Bar a slim collection of life mottos (think "Never complain. Never explain," and the notorious, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”), Kate Moss is hardly known for her way with words. Unique beauty aside, for this mysteriously media-mute supermodel, it’s her wardrobe that does the talking, as one of the most voraciously tracked style icons in living history. Moss’s edgy, effortlessly feminine rock ‘n’ roll style hasn’t tempered a jot with age. Case in point, the bottom-baring studded body and sheer tights combo by Saint Laurent (one of her favourite brands) she wore to Carine Roitfeld's CR Fashion Book party in Paris last year, which looked like she’d forgotten to put her trousers on. But Moss, whose most iconic looks include her glossy black Alaia fur coat and the startlingly sheer silver slip dress she wore to an Elite Model Agency Look of the Year party in 1993, can pull off anything.
Having successfully flexed her designer muscle with her soon-to-be-resurrected line for Topshop (the entire range of the first collection in 2007 is said to have sold out on its first day), Moss, who last year won a Special Recognition Award at the British Fashion Awards for her “continued influence on the fashion industry as the fashion icon of her generation,” is known for her unique personal style, innate radar for future trends and informed editor’s eye, studiously cultivated by sponging up everything going on around her during her nigh three-decade-long career − the perfect credentials for her new role as guest fashion editor at British Vogue.
With some 300 magazine covers and countless ad campaigns under her low-slung belt, Moss, an Olympic-level athlete in the field of wardrobe changes, remarkably continues to display an infectious passion for clothes, even for the industry’s most seasoned players. After all, Moss is protecting her brand, and needs to boost its value as she ages in a young person's profession.
“She came in recently to go through her rail for her first shoot and what I realised was that when she talked about the clothes she completely understood what it was about each item that makes it special. She could show something which you felt indifferent to, but when she talked about each item you see them in a different light,” said Alexandra Shulman, editor of British Vogue, in a recent interview with the Guardian. “All good fashion editors can breathe life into a rail of clothes, but it is unusual for a model to be able to do that. To see that made me optimistic about what she will be like as a stylist." Photographer Mario Testino, meanwhile, in a recent interview with the Daily Telegraph, said, "Kate Moss has made many people dream. And not only people that look at fashion but those that create it as well."
And it all began so innocently. It was a black-and-white shot of Moss as a fresh-faced, 16-year-old ingénue sporting a feather headdress, wrinkling her nose as she giggled into the lens of the late photographer Corinne Day, that catapulted her to fame in 1990 when it ran on the cover of since-shuttered cult magazine The Face. Just like Twiggy in the Swinging Sixties, there was something about Moss, with her fresh, low-fi beauty that captured the moment, introducing to the fashion scene an irreverent, androgynous, rough-around-the-edges stance.
In the early ‘90s, her appearance in a series of Calvin Klein ad campaigns inspired the term, ‘the waif look’. Moss, whose pale mien and angular skinny frame broke with the super-charged, Glamazon glow of the supermodel pack that had been reigning the runways, was also labeled with a darker sticker − ‘heroin chic’. While a casting in Marc Jacobs’ Spring/Summer 1993 show for Perry Ellis made Moss the poster girl for grunge, a new teen-spirit style movement was described by designer Jean Paul Gaultier to Vogue as “nothing more than the way we dress when we have no money.”
As a self-confessed bloodhound for great charity shop finds, Moss as a penny-pinched teenager had already honed her own DIY hipster look by the time she was spotted aged 14 (perched on her suitcase in New York’s JFK Airport) by Sarah Doukas, founder of the Storm modeling agency. “I definitely liked clothes…I used to dress my brother Nick up in looks, as girls. His name was Sylvia. I used to dress him up and make him come to the door and knock and say ‘Is Kate coming out?’ to my mum. I’ve got a picture of him. He had a beauty spot, fake boobs, and everything − very Liz Taylor,” deadpanned Moss in a rare interview with Vanity Fair in 2012. Moss, who grew up in Croydon (a town that she affectionately describes as “so rough. But it was quite fun growing up there, because it is so rough”) also gleefully recalls a typical outfit worn clubbing in London as a young teenager − “prostitute shoes and crotch minis and not much else,” or “knee-high leather boots and this tiny little Galliano dress, because obviously it was the only designer thing I had.”
Swiftly embraced as the new darling of the fashion world, Moss’s tastes, spurred by her new sophisticated connections and burgeoning bank balance, quickly matured, as she folded precious vintage finds and designer pieces into her wardrobe. In one of the most iconic images of her, captured attending the New York premiere of Ed Wood in 1994 on the arm of then-beau Johnny Depp, Moss wears an exquisite silver beaded vintage flapper’s dress that belonged to Errol Flynn’s wife, the silent movie star Lili Damita. Debbie Harry, Brigitte Bardot and Sixties’ icons Anita Pallenberg and Marianne Faithfull have also served as muses in Moss’s boho rock chick wardrobe, heaving with shaggy furs, stilettos, sharp blazers, leopard-print coats, shades, skinny jeans, flowing hippy dresses, wide-brimmed hats and cut-off denim shorts. Her favourite accessory? A Marlboro Light.
The world has seen Moss grow up through her changing styles, with a darker, sexier side steadily surfacing over the years, evident in the Sofia Coppola-directed pole dancer video for The White Stripes in 2003, and the rare 2011 appearance in Vuitton’s show, where Moss strutted down the runway in hotpants and lace-up boots, puffing on a cigarette. Not forgetting her recent turn as a Playboy bunny. Two of those events happened around key birthdays, delivering the message that she is all-woman.
Despite her piercing commercial savvy − triggering a high street flood of knock-off ballet flats, skinny jeans, pirate boots, cut-off shorts, vintage-inspired boho flower-print dresses, parkas, and even wellies, in her trail over the years − Moss, who intuitively understands the transformative properties of clothes, remains a romantic dreamer when it comes to fashion. She even pleaded with Galliano to “give me a character” for her gorgeous ‘30s-inspired wedding gown, according to her interview with James Fox for Vanity Fair. Elsewhere in the feature, she is quoted as saying: “I don’t want to be myself, ever. I’m terrible at a snapshot. Terrible. I blink all the time. I’ve got facial Tourette’s. Unless I’m working and in that zone, I’m not very good at pictures, really.”
In the same article, Galliano recalled the first time he met Moss, then barely 15, for a show casting in 1989. “We were looking for new girls, and she was cast as a wild child. I think she came up to the studio − we were in the New Kings Road − and, wow, I’d found my little rough diamond. She was just amazing − put the dress on, immediately understood what she was wearing, the line, the walk. There was that magic, an enigma, there in front of us. She was a real beauty,” he said. “But there was more there. She was, even then, quite guarded. I don’t really think that anyone knows who she is today.”
Ultimately, beyond her natural flair for fashion, Kate Moss, the dynamic style chameleon, it seems, rather like an actor, approaches her favorite hobby − dressing up − as a way of getting into character to face the world.