The Klosses Photography by Dan Martensen
MULTIPLE KLOSSES SNUGGLED IN ONE BED is not an uncommon sight. It was on a king-size mattress two years ago that the Kloss family—mom Tracy, dad Kurt and daughters Kristine, 23, Karlie, 20, and twins Kimberly and Kariann, 17—held a family meeting and decided to move from St. Louis, Missouri, where they had lived for 16 years, to the quiet town of Goshen in upstate New York. The reason wasn't typical: Then-teenage Karlie had become one of the world's most famous models, ascending from fresh new face to supermodel status in a matter of months. She was rarely home, and the family felt incomplete.
Photos: The Life of Karlie KlossView Slideshow
Click to view slideshow F. Martin Ramin
Karlie's career has followed a trajectory that only the fashion industry can conjure: She was booked exclusively in a Calvin Klein show the same week she started high school; rented her own apartment in Manhattan when she was just 14 years old; was the face of Christian Dior CDI.FR +0.54% Christian Dior S.A. France: Paris €130.15 +0.70 +0.54% Jan. 16, 2014 5:35 pm Volume : 104,666 P/E Ratio 16.50 Market Cap €23.52 Billion Dividend Yield 2.77% Rev. per Employee €262,852 01/08/14 The Biker Jacket Gains Popular... 12/05/13 The Force Behind Dior's Jewels More quote details and news » CDI.FR in Your Value Your Change Short position for two years; and her trademark catwalk saunter, a coquettish mix of ballet prance and seductress sashay, has pounded miles of designer runways. These days, she's fronting the Donna Karan campaign and works as a cohost of MTV's House of Style revival. And like other supermodels before her, she's becoming her own brand: Last year, she collaborated with Momofuku Milk Bar to launch Karlie's Kookies, a line of vegan treats sold to raise funds for children's charities.
Tracy, a freelance art director, remembers that family meeting: "Curled up, all six in bed, Karlie approached us and said that when she graduated high school she was going to spend more time in New York, and it would be nice if we could all be together." Kurt, an emergency room doctor, adds, "After some discussion and soul searching we made the decision that we were going to make the move." Last winter, Karlie bought her first house, a townhouse in the West Village that functions as a crash pad during frequent visits from various Klosses. But whenever she has a few consecutive days free, she's at the Goshen house—where five dogs, three cats, a bunny and a horse also reside.
The "adventure"—which is how Kurt and Tracy refer to Karlie's career—started simply. When she was a 5-foot-8 sixth grader, a friend of her parents asked if she would model in a fashion show to help fund-raise for a neighborhood family. Up to that point, she had been more interested in ballet and sports than fashion, but a model scout in that audience approached Karlie afterward about taking her strut more seriously. She booked some local jobs in St. Louis, got an agent in Chicago and was hired for an Abercrombie Kids campaign with photographer Bruce Weber.
It was later, on a trip to Chicago, that Kurt realized modeling was more than just a summer hobby for his impossibly tall daughter. "An agent pulled me aside and said she was going to be the next Kate Moss. Not that she could be, but that she was going to be," says Kurt. "I had to look up who Kate Moss was."
When Karlie hit 5-foot-9 in eighth grade—today she's over six feet tall in flats—an agent from New York came to St. Louis to talk to her parents about furthering her career. Tracy had been in discussion with Karlie's public high school about alternative education programs, and they were coordinating an online curriculum for her daily classes. But what started as one day of hooky, so that she could walk in a Calvin Klein show, grew into long absences for international travel. "We held off for awhile because we had to figure out how to make it work with everything else going on in the family," says Tracy. "The agent asked, 'Are you ready for this?' "
KARLIE'S CAREER BECAME a family trade. "Although we didn't know much about the fashion industry, we said from the beginning that it was going to be a business, and we're doing it together," says Tracy. With their own careers and three other daughters to juggle, Tracy and Kurt recruited the extended family to help manage Karlie's new job: Tracy's sister and Kurt's brother and mother all took various roles as chaperones and guardians. "She was never, ever alone," Kurt says of Karlie's teenage years. The family was always backstage at shows, on set and traveling with her around the world—either on the dime of the client or with the help of the thousands and thousands of frequent flier miles Karlie had accumulated. (Last summer, Karlie had enough American Airlines miles to bring her entire family to Denmark to visit their ancestral homeland.) Kurt's favorite trip was to China, where Karlie shot a splashy editorial for Vogue with photographer Mario Testino. Last year, she took Kimberly to the Victoria's Secret show after-party to meet Justin Bieber.
“ "An agent pulled me aside and said she was going to be the next Kate Moss. Not that she could be, but that she was going to be. I had to look up who Kate Moss was. ”——Kurt Kloss
Kurt and Tracy supported Karlie's career, but always tried to keep her feet on the ground. As Karlie describes it, she led "this bizarre double life"—part Midwestern middle sister and part international supermodel. A typical high school day might have included a 7 a.m. flight to New York to shoot a high-fashion editorial with Steven Meisel followed by a 7 p.m. flight back to Missouri to study and prepare for school the next day. During fashion weeks, homework was a backstage priority. Her friends were more into high school gossip than fashion. "And when I would come home, I still had my chores," says Karlie. "Dirty dishes, walking dogs, taking out the trash. My parents knew the glamour ended at the front door."
Tracy and Kurt always trusted their daughter, even as she became more and more immersed in an industry known for its excesses. On the subject of nudity (Meisel shot her fully naked for the first time in Vogue Italia; or her two turns in the Victoria's Secret fashion show), they support her fully. "I see it as an art form," says Tracy. "I appreciate and understand the creative aspect of the work." Kurt says it doesn't bother him, either—"as long as it's tastefully done."
Kurt acknowledges there were tricky moments, like when he nearly got into a shoving match with a man who came a little too close to Karlie in Paris's Tuileries Garden. "But we know she has a good head on her shoulders," says Tracy. "Karlie is very family-oriented, so she really did like and desire to have her family around. It's been a great gift that she's shared with all of us."
Mom and Dad didn't play favorites, either. They still don't. Asked what they think of Karlie's reputation as fashion's sweetest supermodel, Kurt smiles. "All of our girls are sweethearts, with big hearts and kind personalities." He does, however, remember how he wept as his daughter closed a Viktor & Rolf show in Paris. Afterward, while leaving the show with his brother Keith, he recalls discussing Karlie's just-wrapped performance: "Keith was saying there were so many girls, and they all looked the same. And I said, 'No, this is not any other girl. Whatever it is, she has it.' "
"I didn't even think I had it," Karlie says. Then, with a sly smile, she adds, "But Dad always knows best."