who is the real kate moss?
"It's a right fackin' pressure actually." Back in 1998, i-D met a then 24-year-old Kate Moss, to try and get a feel for who she really was, beyond the tabloid's gaze. As we're celebrating iconic supermodels this week, we decided to dig it up.
Every person on the planet knows Kate Moss, right? She's the stick chick from Croydon who's made millions by modelling Calvin. The waif-face of British fashion whose high-profile lazy eye is lapped up by a global industry otherwise obsessed with perfection. She takes time out to act as a kick-boxing lesbian in pop promos for Primal Scream. She hangs out with Liam, Patsy, Anna Friel, Marianne Faithful, and her boyfriends are high-profile hunks. All of which makes Kate Moss the only supermodel who's super cool -- a jet-set superstar still burning brightly ten years since being spotted waiting for a plane at JFK. Yeah, we all know Kate Moss, right? Wrong.
Y'see, Kate's quite clever. Not clever in the sense that if she hadn't shot to stardom getting shot by photographers she'd be completing a PhD Thesis on rocket science (which, at the age of 24, some of her old school classmates could well be doing right now). But clever in the sense that for all her highly paid profile and world wide appeal, Kate Moss -- the real Kate Moss, the person behind the perfectly formed catwalk persona -- does exceptionally well at staying out of the limelight. So, do you really know Kate Moss? "I really freak out when it comes to interviews," says Kate. It's a Tuesday morning. This tete-a-tete has already been postponed more times than Kate's broken up with Johnny Depp. Last minute trips to Paris; mobile phones going dead just when she was due to call with different rendezvous details; PAs being sick; Kate herself, to the despair of everyone, just going AWOL; the list goes on. The week before I'd been in New York and she'd been all around me -- plastered 20ft tall on billboards is a cool pair of new-season cK shades. Back home, she stares out from L'Oreal shampoo stands in Boots. Switching on the TV, there she is again, lusting after Elvis in an advert for Mercury mobile phones. But for a person so impossible to escape from, Kate Moss seems ridiculously difficult to track down. Yet, at last, here she is, sat at home, cup of tea, packet of fags, her child-like squeaky voice wavering between sarf London schoolie and middle-class miss from Manhattan. She's animated, sparkly, lovely ... and it's striking how often she thinks something's "amazing" or "nice".
A fantastical lifestyle Kate Moss most certainly has. But a colourful vocabulary to describe her wonderful existence...? Forget it. Then again, remember, she's freaking out. She's in an interview. "The way a journalist can judge a person really spooks me," she says, half as a warning to 'go easy', half as indication of ingrained insecurity -- which is slightly strange considering her status as an untouchable, unmarkable, unrivalled deity of our times. "I started doing interviews when I was 17, when I signed with Calvin. Sometimes the interview can get really deep about everything and I'm like, 'Really, I'm just doing a job'." Thing is, she's been doing that job since the age of 14. Which means that people have been probing for her philosophies since she was barely out of puberty. And it doesn't matter how psychologically well-balanced or physically well-protected you are, that's gonna fuck you up to some degree. It's made Kate extremely defensive.
"People ask me: 'Do you consider yourself to be an icon?'. Do they really think that I sit around considering things like that every day?" Probably. It's a simple mistake to make. When a person becomes famous -- be they a film star, pop star, superstar or supermodel -- everyone else wants to get inside their head. The notion that there might be nothing there is inconceivable. Worse, for a journalist, it's unworkable. Good copy comes from great quotes. Great quotes come from probing questions. The media rolls its dice, passes go, collects 200 pounds and starts again. But Kate doesn't want to play that game. She prefers her own rules.
So even when she did open up to the waiting world, with her simply-titled 'art book' Kate in '95, Miss Moss didn't give much away. "I did 27 interviews in a single day to publicise that book ," she recalls quite bitterly, noting that Kate was more about reflecting the work of photographers and stylists who've helped to make her what she is, rather than providing any insight on person herself. "I was just meat ready to be slaughtered. Some people said really nasty things just to get me riled up. I was laid out for them and they went for me."
Of course, it's all so different on the runway or in the studio -- which is where Kate really does her talking. Few who've worked with her will have a bad word to say. Most keep coming back to the same theme: her versatility. Kate can look like anything, and look wonderful all the time. She can be happy or hunted, innocent or intelligent, glamorous or grunge, she's flexible, pliable, perfect. "On the runway, it's me, but it's not real," she explains. "Obviously, I'm working on behalf of the designer. I'm projecting their thing not mine." In other words, when she's at her prime, when we watch her majestic movements or see them freeze-framed to photographs in the broadsheets and the fashion glossies, it's not her at all. From her work, you might know of Kate Moss, but you'll never know the Kate Moss.
Perhaps, though, when Kate breaks out of the modelling mode she reveals more of the real person. Take the Mercury One-2-One campaign. The mobile phone company, pulling out the stops to plug every marketing gap, play on political emotions (black superstar footballer Ian Wright 'having a One-2-One' with Martin Luther King), earnest and worthy science (clockwork-radio inventor Trevor Bayliss 'having a One-2-One' with Sir Frank 'Jet Engine' Whittle) and slapstick comedy (cult comic Vic Reeves 'having a One-2-One' with cad and bounder Terry Thomas). But when Kate comes across our screens, spanning the divide between couture and mainstream culture, wishing for a One-2-One with Elvis circa '56, she looks cheeky as fuck. Just like any other good looking 20-something trying her luck.
The Beatles sang about a babe who was just 17, you know what I mean. The way Kate talks about Elvis, a prime bit of US beef at the age of 21, has similar connotations. It doesn't need spelling out. "At 21, Elvis was GORGEOUS," squeals Kate now, well away from the corporate contracts and obligations, free to lust genuinely and wax lyrical. "Me and a friend went down to Memphis. We went round Graceland. I wasn't really into him before that, but there's this bit where you go into his old office and this TV comes on, and it's a piece of footage from when he comes back from the army, and he calls everyone sir, and he's so charming and ... ooohh! From that minute onwards I was completely infatuated. I've bought all his records. The come-back special and everything. He's fantastic!"
And when Kate's on a roll, rattling on about her favourite things, liberally peppering a high-speed patter with her favourite monochrome descriptives ("nice", "fun"), she's hard to stop. "I did some styling once," she gabbers, recalling the fun time she spent with photographer Glen Luchford, moonlighting behind the camera for a shoot with US magazine Mirabella. "I had a really good time doing it. It was nice. I said: 'I wanna see it full length, and I wanna see it like this and I wanna see it like that', and Glen listened. As a model you don't really have a voice. Two weeks after, I did a shoot with him as a model again. At one point I said 'Glen, can't we do it like this?' and he was, like, 'Shut up'. So it just went straight back to normal."
'Normal,' though, is increasingly failing to turn Kate on. "Certainly the shows are becoming boring," she says, although of course there are aspects to the job which still push her buttons. "I get kicks from things that are different. I did a shoot for Harper's Bazaar in Cuba, it was the first time an American magazine had shot there, and I've just done the first issue of Russian Vogue." And she's off again, half way around the world in a single sentence, just like her face gets plastered around the globe after a single photo-shoot. Stateside, the scale of Kate's billboard domination is scary. In fact, for all the talk of Miss Moss being the leading figure in the renaissance of British fashion, the Queen of Cool Britannia and all that, many casual observers outside our little island probably don't even know she's English. In America, she's the face of cK, period. Only when she smiles, revealing a set of distinctly un-American, jagged, jutted teeth, would any yank begin to consider her origin.
"I am proud to be British," she says. "But I don't go singing the national anthem on shoots. And when it comes to my face being on a billboard, why should I care where people think I come from?" Why indeed? Designer-fashion nationality barriers have been broken since the 80s, when Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Gucci et al, took their highly desirable names and started branding them with the same campaigns right across the globe. But throughout the 90s, and as we approach 2000, this one-look-for-all ideal is strutting its stuff down the high street. This is the world where Gap khaki is rock, where the casual-look is king, where everyone is fed the same ideas and everyone has the same aspirations (funnily enough, more and more people probably want to be just like Kate). And this new global casual culture even blurs the boundaries of age. Kate agrees: "I can dress my mum in my clothes and it doesn't look wrong, I can go shopping with Marianne and we can try on the same dress. I don't know why, but people are just wearing the same things. It's just like a casual uniform. Nobody dresses up anymore -- which is a shame."
Of course, we know that Kate Moss likes to dress up -- that's what she gets paid for after all. But listening to her passionate prattle, it's like she's on a one-woman mission to put individual style back on the mainstream agenda. "I just think it's really nice to dress for dinner and dress for... well, y'know, dress for occasions." She over-emphasises the 'dress' like a little-child rattling off a list of her favourite things in the world ever. "Dressing is fun. Otherwise things are boring. It makes everything fun. It makes clothes fun, it makes getting up fun and it makes going to bed more interesting." Oh, yeah? "Yeah. I don't really like going to bed," she lets on. "I've always had a phobia about it. It's 'cos I'm afraid I'm going to miss something. It's like that kid thing. I still haven't grown out of that. I'm getting better -- I can actually say 'no' now, I can say I'm staying in. But even when I'm staying in, I don't like going to bed. I, um, drink tea and eat toast."
So who is Kate Moss? It's been oft-stated that she broke through to the big time as the face of the second summer of love. Now it seems, some eight years on, she prefers tea and toast to Es and whiz. "I don't go to crusty raves," she states, then laughs. "But I do go to sweaty parties. I went to one at the Cobden Club," she says, recalling a friend's recent birthday bash at Notting Hill's achingly-trendy members-only hangout. "It was so sweaty it was like a youth club. It turned into a bit of a rave at one point, but I didn't mind. It was fun." It's also fun for us, the watching, prying, curious public, to pick up the papers the next morning, or a glossy magazine the next week, and read all about 'waif supermodel Kate Moss with her latest beau' -- normally the first bloke she's been photo graphed with at the party. Celebrity match-making is one of our dumbed-down nation's favourite pastimes -- and who better to match-make with than Miss Moss?" No, I'm not seeing Dan MacMillan (heir to MacMillan Publishing's millions)," deflects Kate, swatting the suggestions away with a smile. "No, I'm not seeing Evan Dando (tearaway singer with The Lemonheads)," she laughs, admitting that the pair are a couple, but only as godparents to the daughter of model Lucie de la Falaise.
The list of likely lovelies goes on, especially as the flip-switch fling with Johnny Depp is set to off -- perhaps permanently -- right now. "When you're single, everyone assumes you're dating any guy you're seen out with," says Kate. " It's really annoying. 'Who's she gonna be with next?' You can't be seen out with anybody! You don't want to be seen out with anybody! And, so, if you did like someone... " She drifts off, contemplating the press and the parameters they impose on the private lives on high-flying superstars, before coming back, and coming over all common, like the girl she really is from Croydon High Street: "It's a right fackin' pressure actually."
Clearly, the real Kate Moss is someone who doesn't like being single. "It's tragic being on your own," she says, using the word 'tragic' in the carefree way we used to say at school, when boyfriends or Pannini football stickers were all that mattered, and when a real tragedy -- like three children getting murdered in Drumcree -- was just boring stuff they reported in the broadsheets. "It's just nice to be with someone. Better than just being by yourself, definitely. It's nice to be single for a minute, then it gets really boring. It's nice to be with someone you can have a laugh with." But does Kate ever get gooey? "Of course! Flowers make me dead gooey. Flowers are gorgeous. I mean, I'd have to be dead into the person to get gooey in the first place -- it's not like any old bloke can make me go gooey with a bunch of flowers. But other things can make me go gooey... like a cup of tea in the morning."
Okay, so she is cheeky. At least that's one fact established. And she can laugh at herself. But then, she needs to. In a typical day's work she'll need to walk past billboards from a cable TV company whose slogan reads: 'Wouldn't it be great if Kate Moss was fat' (and, as it's been ruled that her name is in the public domain, abuse like this is legally fair game). She needs to put up with builders blabbing to the tabloids about work carried out on her £400,000 swanky Victorian flat conversion. She needs to put up with spotty student Tories using a picture of her bare bum (ripped off from the Obsession ads) alongside the catch-phrase: 'You're better off under the Conservatives'. And then she has to put up with people like me, hunting her down, trying to get inside her head, trying to know her, trying to suss her, trying to find out what makes her tick, trying to find out what she's all about. Meanwhile, she takes the clever option and ignores the lot. "There's nothing I can do about any of it," shrugs Kate. "And really, it's all shit anyway."
Text Tobias Peggs
Photography Juergen Teller
The Adult Issue, no. 179, September 1998