Solid Gold

In fashion, you are either in or you are out. Or in Heidi Klum’s case, you are rather above it all.

Story by Ken Miller / Photography by Rankin

In fashion, you are either in or you are out. Or in Heidi Klum’s case, you are rather above it all. No longer a mere mannequin, Klum has become a brand unto herself, producing and hosting the eternally popular Project Runway while also jetting to her native Germany for her own Germany’s Next Top Model. She’s also a working mother of four, which led to her latest projects, the maternity wear line Lavish by Heidi Klum for A Pea in the Pod, and Loved by Heidi Klum for Motherhood Maternity. Since she was a budding designer before she became a model, it’s a creative development that comes quite naturally.

Do you relate more to the contestants on Project Runway or Germany’s Next Top Model?
I would say I definitely relate more to the models, because that’s really my career. I’ve had to go over all those hurdles that they have to go over. I’ve had to overcome those fears of being in front of the camera and being stared at all the time and being the center of attention. So I definitely relate much more to the girls than to the designers.

As a model, you are paid to be seen, but not heard. Were you nervous the first time you had to speak on camera?
Being in front of the camera always felt very natural to me — I kind of always was the way I was, and it always kind of worked. It started with little cameo things I was doing for Access Hollywood, ET, Extra and things like that. They were interviewing me and I just grabbed the mic from the interview and I kept running around interviewing all the models backstage at the Victoria’s Secret fashion show. They liked it and I got more and more gigs like that. They liked that I was free, and always having fun. I was never too shy. I’m not a shy girl!

I was going to say! You have this very vivacious personality. Have you always been able to express yourself?
There are definitely moments that are harder to be in front of the camera. It depends on how the mood is and how the people are around you. Like, sometimes when there are people that are a little bit bitchy or mean-ish or who talk behind your back …. Moments like that, you have to be more sure of yourself and have to be strong to make it through the day. There are also days when I shoot on the street and all of a sudden I have all people looking, and paparazzi around. In the beginning of my career that would have been very, very intimidating. But you use the energy that it brings for the photo. You kind of go into a role — it’s not reality, but you play with it and fun photos happen because of that.

Do you have a more preferred style of shoot — more
casual and natural or very high gloss, big productions?
What I love about my job is that I get to be a chameleon and go into all these different things. There is not really one thing I prefer more than another. I just shot with not one bit of makeup at all — no cover-up, no lip-gloss, no mascara, nothing — which was a little bit intimidating, but also fun at the same time. Or today, we’re channeling Marlene Dietrich, which is also super fun! I’m definitely more free with photographers who are really good. I would probably not do any goofy, crazy thing with someone I don’t know. You have to have that kind of trust when you do silly things or strange things or provocative things. I wouldn’t do nudes with just anybody!

You’ve also been designing clothes since you were quite young. Tell me about what you’re working on now.
I’ve been very fortunate to tap into a lot of different things in my career. I’ve designed Birkenstocks, I’ve had a candy line for a few years in Germany, I made jewelry for five years, I did a catalogue in Germany for a long time, I did a capsule collection for Jordache. Now I’m designing for pregnant women! Having four children, I learned a lot in four pregnancies. So I wanted to take what I’ve learned and make beautiful things for beautiful pregnant women.

It’s amazing that you’ve been able to juggle having four kids and working as a model.
I don’t think I ever really stopped working, to be honest. We’ve shot eight seasons of Project Runway, and I was probably pregnant three times on the show. I was breastfeeding my first daughter during the first season. So I was never taking nine months off and then all of a sudden I was back. That’s the good thing about my job. I’ve never really been a high fashion model, where I have to be super skinny and do the runways. So I’ve kind of always done more television, commercials and ads ….

And you get to be more natural?
I get to be a little bit more real, I guess. I never had to be super thin and watch my weight so much. What I’m very happy about is that I get to speak my mind and I get to do my own things. A lot of models don’t have that opportunity. You get to be booked for a job, and you have to do what the client wants and that’s it. It’s more fun [when] you can really let your own creativity come out.

Is there a particular city that you get the most inspiration from?
I think that all travel does something to you. In India, for example there are women carrying their girls around that are maybe two years old, and they have full black liner on their eyes. I was doing a make up line for Victoria’s Secret, and it was very much inspired by my trip to India. So definitely, somewhere in your life, [travel] inspires you to do something with it.

And since we’re doing Marlene Dietrich, do you feel a special connection to fashion in Germany?
Deep down in my heart, I’m always going to be a German girl, even though I have two passports now. I think you always are what you are from. I lived 18 years of my life in Germany and our children speak German and English. I’m very much German at heart.

When you look at younger models, how do you think the industry has changed?
It’s hard for me to say how different it is for young girls now, because I don’t know how it is in the real modeling world right now. I can only say from a television point of view that the [contestants on Germany’s Next Top Model] basically have to do in three months things that I did in my whole career. We just pile it all onto them! But it’s a modeling competition, and you know, the winner gets 400,000 Euros. So that’s not too bad!

Has there ever been a moment when you thought, ‘Oh, this is too much … This is too crazy?’
There have been some moments for me as a model, definitely, where some photographers have not been so nice. They want to squish you like an ant and you have to make sure you don’t get squished. I don’t think you always have to fit in — you have the right to say things sometimes. But it’s a great job. There are a few sharks, but you just have to make sure you know how to swim around them.