When Kristen McMenamy shot onto the modelling scene in the late 80s, her bleached eyebrows, big lips, strong nose and dramatically short haircut caught the fashion industry by storm. The Pennsylvanian born supermodel has since flown the flag high for unconventional beauty, paving the way for a whole generation of girls who don’t fit the mould, and more importantly don’t want to. This Mother's Day we look back to The Define Yourself Issue, Fall 2010, when Kristen's then 16-year-old daughter Lily conducted a pretty insightful interview with her supermodel mum...
Kristen McMenamy is a fashion rebel. In the early 1990s, she worked with legendary photographers Steven Meisel, Helmut Newton, Richard Avedon and Juergen Teller to create some of fashion’s most iconic images. As a result, her hair underwent chameleon like colour changes on an almost day-to-day basis. Until six years ago that is, when refusing to conform to fashion’s ideal, Kristen decided to stop dying her waist length hair and embrace her silver roots. Her haughty determination, teamed with her brand new, enviously glossy locks, served to cement her cult status in the industry, propelling the supermodel once more on a tidal wave of editorial, runway shows and ad campaigns. Early 2010 alone saw Kristen appear in editorial for i-D, American Vogue, Italian Vogue, Love and Dazed & Confused, and walk in the autumn/winter 10 runway shows for Calvin Klein and Viktor & Rolf. Kristen first appeared in i-D, photographed by Juergen Teller, for the cover of The Beauty Issue in June 1993. 17 years on and 46 years old, she’s back, looking hotter, fitter and more fabulous than ever before. For The Define Yourself Issue we invited Kristen to be interviewed by someone who knows her best. If it’s true that a daughter looks to her mother as a role model, then 16-year old Lily McMenamy looks set to grow into an awe-inspiring woman. Despite the 30-year age gap, Kristen and Lily are close confidants, and judging by their rapport in this interview the best of friends too.
Hi Mum, what advice would you give your 16-year-old self?
Stop being so damn insecure, stand-up straight and stop covering your face with so much make up - you’re not as ugly as you think.
Do you see yourself as edgy?
I pride myself on being edgy! I think conforming makes you slightly boring. Even when I’m ninety I don’t wanna be ‘proper’. I think after a certain age, a woman is expected to look and act certain way - like a ‘lady’. I fought my whole life against being normal, I’m not gonna start now. They say don’t wear a miniskirt over forty; I’ll wear one if I feel like it. Fuck the rules!
Everyone is pretty into your grey hair right now. What’s your view on it?
I’m kind of tired of hearing about it. I’m grey because I am grey! I just got sick of colouring it. I don’t want my hair colour to define me. People say it’s because I’m trying to be the anti-Hollywood, anti-Botox, anti-facelift poster child. Which isn’t true at all. At the same time I wish people would stop being so hung up on staying young looking. It’s almost like a sin to grow old these days, and gosh, what hard work! What I want to know is, when are you allowed to get old? Eventually you’ll have to succumb to it. I’m not saying I’m not afraid of getting older, but I’ll give it a chance. Maybe I’ll have a facelift when I’m ninety. You’ll be paying for it though – Haha!
Gladly! So you married a fashion photographer – what a cliché - do you like working with Miles?
Well, it used to be quite hard as we are both so strong-willed, however we’ve matured since then and have done some beautiful things together.
Do you still get excited about working?
I absolutely love it. Although it’s also tinged a bit with the guilt of leaving you guys with the nanny. But I get over that as soon as I check in at the airport.
What’s your favourite band at the moment?
I’m always going back to Nirvana, Hole, ACDC and shamefully Bon Jovi. Since you fill me in on all the up and coming bands, you should be telling me what to like. Although I do think Marina and the Diamonds are pretty good...
And The xx.
That’s better. Talk about you’re weird health regimes...
Well... I change my health regimes on a yearly, if not monthly, basis. At the moment I’m trying macrobiotics. It tastes yummy and I feel good. I have my juicer and I’m obsessed with yoga. Other than that I try to be laid back and not get too stuck into any one diet, routine or way of thinking. I love trying new things.
Why do you always wear sunglasses? Even in typical London weather...
Because sunglasses are instant make-up. I put on my sunglasses and it looks like I’ve been in the mirror for two hours. I feel naked and exposed without them. They always brighten up my face. I also go a bit over the top with keeping out of the sun.
Yeah, you were the whitest person at the water park yesterday, loading on your factor 85 sunblock every 5 minutes!
I’ve always been that way. If I tanned easily I would do it, but I don’t, so I do what’s best for my skin.
We’re staying at Grandma’s in Pennsylvania right now, but what do you love most about living in London?
London is great because we’ve got amazing parks. You can get lost in Hampstead Heath and feel like you’re in the middle of the countryside or you can take the tube to the West End and be in Selfridges or Topshop within 15 minutes. All the greenery and culture - I love the Tate. It’s the best of both worlds. However I’m American, so I’ll always miss the US and my family here. I need to stop talking about that, I’m premenstrual and tearing up!
Sometimes when I speak to people who’ve worked with you over the years I feel like they don’t really get you. They seem to think you’re kinda insane...
I really have a great time on the shoots and doing the shows. Admittedly I sometimes do go a bit mad, but I’ve always remained totally professional and have tried to do the best job I could. I want every job to be my best job. I am a total perfectionist when it comes to that. Part of my creativity comes from a bit of insanity. I see these little girls coming in, doing their job and leaving without a word - how boring! Anyhow in Popeye’s words, ‘I am what I am’. Plus it’s good to give people something to talk about.
To what extent did growing up in the suburbs of Buffalo lead to you being who you are today?
It has affected me a lot. My upbringing was very catholic, very strict. I lived in suburban America where you had to fit the norm; otherwise you’d be considered an outcast. I was always an outcast. My ambition was to get attention because I never had it. I was very sheltered but always wanted to travel the world. You’ve had tons more experiences at sixteen than I ever had, a lot more exposure to all kinds of people, different cultures, sexualities etc. They’ve made you very aware and more sociable.
What’s your view on me potentially following your footsteps and venturing into the modelling industry?
It’s up to you, but modelling has changed so much since the time I started. There are so many girls out there now and their career lifespan is very short lived. In spite of that, I want you to choose whatever you want to do. Just as long as you make enough money to support your old mother and don’t become a drug-addict sponger - Haha!
Heartwarming. What was the most enjoyable part of your career? Before or after I was born?
Definitely after. That’s when I shaved my head, bleached my eyebrows and started working with Steven [Meisel]. I never thought it was possible to be a mum and a model at the same time. Maybe I tried harder and was more appreciative. As a child, you travelled on Concorde at least five times, stayed in countless hotel rooms and had a lot of nannies. You might have suffered because of it. I hope not though...
Oh yeah, tough times in fancy hotels... I feel like Lady Gaga totally copied your grey hair. Love or hate?
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
What do you think about other young people going prematurely grey?
It’s cool. I wish I’d thought of it. I’ve been every hair colour under the sun; I’ve always LOVED experimenting. I’d be black one day, bright red the next. I’d get the idea to change my hair colour late one night and call my colourist over to do it or do it myself. It’s easy when your hair’s short - you just cut off the damaged hair. It was so much fun. At one point when my hair was turning grey I dyed it blonde and put in black roots. I loved that look, but it was hard to maintain. I once fell asleep with the bleach in my hair and woke up with pine needles of hair all across my pillow!
Most people don’t know that you’ve also acted in a bunch of plays and films. I remember going to one of your plays as a kid in which you made out with an alien. Hot!
I loved acting just as much as modelling, but in a different way of course. I know I’m good at it. It just took a lot of time and being away from home. But I’d love to go back and do it again... perhaps I could play someone’s mum. I could play Robert Pattinson’s mum!
I reckon you’re pale enough to be a vampire mom. You have a massive gay fan base, tell me about that...
All my best friends are gay. They’re the funniest and kindest people I know, with the best taste too of course! So I’m honoured.
What do you think of the longevity of your career?
Well, I am still modelling at 46, that goes to show there isn’t a cut off point for beauty or coolness. You can keep having both way past forty. I wanna be a rockin’ senior citizen!