In a recent interview, Kate Moss opened up about her harrowing experiences as a young model in the early ’90s. While Moss became one of the most famous models of the decade and helped pave the way for the “cool Britannia” movement, she’s made it clear that her rise to fame was no cakewalk. And now, Moss is using her experience to help the next generation of models navigate the industry.
It All Started With ‘The Face’
In the July 24 episode of BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, Kate Moss reminisces about some of her favorite songs and some of her least favorite photoshoots. Moss got her start in 1990 posing for the cover of British style magazine The Face.
Virtually unknown at the time, then-16-year-old Moss ushered in the “3rd Summer of Love.” It was an era that, as the “20-year rule demands”, was heavily inspired by the ’70s. Dressed in daisy chains, smoking a cigarette in front of a dingy wall, it’s now impossible to miss the roots of the coming grunge movement that would go on to characterize the ’90s.
But Moss recalls the photo shoot a bit differently. “I cried a lot,” Moss now admits. Host Lauren Laverne presses, asking, “What did you cry about?”
To which Moss promptly responds, “Being naked. I didn’t want to take my top off… I was really, really self-conscious about my body. And [photographer Corrine Day] would say, ‘If you don’t take your top off, I’m not going to book you for Elle.‘ And I would cry.”
Moss went on to say it’s “quite difficult” to recall the photo shoot, but it wouldn’t be the only time that the industry pushed her far past her comfort zone.
Posing For Calvin Klein With Marky Mark
As painful as the memories are, those were the very photos that caught the attention of designer Calvin Klein. And the very next year, she posed in an advertisement for the clothing brand. In arguably the most famous ad campaign for the company to date, a topless 17-year-old Kate Moss poses with 20-year-old Mark Wahlberg. Of course, at the time, most of the world knew him as Marky Mark. The former (brief) member of New Kids On The Block was part of an up-and-coming hip-hop group at the time.
But Moss reveals that she doesn’t remember the career-defining photo shoot fondly at all. “[Wahlberg] was very macho and it was all about him,” Moss recalls, adding that she was treated as an accessory to Wahlberg. She notes feeling “vulnerable and scared” and grimly insists that the Calvin Klein team loved that she was uncomfortable. “They played on my vulnerability,” Moss adds, “I was quite young and innocent… Calvin loved that.”
A Recurring Problem
Of course, Moss was neither the first nor the last model to get this treatment from the brand. In 1980, the company cast a 15-year-old Brooke Shields in a highly controversial ad, where she read the suggestive line, “You want to know what comes in between me and my Calvins? Nothing.”
Then, in 1993, the company launched an ad campaign for their Obsession fragrance. Most of the photos showed 18-year-old Moss in various states of undress, posing entirely nude in some.
And in 1995, critics declared Calvin Klein had officially gone over the line with Steven Meisel’s fall-winter campaign. The spread sported an overtly sexual aesthetic, made all the more uncomfortable by the models’ adolescent appearances. While the models were all of age, it was the first mishap that actually caused the company to pull its ads.
Looking Towards The Future
Calvin Klein is not the exception. It is one company in a sea of others trying desperately to stay relevant by pushing boundaries. It’s an industry that feeds on young women, playing on their naiveté and innocence until there is none to speak of. It’s an industry Kate Moss knows well—especially its dark corners. But she hopes times are changing, and she’s working hard to be a force for progress.
Moss now heads her own modeling agency, and she’s doing what she can to keep her models safe from the exploitation she faced. In fact, she signed her 19-year-old daughter Lila as one of her first clients, giving her all the more reason to shine a light on the abusive practices that she hopes are dying off.
“I have said to [Lila], ‘You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. If you don’t want to do this shoot, if you don’t feel comfortable, if you don’t want to model, don’t do it,'” Moss insists. “I take care of my models. I make sure they are with agents at shoots. So, when they are being taken advantage of, there’s somebody there to say, ‘I don’t think that’s appropriate.’ I don’t know if that’s across the board, but that’s what I can do.”