There are Band-Aids on the backs of Karlie Kloss’s ankles. She is wearing a little sparkly ring in the shape of a "K"; a delicate gold necklace around her neck reads "Sister." New York Fashion Week is in full swing when I sit down with the 23-year-old supermodel in YouTube’s new Manhattan studios. She has just finished shooting a segment for her recent collaboration with YouTube, a handful of the platform’s most popular fashion and beauty vloggers, and Vogue magazine. After wrapping up her video shoots and walking down the runways, she’ll still have to do her homework—she just started her freshman year at New York University, where she’s taking an introductory writing class, just like everyone else. "I’m a normal 23-year-old girl," she says.
But though she does come across as quite down to earth, most 23-year-olds probably can't relate to her lifestyle. Not only is she one of the highest-paid models in the world, she’s a budding social entrepreneur who sells her own line of charity cookies at Momofuku Milk Bar, and funds a coding scholarship for girls at the Flatiron School (where she also studies programming herself—when she’s not hanging out with friends like megastar Taylor Swift). She has also codesigned small collections with companies like Warby Parker and Frame Denim. And this summer she launched her own YouTube channel, Klossy.
Traditionally, a model is a person who transmits, via his or her body, someone else's message—that someone is usually a brand. It could be argued that some supermodels, like Kate Moss, benefited from their aversion to giving interviews, remaining mysterious and enigmatic, blank slates upon which Calvin Klein or Burberry could project any image and any message. With Klossy, however, Kloss is taking a different approach, creating—and controlling—her own message and her own brand.
"As a model, you are hired to help project the image or the theme or idea of what a collection is about—or in a fashion shoot I’m modeling with Vogue, I play a character," Kloss tells me. "Obviously, as a model, being in the pages of Vogue is one of the pinnacles within your career, but it’s not always a reflection of me. But it's actually me on my YouTube channel—you actually see me, you hear me."
Before launching Klossy, Kloss was already active on Instagram and Twitter, but says she wanted to launch a YouTube channel because "I wanted to have a way to really express myself and share my experiences in a more three-dimensional way, more than just an image and more than just a few words." With the help of her friend Casey Neistat (a popular vlogger and the founder of Snapchat competitor Beme), Kloss posts to Klossy everything from life advice and behind-the-scenes videos from fashion shoots, to footage of her recent trip to Haiti with Every Mother Counts, a charity founded by the model Christy Turlington Burns.
Though she has already racked up nearly 250,000 subscribers to her channel, Kloss knows she still has a lot to learn about the fine art of vlogging. "It's been a new learning curve for me to create my own content," Kloss says. Last week's collaboration with Vogue and YouTube provided her a chance to observe seasoned fashion and beauty vloggers. "It was perfect timing, because I’m new to the YouTube community," Kloss says.
And YouTube’s studios "are meant to be collaborative," says Adam Relis, head of space at YouTube. "One of the things we like to do is set up experiences or opportunities for our creators that they might not otherwise have access to," he says. The goal of the Fashion Week collaboration between YouTube, Vogue, and Kloss, Relis says, was to "extend the runway into the studios."
The YouTube vloggers selected to participate in the collaboration—including online stars Amanda Steele, Fleur De Force, and Rachel Levin—were charged with recreating beauty and fashion looks from the runways for their YouTube channel subscribers. For YouTube, the collaboration with Vogue and Kloss offered an opportunity to get more involved with Fashion Week and help promote star bloggers on its platform.
Kloss has watched digital media change the fashion world over the course of her career. "I was modeling for a while before I ever had an Instagram account, a YouTube channel, a Twitter account, any sort of way to express who I was—in high school I hardly even used my Facebook account," Kloss says with a laugh. "It’s been a really interesting shift . . . the new way that people get inspired by beauty trends, get inspired by fashion, new ways people shop. Over the past eight years that I’ve been in the industry, I’ve seen this shift firsthand. When I was first backstage at shows, nobody was backstage tweeting, Instagramming, YouTubing live from backstage. Now backstage you can livestream what’s happening, you can livestream the show, you can feel like you’re there."
As the opportunities to share insider experiences with the world grew, so did Kloss's interest in being more than a mannequin. "It’s really been interesting as a model to find my voice, and share my perspective and my point of view, as I had this really extraordinary insight into the industry. . . . It’s been really fun to watch and be a part of this change, especially as fashion has adapted to it."
Kloss knows the vloggers she worked with last week represent the future of the fashion industry. Kloss was discovered at the age of 13 while participating in a charity modeling show in her hometown of St. Louis, Missouri—but recognizes that digital media is offering new roads into the style universe. "A lot of these beauty bloggers, they’re not backstage at shows right now working their way up, it’s a different way to enter the industry. I think that’s what is so incredible about these platforms—with a great idea or if you’re talented, you’re creative, you can showcase that, you can create an identity and share that through these platforms. . . . It’s the way the world works today."
Many of her best vlogging tips so far, Kloss says, have come from Neistat. "Casey Neistat actually told me this great rule," Kloss tells me. "You can be two of three things: good and fast but not cheap, fast and cheap but not good, and good and cheap but not fast."
"Casey’s very much well-versed in the YouTube space, and has taught me a lot about how to have an authentic voice and presence, and create smart, fun, funny content," she adds.
But what does it really mean to have an authentic voice? "For me, it’s being true to who I am and the things that I care about, the things I enjoy—a lot of the things that I post about on Instagram and make vlogs about are things that I am truly passionate about or curious about," Kloss says. "I think to be authentic, you really just have to not be afraid to be yourself."
Klossy's YouTube audience, Kloss says, is already reinforcing the value of being herself. "Just sitting in front of a camera with nothing, just talking to the camera—sometimes it’s the most successful video," Kloss observes. "Sometimes a video that takes more time to edit and takes a lot more effort actually ends up being less successful. I think that’s a really interesting data point: For me, the [videos] that have been most successful have been the ones that have been kind of most raw and real and untouched and relatable."
"Today, with all these platforms, you have a virtual persona—and I think it’s important, at least to me, that virtual persona, how somebody might perceive me just by looking at my online content that I’ve created. I hope that they actually get a feel for who I truly am," Kloss adds.
And Kloss has a reputation in the fashion industry for being, well, a nice person. At the YouTube studios, she seems open, easygoing, and genuinely interested in all of the people she meets, asking them questions about what they do and how they do it. And the vloggers who filmed segments with Kloss as part of the Vogue collaboration seemed to warm to her quickly, too.
"She's so down to earth!" marvels lifestyle vlogger Ann Le (aka Anneorshine) after her shoot with Kloss.
Australian YouTube beauty star Chloe Morello says she was pleasantly surprised to discover that Kloss comes off just as nice in person as she does on Klossy. "I feel like that’s portrayed as well," Morello says excitedly. "I thought she would be like that, so it’s really nice to get to meet her and just be relaxed in the video."
"She made us really comfortable, and we just had a normal girl conversation," exclaims Le. "She just wants to keep on talking, she’s one of those kinds of people where you just want to keep on talking forever!"
"Fun! Fun!" interjects Morello. "She said she liked my outfit."
Morello and Le may look up to Kloss and Vogue (collaborating with the legendary fashion magazine has "been a dream come true," says Morello), but they are very aware that vloggers can exercise as much influence as runway shows or high-end magazines. "I did a tutorial with an hourglass contouring palette, and the next day they sold out and they put me in their internal newsletter, then I got to meet the owner and now I'm going to be working with them," Morello says. "People just trust us because we're just a regular girl sitting in our rooms like we're a friend."
In her Klossy videos, the model seems to be channeling that "like a friend" persona. And while Kloss's YouTube approach has been somewhat strategic ("I’ve had meetings and tried to sort of lay out what I’m doing," she says), she says she tries to keep her posts loose and natural. "I don’t overthink things too much, or at least I try not to, because I actually think, be it a vlog or a post people really appreciate, the authenticity—not to keep using that word—is more engaging, and people can tell when it’s not [authentic]."
"I guess you don't really know until you try," she adds, "and with YouTube, I’m figuring it out as I go."
That's not to say it's always easy to be herself in front of such a large audience. On Instagram, she laughs, "As I’ve gotten more followers, it’s more intimidating to press the 'post' button." The same goes for her new YouTube project. "I’ve had to allow myself to be a bit more vulnerable, you know, to actually let people in, to let them talk freely and openly," she says. "It’s definitely been a new experience."
Celebrities like Kloss are constantly being scrutinized by the press. Does she ever feel nervous or doubtful about putting so much of herself out there in such a public way? "I think that’s the beauty of controlling my own content, beauty of controlling my own distribution and platforms, is that I’m the boss," Kloss says. "I get to decide if it’s cut or if it’s going to make the September issue," she laughs. "My version of the September issue."
"That kind of control is something that I really enjoy and is a privilege, because I play dress-up and get to play characters for a lot of other people’s ideas or their visions," Kloss says, "but this is mine—and there’s something really empowering about that."
Empowering—and perhaps a little exhausting. "I’m so serious," Kloss says as she heads into another YouTube shoot. "I do have to go write an essay tonight."
Slideshow Credits: 01 / Photos: Celine Grouard for Fast Company;