can tell. You can be the most beautiful girl in the world but if you haven’t got that thing... It doesn’t translate through to people, people don’t feel it.”

And having been through no small share of ups and downs herself over the course of her career, Moss aims to bring a more nurturing approach to her agency, filling a gap she experienced when she was a young model. “Naomi took complete care of me. She’d say, ‘Calm down.’ I think because you’re alone a lot of the time, you really need guidance. Even now you’re expected to do anything to get the picture, and that’s a work ethic, but you also need a support system.”

“There are all these young kids and when Cara [Delevingne] came to me she wasn’t well and I was like, ‘Babe, I am going to take you to a doctor,’ you know, because I’ve been there. I’ve got a maternal side and I’d like to take care of them and nurture them so they grow to their full capacity in anything they’d like to do, instead of being used up and tossed out, because I think that can happen a lot with things working so quickly.”

But in the age of so-called "Instagirls" — including Kendall Jenner, Karlie Kloss and Gigi Hadid — the agency will quickly need to develop its social media expertise. "They've definitely got another side with it, like the Instagram side, and they know their business I think, and are really aware," acknowledges Moss.

Moss herself has not had an official social media presence until now, but the agency's new Instagram account (@KateMossAgency) will focus on Moss as well as her new protégées, eventually consolidating more than one million followers from hundreds of fan accounts.

“There will be pictures of Kate, pictures that Kate has chosen and pictures of the other models that the agency represents. I think it will be kind of feeling it out as we go along, and not strategically planned. It kind of will come from the heart, but it will definitely be Kate’s vision, not just pictures of her, but Kate’s vision,” says Johnson-Hill.

Indeed, the first two names — one male, one female — in KMA's select group of models have been casually dripped out on the company's Instagram feed. Sixteen year-old Elfie Reigate just walked in her first Alexander McQueen show during Paris Fashion Week. Louis Baines, formerly represented by Select, is the agency's first male model.

As for the models’ own social media accounts, “They'll do it themselves, it will come from them,” Johnson-Hill continues. “Each person will be different and some will want to put their energy in that area and some won’t. Some will need guidance.”

I'd like to take care of them and nurture them so they grow to their full capacity in anything they'd like to do, instead of being used up and tossed out.

But Baxter cautions that in keeping with the agency’s underlying philosophy, social media also needs to be authentic. “[Social media] has had a massive effect, but I think there’s got to be credibility in it. I don’t know whether just having millions of followers is necessarily what clients want now,” she says. “I think if you have a very niche following but you have a good connection with your audience, I think that’s more interesting. I also think people can use such a good voice box for other interests outside the modelling world, say music or literacy or activism. Once they’re established, they’ve got a platform that they can use to pursue other interests.”

“I think it’s just encouraging people to do what they feel and giving them the opportunity to do it,” says Moss. “Giving them a camera or something ... they can make things and it’s just giving them the chance to be creative.”

But while authenticity in social media is key, could the new agency be underestimating the importance of social media in building new faces into major talents?

“Well, the focus seems to be on how many people follow Kendall Jenner, because she’s perfectly beautiful, she has the right look, but I wouldn’t have measured how many people follow her because I always believed that I could create that interest, I could create the excitement with someone who isn’t well known,” reflects Calvin Klein. “I still believe that to be true, even though it seems to be that models get paid and booked based on how popular they are.”

Indeed, many brands are now said to cast their shows, at least in part, by looking at social media presence. Some agencies — including Moss’ former agency Storm — now detail their models’ social media following alongside other stats like height and weight on their websites. Yet a look at the models rocketing up the rankings on Models.com reveals that while some of the site’s top 50 models have huge social followings, others do not.

As for developing Kate Moss the lifestyle brand, the team believes that, here also, authenticity is key. “I could’ve sold my soul ages ago. There’s no excitement in that. I’d rather create things that excite me,” Moss says. “I think people know what they like, they just don’t have it. So hopefully I can give them things that are not available now. It's always classic in my head but then it’s always a twist. There’s always going to be some kind of toughness. Not hard necessarily but just a bit off. A bit mad. Nothing is too serious.”

While he is not sure about the potential of Kate Moss Agency, Calvin Klein, for one, thinks Moss could be onto something by creating her own products and brand. "If Kate wanted to be a fashion editor, she could have easily fit into that world, as Grace Coddington did. She could be an actress if she wanted to pursue that world. She could also have a clothing collection. You don't have to be a designer, you have to have taste and an eye, and you don't necessarily have to have the schooling. Her schooling has been trying on clothes for 27 years."

Thus far, Moss has a new and unexpected collaboration with luxury wallpaper company De Gournay, out in November, and a knitwear collection with Naked Cashmere, launching December 1, with several other deals and projects in the pipeline. (The collaborations are generally structured as licensing agreements with full creative approval, where the Kate Moss brand is licensed to partners for a finite period of time, with the option for both parties to renew. In the future, some products may be created and managed by the company in-house.)

But why Kate Moss wallpaper?

“Because it’s just so special, it’s just so me. The way and what they produce is just a magical thing. It's like owning a diamond for me,” says Moss, visibly excited. “It’s so gorgeous. I would definitely have a room in it. It’s all hand-painted.”

For the less home design-inclined, the exclusive hand-painted wallpaper designed by Kate Moss will also be available on teapots, tableware, umbrellas and scarves.

But don't count Moss out from modelling just yet. "I love working with Tim Walker. It's like going into another world, and with Mert and Marcus, it's like being another person for a couple of days, creating beautiful pictures and working with people that are really the best at what they do creatively. Like Julien d'Ys when he gets his hairspray, graffiti paint and starts spraying the wigs," she sighs. "We did a 10-day shoot for Versace once with Avedon, it's just mental, 10 days. It just doesn't happen anymore."

Kate Moss is the cover star of BoF's latest print issue. To get your copy, visit shop.businessoffashion.com.

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