The Interview — Karolina Kurkova, Supermodel
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Often called one of the last true supermodels, the Czech-born Karolina Kurkova has established herself as a fashion and entertainment icon and savvy businesswoman, most notably gracing best-selling covers of fashion magazines worldwide, starring in numerous high-fashion campaigns, co-starring in a hit film franchise, and parlaying her talent into the world of fashion TV.
After being spotted by a model scout in 1999, Kurkova was signed to an exclusive Prada/Miu Miu contract. Soon after, she became the youngest model to grace the cover of American Vogue at age 16, and was lauded as the “next supermodel” by its famed editor Anna Wintour. Wintour isn’t the only one applauding Kurkova. Photographer Mario Testino has said, “The proportions of her body and her face, as well as her energy level, make her a model who could fit almost into any moment,” and designer Marc Jacobs has been quoted saying, “She has an angelic look with a dark side. She’s sweet and fun, but looks like she could be an evil bewitching child.”
The appearance on the cover of American Vogue gained her momentum as a worldwide phenomenon, with covers of French, German, Spanish, and Australian Vogue, not to mention a first-time-ever series of British Vogue covers following in close succession. Kurkova went on to grace the covers of every major worldwide fashion publication—from W and Harper’s Bazaar to Numero, international Marie Claire, and i-D. In 2004, Kurkova crossed over into men’s magazines, gracing the cover of GQ’s “Summer Beach Issue.” In her first few years of modeling alone, Kurkova was featured on no less than 52 covers. Magazines know that Kurkova’s covers will sell. Her November 2011 Vogue Brazil cover was the magazine’s highest-selling issue ever. This record was formerly held by Gisele Bundchen. Kurkova has worked with the who’s who of top photographers in the fashion industry, including Steven Meisel, Patrick Demarchelier, Ellen von Unwerth, Mario Testino, Michael Thompson, Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, Irving Penn, David Simms, Steven Klein, David Bailey, Arthur Elgort, Nathaniel Goldberg, Elaine Constantine, Richard Avedon, Herb Ritts, and David LaChapelle.
Kurkova has expanded into the business world, proving to be a natural entrepreneur. Since she was 19 years old, Kurkova has been experimenting with alternative and holistic practices, which has formed her belief that beauty and well-being start from the inside out. Her travel and experiences along with her constant drive to evolve and learn have affected the way she raises her children, introducing them early to healthy foods and habits and always searching out the best ingredients in products. Through her own thirst for continued knowledge, she found herbalist Orion Nevel & Rachel Finger and a natural partnership to create Gryph & IvyRose with the goal of creating pure, functional products for children. Additionally, she recently collaborated with Cybex Strollers to create an eco-friendly yet stylish line of children’s mobility products.
Additionally, she has starred in fashion and beauty campaigns for internationally iconic clients such as Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Celine, Helmut Lang, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana/ D&G, Versace/ Versus, Christian Dior beauty, Tommy Hilfiger, MaxMara, Saks Fifth Avenue, Anne Klein, Victoria’s Secret, Missoni, Blumarine, Giuseppe Zanotti, IWC, and Jean Paul Gaultier, to name a few. She has also made over 400 runway appearances for such diverse designers as Michael Kors, Helmut Lang, Donna Karan, Chanel, Roberto Cavalli, Marc Jacobs, Anna Sui, Alexander Wang, and Calvin Klein. Kurkova was chosen to wear the $15 million jeweled Fantasy Bra for Victoria’s Secret in 2002, and she also appears in the prestigious Pirelli calendar.
In 2009, Kurkova crossed over into the entertainment world, making her big-screen debut in the summer blockbuster, G.I Joe: The Rise of the Cobra. She went on to guest-star on the NBC television series Chuck and 30 Rock, CBS’s Person of Interest, and produced/starred in the 2012 German fashion reality TV series entitled The Perfect Model. Most recently, Kurkova joined fellow supermodels Naomi Campbell and Coco Rocha as coaches and mentors on Oxygen’s first season of the reality series The Face, which premiered February 2013. With Kurkova’s guidance, a model from her team went on to win the entire competition.
Kurkova has been honored for her impressive achievements, including being named one of the world’s “50 Most Beautiful People” twice by People Magazine and remains the youngest model ever to win "Model of the Year" at the VH1/Vogue Fashion Awards. She received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2007, and in July of that year, Kurkova was listed by Forbes as one of the top-earning supermodels in the world. In 2012, Karolina was honored as "Style Icon" at the Vienna Awards for Fashion & Lifestyle. In the same year, she also received the GALA Spa Award in the category of "Beauty Idol," which was awarded by one of Germany's most popular premium people magazines. Karolina moderated the Energy Fashion Night 2012, once again proving that she's also a force to be reckoned with in the entertainment industry. In early 2013, Karolina released her own fragrance in cooperation with LR Health & Beauty Systems, an international operation company. Karolina was intensively involved in the creative process. The fragrance cooperation already earned Karolina a nomination at the 2013 Duftstar Awards in the category "Novelties - Lifestyle (Women)." The German Duftstar Award is the most distinguished award in the cosmetic industry.
Kurkova’s most recent partnership is Billie Blooms x Karolina Kurkova, for which she and the brand have teamed up to produce sustainable cloth masks for purchase and donation to Feeding America, ensuring as many people as possible can protect themselves from COVID-19. More than a beautiful face, Kurkova campaigns for the welfare of children through organizations such as AmFar, Feeding America, and New Yorkers for Children. She has also done work on behalf of the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, Feeding America, and Wounded Warriors.
Having grown up in the small Czech town of Decin, 100 miles from Prague, Kurkova comes from a close-knit family. She credits her solid upbringing and unfailing family support as her foundation and source of her level-headedness, confidence, and self-sufficiency. Married in 2009, Kurkova and her husband, film producer and businessman Archie Drury, currently reside together with their sons, Tobin Jack Drury and Noah Lee Drury.
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Walk us through your journey in the modeling industry. How did it all begin?
I always say it was kind of meant to be because, growing up, I really did not like being photographed. I didn't like being in videos. I was very shy, very intimidated. I was the tallest out of all the boys and the girls. I had super long legs and super long arms and I was just very different. And growing up in a small town, being different was not the easiest thing. But made me who I am today, and that's what was and is special and unique and different about me. And in the end, all of the bullying and the not-nice stares and the laughter that I experienced kind of made me stronger and tougher. Not everything in life is going to be perfect and wonderful all the time, and you've got to have some struggles and you've got to experience things that make you stronger.
When I turned 14, my friend from class wanted to be a photographer and wanted to take a few pictures of me in my room, and I said yes because it was just me and her. And when you're 14, you kind of search a little bit and experiment with yourself and your beauty. I remember I put lipg loss on for the photos, and that was like a lot of makeup back then. Now that's like no makeup. But back then, when you were 14, putting lip gloss on was like, wow. That was like grownup stuff.
And then she sent those photos to an agency in Prague without telling me. I went to visit them because they called me and asked if I would want to meet them and model. At first, of course, I wanted to kill my friend, but then second, I was curious. I wanted to give it a chance. As a girl who was 14 years old—again, you're kind of exploring and finding yourself—it was something kind of exciting. So I went and tried, and the rest is history. So that's where the journey began. And it's interesting because once I started getting in front of the camera, it's almost like I'd done it before. I knew what to do. I knew how to move.
I was a gymnast from age seven to 13 where I had to audition and would train every day. So I was good with my body and knew how to move. I think that really helped me with modeling and also that discipline and dedication that I had from being a gymnast really prepared me for the world of modeling super well. I always kept a good head on my shoulders and never slipped into partying or being lazy or being a little too comfortable.
I went to Milan for a couple of days to practice my English, and that's when I met Miuccia Prada and the casting director at the time for Prada. And then they put me in the show and the collection was made of me—inspired by me. And then my next big trip was to go to New York and meet clients. That's when I also met Miss Ana Wintour. I had a few test shoots and smaller stories for American Vogue. Then I had the big fashion story, where I worked with Steven Meisel, Grace Coddington, Pat McGrath, and Garren. At age 16, I was the youngest on the cover.
I've been very lucky, but I definitely worked hard for everything I've done. I had my dreams and visions and I went for them to achieve them. I think it's important to have that desire and drive, because without that, I don't think you can really achieve success.
Looking back on the past 21 years, what are you most proud of career-wise?
I'm proud of everything I've done. I've been really lucky to work with some of the greatest artists out there—photographers, stylists, makeup artists, editors, art directors. Being in the business 21 years and starting when I was 15 years old, the industry was in a different place and I really got to still work with some of these great artists like Penn, Avedon, Steven Meisel, Peter Lindbergh, and many, many others. I really got to work with some of the pioneers of the fashion industry. And to this day, I get to work with some of the new faces and new people that are coming on the scene and have a different way of photographing and styling and doing things and also see you in a different way and a different light. As a person, you are always evolving. As an artist, you are always evolving. So I think it's been really fun for me—given that I've been in front of the camera since I was 15—to be able to create so many different iconic images and looks and styles over the years. To be able to do that, and not just in front of the camera but also styling and art directing and being part of the creative process, which I really enjoy and obviously have gained so much experience at.
View Karolina's Essentials
Tell us about your favorite campaign of all time.
Oh, my God. That's a really hard question. That's like impossible to say. I've done so many different shoots and images that it's really hard to say that just one of them is my favorite or just one of them truly defines me. I have different emotions and things in me, and that's what I love about my work. I get to play with so many of them and every photographer sees something different in you and photographs you in a different way and has a different style and vibe that you get to kind of tap into and play with.
But some of my favorites I would say were definitely the Valentino campaign—it's black and white and I'm naked and the images are very iconic and classic. It kind of reminds me of Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot. That was definitely a very special campaign that I remember to this day. Oh, my God, there are so many, I feel like I need to have them in front of me so I can look through them. But definitely that campaign really stands out for me. I also really remember being a part of the Pirelli calendar. It's always very special and iconic.
What led you to expand into the business world and start your company, Gryph & IvyRose?
So as I mentioned, I've always had this connection to a natural, healthy lifestyle from early on being the fashion business. Of course from my father being a professional athlete, but also growing up in Europe where my grandparents had this country house and grew everything fresh. If we were sick, my grandmother went to the garden to get herbs or plants that she would boil and make some sort of a potion out of to make us feel better. So I grew up with that kind of mentality and philosophy and exposure to things like that. So I've always liked more natural things in general—doing body work, acupuncture, cupping, and body alignment massages. To me, that was always something that I've really enjoyed and like to splurge on. I like to spend money on those kinds of things because I'm investing in my body and myself and how I look and how I feel. Then I had my two boys, who were both born at home in the water. My first one was born in New York and my second one in Miami, Florida, where we live by now.
That was something that I really had no personal connection to. My brother and I were premature and my mother didn't really breastfeed us, so that idea didn't really come from my family's side. But it was something that I, with my husband, started to do a little research on. And we felt like it was something we wanted to do—it felt very natural to do. Women have done it for millions of years, and I just felt very connected to something like that. I love water already and, you know, it just totally makes sense to me for babies to be born in the most natural, peaceful way. And so that was kind of our plan. We prepared as much as we could, and then we just had to believe in the power of the body and kind of letting things happen. And of course, if I had to go to the hospital, I was ready for that. But really, my dream was to do it at home. I was scared at certain times like anybody would be. But I really had this belief and trust in the power of the body. And we're designed, especially as women, to do it and deal with that.
And my husband was right there by my side, so I felt very safe and confident about it. And for him, it was such a magical moment in his life that he remembers and still talks about to this day—just being there when his boys were born and getting to help and be one of the first ones to be part of it and to be there for me.
Have you always been a big proponent of clean products, or is this a new thing for you?
I've been really into wellness and health and this whole self-care thing since early adulthood. I would say definitely from the beginning of my 20s. I did raw foods for seven years. I was vegan for seven years. And this was actually during a time when this stuff wasn't as easily accessible. There were not great products like there are now—brands and companies and restaurants that you could just go to and pick up a super healthy yummy juice or great tasting salad. Now it's much more mainstream and much more affordable. It was really a time where it wasn't easy to be vegan or vegetarian unless you were making things yourself, which is of course wonderful, but it does take a lot of time to do and it was very hard when I was traveling. I'm a big foodie, so I don't want to just eat like plain lettuce with olive oil and lemon. I want flavors and textures and really beautiful, gourmet things.
So I've definitely always been more aware and did my homework. I knew how things could affect your body and how the skin is your biggest organ and what you put in is what will come out. I also knew the importance of using good products—they get absorbed into your skin and how that can affect the way you look and feel. And given that I grew up with a father who was a professional basketball player and an athlete all his life. I would see how he took care of himself, how he trained, and how he had to have this certain lifestyle to sustain that energy and performance. I was introduced early on to that kind of disciplined lifestyle, and coming to the fashion business, that definitely continued because even when you are traveling the world and you're dealing with jet lag and you're on set many hours, you've got to perform. You've got to look good. You have to have energy and power and you can't really be tired. You're the one that everybody's relying on. How do you sustain that? And when you're doing it every single day like I was for a long time, and for many years at a very young age, I just knew that I had to take care of myself. I wanted to have that beautiful, glowing skin and good energy and a good attitude and not be exhausted or just rely on caffeine. And I mean, you couldn't rely on caffeine because it's not sustainable. Eventually, you will crash and you will need more of it, and you get yourself into this spiral. So for me, eating well and getting my rest instead of partying was necessary in order to give my best performance on set and be professional. So from a very young age, I kind of always on top of that. I was very organized. I was very mature and very professional even though I was maybe 15, 16 years old—more than any other 15 or 16-year-olds around me.
What’s your skincare and beauty routine like?
I'm not someone who has millions of products. I try to keep it simple. During quarantine, there were so many things that I rediscovered—things I'd seen my grandmother and my mother using growing up in Europe. It kind of goes back to what Mother Nature has to offer and what we also have at home in pantry or fridge—like the power of egg whites for tightening and smoothing your fine lines, avocado for moisturizing your hair and skin, coffee grains for exfoliation, oatmeal for hydrating your skin, and many, many others. I also use a lot of massaging tools like gua sha or microcurrents. They're easy to use but effective, and it's something you can do on your own rather than always relying on other people to do it for you.
I like to use a good cleanser—that's definitely a massage for me. A good toner to prep the skin and a good eye cream, good hydrating, moisturizing, and reparative serums, and good moisturizers and face oils to give you that nice glow. And then I love face sprays for refreshment during the day as the day goes on to kind of rehydrate and refresh my skin. Exfoliation is another big thing that I love in my skin care routine—something to detox and exfoliate the dead skin so the new skin can kind of come up to the surface and you just look more youthful and healthier and fresh.
I also believe that it's not just about what you put in your skin, but it's also what you eat. So I love a lot of healthy fats like nuts, olive oil, ghee, and avocados. They're good for you on the inside, but they also affect your skin. Those are great omegas for your brain, skin, nails, hair, brain function. Probiotics are always good for your healthy gut flora. When your gut flora is good, your skin also is going to look good.
And then another thing is also smiling a lot and kind and being happy. Celebrating silly, happy moments that make you smile. That does make a difference in your face and your skin and your quality and how you glow.
What are your favorite ways to practice self-care?
I really love self-care. I mean, that's like the best thing you can do for yourself, right? To love yourself and take care of yourself. It's so important. And I always say our bodies are temples, and they're not something we can necessarily replace. So we really have to take care of them and invest in them and cherish them. I love all kinds of self-care, especially during quarantine. There are so many things I've been doing at home, and not just for me but also with my kids and my husband. And some of them I included in my 10 favorites, like the Biomet and acupuncture stickers. I also love doing homemade face masks with things that the kitchen has to offer. To me, it's a really sacred time. When I do this stuff, it's kind of time for me. And when you become a parent, especially, it's very rare to have those moments. You don't get them all the time because you are taking care of everybody else, which, of course, we moms love to do. And that's kind of our job. But it's important to still have that time for yourself and take care of yourself. I think it's also good that you expose your children to that, because you can go through it together and there's nothing more beautiful to show your family than how important it is to take care of yourself so you can feel good and healthy and strong.
You’re a model, businesswoman, mom, and so many other things. How do you balance it all?
It's about harmony. I'm very lucky that I my parents come a lot, especially now that I have the two boys. It's been an amazing gift to have their support and have them share their values with the boys. My mother language—the Czech language—they speak that with them a lot. To have them near me and for us to kind of bond in a whole different way as parents and daughter has been really, really special.
You definitely have to be very focused and very organized and prioritize a lot. And you need to have people help you. You've got to plan. And sometimes, you just have to be okay with doing your best and planning things out. Sometimes they happen and sometimes you have to change the direction and you have to be relaxed about that and flexible. And, you know, that's just how it is. You also have to remember that it's not only about you and your husband. What's the greatest good for your family and your kids? Sometimes you say yes and sometimes you say no.
So at times it's very overwhelming and it's frustrating. But then there's so much beauty at the same time and it's really special and unique. Giving birth to my boys was the most incredible experience that I will never forget. Nothing else will ever replace that. Really, nothing. And when they look at you and they tell you they love you—nothing else in this world really matters more than that. And when your kids really want to spend time with you and they cherish you—that to me is success. And that's what I strive for every day—to be the best person for them and do my best all the time for them and with them.
What’s your best advice for aspiring models and women in general?
My advice is always to be the best version of yourself. Be the true you, because you are beautiful and you are unique and you are special. And there's no one like you out there. I always want to push myself to be the best that I can be. I love to learn. I'm very curious. I think it's very important not to lose that childlike curiosity that you want to always learn things and be better and try things. There is so much in life to do and try and discover, you know? And that should never really stop. Because I think that's what keeps you young and fresh and exciting and excited about life. I also would say that there is power in saying no. It's something that I've definitely learned to do more. There is Not everything we have to say yes to, and if something doesn't feel right in your gut feeling, then that's probably something you should listen to. Just don't do it or maybe take your time and do your research. It's something that we all have and we're born with. And I think it's important to listen to and stay in touch with that gut feeling. If it doesn't feel right, then there's probably something to that. And you should listen to that.
What’s next for Karolina Kurkova?
I’m going to continue working on Gryph & IvyRose and my Karolina Kurkova x Billie Blooms Masks For All collaboration to help families stay safe and flatten the curve. I also still love modeling and can’t wait to create more memorable fashion moments in front of the camera. Lastly, we’ve been so lucky during this time to be together as a family, so no matter what, I’m going to enjoy my time with them to the fullest.