The dress is bigger than she is. On a cool October evening, a 20-year-old Kate Moss stands backstage at Paris Fashion Week, her slight frame engulfed by a vast ruffled crinoline and a boned white corset. A powdered wig tops her mousey brown hair, and she has two pink circles of doll-like blusher on her cheeks. The effect is part regal, part kid at a fancy dress party. Never has she looked so delicate and yet so powerful.
Designer John Galliano fusses with the back of her skirt as he delivers some pointers for the catwalk. Moss approaches modelling like an actor with a role; she likes to get in character. “If you hear a wolf, you can look round like this,” says Galliano, glancing over one shoulder and widening his eyes for dramatic effect. For now, the wolves are safely on the soundtrack to his spring/summer 1994 show, inspired by the tale of a Russian princess on the run.
What Moss cannot know is that looking constantly over her shoulder will soon become her norm. The London schoolgirl is about to become one of the paparazzi’s most hunted prizes. She has already appeared topless with Mark Wahlberg (alias Marky Mark) in a Calvin Klein underwear advertisement, and soon she will meet the second of her famous boyfriends Johnny Depp in a New York bar (her first was photographer Mario Sorrenti, and two rock stars await in her love life’s future).
Moss is destined to grace the cover of every major fashion magazine, walk the biggest runways and lend her image to cosmetics and fragrance giants. She will be the subject of songs, dreams and tabloid gossip. By the time Moss, in another Galliano gown, weds The Kills guitarist Jamie Hince in 2011, she is arguably the most famous model in the world.
“Moss’s silence about herself is an integral part of the elusive gift that has made her one of fashion’s greatest influences.”
She is a style icon, muse, total enigma and sometime designer – her first Topshop collection in 2007 sold out in minutes, and has fronted cosmetics powerhouse Rimmel London for 15 years, becoming one of the longest serving ambassadors for a beauty brand. We, therefore, know every contour of her face, and yet little of her inner life. As journalist James Fox, who was granted a rare interview in 2012 for Vanity Fair, puts it: “Moss’s silence about herself is an integral part of the elusive gift that has made her one of fashion’s greatest influences.” Yet it nearly didn’t happen.
Kate Moss was raised in Croydon, an unremarkable town on the outskirts of London, the eldest child of Linda, a shop assistant, and Peter, who worked for an airline. They divorced when Kate was 13, and her brother, Nick, was 10. A year later, Moss was on holiday with her father in the US when the model agent Sarah Doukas approached them. Doukas is known for her keen “eye”. While Moss remains her most famous discovery, Doukas also signed up Liberty Ross, Behati Prinsloo and Cara Delevingne.
Back in 1989, she had been running her London agency, Storm Model Management, for less than two years when she spied Moss arguing with her dad at New York’s JFK airport. Moss’s heart-shaped face, high cheekbones, hazel eyes and obvious spirit stood out. Doukas recognised Moss’s potential, but her clients took some convincing. This was the era of the Amazonian supermodel, when Linda Evangelista wouldn’t get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day. Evangelista and her posse of “supers” – Christy Turlington, Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell – were shapely, confident power women. And here was Doukas pushing Kate Moss, under-age and 1.7 metres tall next to Schiffer’s 1.8. “Nobody was interested,” said Doukas. “She was in school … We worked in the holidays and stuttered along for a year.” Initially, Linda Moss accompanied her daughter to castings, but soon decided it was a waste of time. Kate stuck at it, taking herself on the train – often wearing her school uniform. “For two years, I did go-sees, I earned no money, I was always borrowing off Mum,” she later recalled. “She was beginning to get fed up with it, started telling me to get a proper job. Then I started to work, so …” Moss became friends with stylist Melanie Ward and photographer Corinne Day, who took the famous photo of her mucking about on a beach in an Indian headdress, which made the cover of The Face.
The image would go on to be one of the most iconic shots of Moss’s career. As Ward later described it: “We were having the best time hanging out and creating images, living in that moment. What we felt in our gut was the antithesis of what was happening in fashion at that time.” While the supermodels were vamping it up in Versace, Ward and Day took Moss shopping in flea markets for shabby-chic vintage clothes, and styled her as a lo-fi waif, anticipating the fashion for grunge.
In 1992, Moss, 18, landed the now famous Calvin Klein underwear campaign, and moved to New York on the back of its success. Suddenly it was all limo transfers for jobs with Herb Ritts and Steven Meisel. Moss, no diva, thought the fuss was silly. As she told photographer Nick Knight during a video interview for SHOWstudio, “I’d be like, ‘That is so embarrassing. I’m not getting in a stretch limo by myself!’” But it wasn’t too hard to adapt. “I made friends; Naomi and Christie took me under their wing, and I met Johnny.”
For three years from 1994 Moss dated Depp, partying at film premieres and LA nightclubs, while her career soared. She was reportedly devastated when they broke up, but back in London found another gang to hang with. She bought a house in Primrose Hill, the neighbourhood that lent its name to a fast living “set” that included actors Sadie Frost and Jude Law, designer Pearl Lowe, heiress Davinia Taylor and the Gallagher brothers from Oasis, plus their various girlfriends. Moss became queen bee of the Primrose Hill set.
When Rimmel London, the quintessential British cool girl’s make-up brand, hired Moss in 2001 it made perfect sense. And best of all, Moss, who so rarely spoke to the media, lent her voice as well as her face to the campaign. “The London look” passed into popular parlance, evoking Moss in her skinny jeans and silk shirts, her vintage dresses and flea market furs, with her tousled bed-hair and smoky eye make-up and down-to-earth vibe. In Moss’s words: “You can’t go round with airs and graces, and I would never want to. I see people do that and I don’t get it.”
The same year she won the Rimmel contract, Moss won Jefferson Hack’s heart. As the editor of fashion magazine Dazed & Confused (now rebranded as Daze), Hack’s life was a whirl of London parties and alcohol launches. The stars aligned when he interviewed Moss. Her friends were having kids and settling down. In September 2002, she gave birth to their daughter, Lila Grace. From the outside, Moss looked to have it all. The big contracts, the doting partner, beautiful daughter and cool friends, but behind the scenes her relationship with Hack was falling apart.
At her 31st birthday party she met an intriguing musician called Pete Doherty. With his exciting unpredictability and roguish good looks, Moss found the Babyshambles frontman irresistible. But Doherty was the modern-day equivalent of Lord Byron: mad, bad and dangerous to know, a troubled character with a poet’s soul and a considerable drug habit. Many believed their mutual infatuation would be her undoing.
"For two years, I did go-sees, I earned no money, I was always borrowing off Mum"
In September 2005, grainy stills from a video allegedly showing Moss snorting lines of cocaine while with Doherty in a London recording studio hit the front page of the British tabloid the Daily Mirror. Her glittering career suddenly looked precarious. Moss was in New York when the story broke, and the paparazzi went into overdrive, something her ex Mario Sorrenti (who she dated between 1992 and 1993) witnessed first hand. One night he and Moss were having dinner when they were accosted. “It was like rats over the garbage,” he told Vanity Fair. “She got pushed and shoved. So did I.”
Although the police dropped their charges for lack of evidence, and Moss was cleared, the press were full of speculation about which brands would distance themselves because of the scandal. Would Burberry? Would Chanel? Alexander McQueen took his Paris Fashion Week bow in a T-shirt bearing the slogan: “We Love You Kate.” Meanwhile, Moss issued a public apology through Storm. “I take full responsibility for my actions,” she said. “I am trying to be positive, and the support and love I have received are invaluable.”
While a number of high-profile brands ended their associations with her, Rimmel stood by Moss. While she continued sporadically to see Doherty for the following 18 months, their relationship was over by 2007.
Later that year, Moss met a different type of rock star in Jamie Hince – cool but also sweet and in control of his life. As Moss has told it, a couple of years into their romance, Hince was asking her to marry him every day. On July 2011, Moss did just that, with 15 bridesmaids and flower girls, including daughter Lila Grace and Moss’s half sister Lottie. The Mario Testino photographs showed a fairytale bride in a John Galliano couture gown that took 700 hours to embroider. In 2015, Moss and Hince separated. Now the British tabloids are speculating she is engaged to her 28-year-old boyfriend, Count Nikolai von Bismarck.
This year Moss, now 42, fronted her 15th Rimmel collection. “Kate couldn’t have been a better brand ambassador, as she perfectly embodies the ‘London Look’,” says Montse Passolas, Rimmel vice-president. “After 10 years in our campaigns, she created her first lipstick range for Rimmel in 2011. She is meticulous about her creations, stamping her renowned fashion sense to make them unique and authentic, which is great for our consumers.”
By not blabbing about her private life, the model has created a Greta Garbo-like mystique, which allows brands to project their vision on to the canvas of her image. When Rimmel talks of “the timelessness of Kate’s unique look”, it sums it up. There’s just something about Kate.