Sunday, May 26, 2013

Exclusive Interview - Kara Young

I remember with perfect clarity the moment San Diego native Kara Young emerged on the modelling scene during the late 80s, amidst a flurry of activity with the leading photographers of the day. Industry greats Richard Avedon, Steven Meisel, Patrick Demarchelier, Gilles Bensimon, Peter Lindbergh, and Albert Watson were enamoured with Young's smouldering bi-racial looks, wild unruly tresses, and high fashion moxie. Young's alluring mix of all-American wholesomeness and exotic yet approachable beauty landed her on the covers of American Vogue, Elle, Glamour, and the German editions of Cosmopolitan and Vogue.

At the time, I recall being fascinated by Young as I had never before witnessed a model whose aesthetic represented such an all encompassing ideal of beauty. Young's African-American, Irish, and Scottish ancestry translated into an astoundingly versatile look which all segments of the American population, Latino, Asian, African-American, and Caucasian, could relate to. Fashion editors quickly cottoned onto Young's widespread market appeal and before long she was ubiquitous, appearing in a diverse array of publications including Mademoiselle, Harper's Bazaar, Detour, Interview, Vanity Fair, and the British, French, Italian, and American editions of Vogue.

Armed with a naturally toned physique, an endearing cheshire cat grin, and a scorching intensity in front of the lens, Young found herself emblazoned across the pages of Sports Illustrated's 25th Anniversary Swimsuit Issue, making her a household name throughout the United States. Young's  appearance in the iconic Revlon Unforgettable campaign shot by Avedon alongside close friend Christy Turlington, remains one of my favourite fashion images to date and qualifies Young as one of Inoubliable Model Army's all-time favourite models. Inoubliable Model Army took great pleasure in reminiscing with Young about her prolific modelling career, the women who pioneered the supermodel movement, and what it meant to be an American Vogue cover girl.

Kara Young
US Vogue - October 1989
Photographer - Patrick Demarchelier
Source - thefashionspot.com


Inoubliable Model Army (IMA): Hi Kara, thank you for chatting with Inoubliable Model Army! You arrived on the modelling scene at a particularly vibrant period in modelling history with many models of colour including yourself, Karen Alexander, Gail O'Neil, Louise Vyent, Veronica Webb, and Naomi Campbell in high rotation. Were you aware at the time of the role that you were paving for other models of colour and what are your thoughts on the lack of diversity within fashion today?
KY: Was I aware that I would pave the way for other models? I hope so. It was an absolutely glorious time with so so many beauties and great personalities. I feel very fortunate. Is it not diverse in the modelling industry today? I don't see it as such, it seems there are far more exotic girls than in the past. Of course looks go in and out. It's more difficult to measure because only celebrities are on the covers and do so many campaigns these days.

IMA: Would you mind filling us in on a bit of your backstory?
KY: I was born in San Francisco. I consider myself bi-racial. My mother is black and her mother was half-black, half-white. My father is Irish and Scottish. I was a teenager in the Elite Look of the Year contest. I was super tacky with pencil thin brows and several agencies approached me but one came up to me and said, "Grow your eyebrows back, fix your chipped tooth, and you will be a movie star."

IMA: Was it difficult to find representation when you relocated from San Francisco to New York, and what was the first modelling job you booked where you realised that major things were happening for you on the modelling front?
KY: I had representation before I came to New York because I went to Paris and Milan prior and when I lived in Los Angeles, Faith Kates came to my agency and asked, "Do you want to stay here and do commercials and catalogue until you're 30?" I said "yes" because I did not see the bigger picture. I went to Milan and did great photos for magazines, and Gilles Bensimon shot French Elle with me in Senegal  and those pictures had an impact. Avedon shot me for an American Vogue cover try and that was that.

US Vogue - March 1989
Photographer - Neil Kirk
Source - thefashionspot.com

US Vogue - July 1989
Photographer - Patrick Demarchelier
Source - thefashionspot.com

British Vogue - Unknown
Photographer - Sante D'Orazio
Source - thefashionspot.com


IMA: You've posed for Steven Meisel, Richard Avedon, Patrick Demarchelier, Marc Hispard, Sante D'Orazio, Peter Lindbergh, Arthur Elgort, and Paul Lange amongst others. Which photographers captured you at your most beautiful on film, and who do you feel was most instrumental in your evolution as a model?
KY: All the photographers mentioned were amazing and brought out something different in me. I have to say Steven Meisel taught me to move well. It was so important to Steven that your face, figure, and the clothes looked amazing. He was tough on me, so was Peter Lindbergh - he wanted to be wowed! Richard Avedon wanted your face to be amazing and for you to have a certain look in your eye. He would always say, "Think of something to transmit an emotional quality through your eyes. Be happy, sexy, and upbeat!" Patrick was so easy and fluid, he wanted the most simple shot and it had to be beautiful. Patrick said everything was a cover so the models would try harder! Arthur Elgort was a dad, so fun, so easy, and it was a family. Gilles Bensimon could see inside you and get your mood out. He would work it into the story. That's what was unique about these photographers - they told a story.

IMA: You appeared on three solo American Vogue covers throughout your career captured by Richard Avedon and Patrick Demarchelier. Describe how it felt landing that first Vogue cover and could you possibly have envisaged that you would appear on three covers let alone one in your tenure as a model?
KY: I loved my cover of Vogue especially Richard Avedon's last cover with me and the teddy bears! I was stunned to see my first Vogue cover. I tried not to be so excited and get ahead of myself. The next one was even more amazing because I had a full blown Steven Meisel editorial inside. I loved it when I was on covers; Elle, German Vogue - it was a thrill!

IMA: Having appeared within the pages of American Harper's Bazaar, the British, Italian, French, German, and American editions of Vogue, Elle, Glamour, and so forth, which images are amongst your favourites or hold special meaning to you?
KY:  I love some of the images from the Navy campaign. I also love some of the images from the Byblos campaign shot by Albert Watson.  Albert was such a great artist, when you worked with him, it was WORK! He would say "Are you comfortable in that position?" And if I answered "yes", he would answer, "Well it doesn't look pretty then."

US Vogue - October 1988
Photographer - Richard Avedon
Source - thefashionspot.com

German Vogue - October 1989
Photographer - TBC
Source - thefashionspot.com

US Elle - December 1989
Photographer - Gilles Bensimon
Source - thefashionspot.com

Navy Campaign - circa 1990
Photographer - Unkown
Source - supermodelsoftheworld.com

Byblos - circa 1989
Photographer - Albert Watson
Source - thefashionspot.com

Revlon Unforgettable Campaign
Kara Young, Laurence Treil & Christy Turlington
Photographer - Richard Avedon
Source - thefashionspot.com


IMA: Avedon was one of your key collaborators on the American Vogue covers and for the iconic Revlon "Unforgettable" campaign. What was it like working with Avedon and are there any poignant moments from those collaborations which you treasure to this day?
KY: As good as it was to get the covers, there were far more gorgeous covers that were canned. When you shoot a cover try usually it's with several girls there on option. Once it was myself and Milla Jovovich. She was a baby and her mother was beautiful as well. Milla was being hilarious asking Avedon, "Do you know Jack Nicholson? Does Jack Nicholson like 12 year olds?" Her mother and Avedon were mortified, but she was just teasing! The Unforgettable campaign was just genius. I had already seen some ads with Kersti Bowser, Louise Vyent, and Iman. It was seriously beautiful, all inclusive, all encompassing. Everyone wanted to be in it. People STILL talk about it. That's the impact it had. So it was a thrill to do it especially with Christy Turlington. We were childhood friends though of course we did not know we were kids at the time. Christy leaned over to me and asked, " What took you so long to get here?"

IMA: Your appearance in the 25th Anniversary Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue alongside Stephanie Seymour, Rachel Hunter, Estelle LeFebure, and Ashley Richardson in 1989, confirmed your status as one of America's leading models of the day. What do you recall from the casting process with Editor in Chief Julie Campbell, and how was the experience of working on what was considered at the time the "Superbowl of Modelling"?
KY: Sports Illustrated was such a fun job. Rachel Hunter was hilarious as was Stephanie Seymour. Julie Campbell told Rachel to stop eating so much because she wanted her for the cover. Rachel just laughed and said, "I'll have a double order of scrambled eggs and refried beans". When Stephanie arrived her hair was blonder than the previous year and Julie told her she preferred her hair darker and that she was much thinner than last year but she looked great. I didn't know Estelle that well, although when I was in Paris we had the same agent. Estelle was a big star already and was the perfect face. Ashley Richardson moved more fluidly and beautiful than any model, she was just a bit before my time but a great model.

When I met Julie, she made it clear that she was taking me. I think she had already made up her mind and was just checking us out - it wasn't a cattle call. Julie wanted her girls very specific. She wanted exotic, voluptuous, yet athletic girls. She thought I was a bit thin but I told her I photographed curvier. Julie had a great eye, she knew how to make women look different yet fluid. She was very specific with the swimsuit issue and paid attention to models all year looking for the right ones to make up her montage. She was a different sort of stylist and she treated us well. We ate meals together, we swam together, and hung out at night. Julie lived for that issue. There was a reason she did it for so long. Honestly, I blew it with that job. I was booked for three weeks and told them I could not stay for the entire shoot. I had a possessive, insecure boyfriend at the time who did not want me gone so long. But I was young and impressionable. It was my fault. And I was having a blast on that job!

Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue - 1989
Photographer - Marc Hispard
Source - bellazon.com

Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue - 1989
Photographer - Marc Hispard
Source - topmodelsoftheworld.com

Kara Young & Christy Turlington
Vogue Italia - September 1993
Photographer - Sante D'Orazio
Source - thefashionspot.com

Kara Young & Christy Turlington
Vogue Italia - September 1993
Photographer - Sante D'Orazio
Source - thefashionspot.com


IMA: The modelling industry has evolved considerably since the late 80s and 90s. During your heyday, the industry was more closed with a tighter circle of successful top tier girls. What are your views on the modelling industry today and do you feel that the supermodel phenomenon can be rekindled, and if so what factors do you feel would need to come into play?
KY: The late 80s and 90s were pretty special. I don't know if it can ever be duplicated. Now I think there are so many girls and less work. A way to rekindle the mania would be for more models to appear on covers and in beauty campaigns. Which I would personally like to see.

IMA: You were photographed often with fellow Supers Christy Turlington for Vogue Italia and the Revlon campaign, and Stephanie Seymour for Sports Illustrated and Interview Magazine. Who were your closest model confidantes at the time, and were there any models who you were particularly in awe of in terms of their physical beauty and character?
KY: There were so many great models at once. Of course, Christy was the most beautiful. Her face was just so correct and exotic. Stephanie's body was a pure sculpture of perfection. Naomi Campbell - her limbs and her skin were as smooth and soft as velvet. Was she the most awesome thing to ever walk the runway? Indeed. Elle MacPherson was a fun one too. She was a true athlete, and would swim 60 laps then go on the stair master for 45 minutes! Then we would go to Bilbouquet and have a bottle of wine over lunch. Of course Naomi was mercurial, but she is also generous and thoughtful. Karen Alexander we called the black Barbie and she is perfect. You are making me reminisce, it's killing me ;-)! Veronica Webb and I are friends now but were not so well acquainted back then. Christy and I have and always will be great friends - she is as dignified and elegant as she looks. Stephanie and I were best friends back in the day. So many great memories...

IMA: What have been the most valuable life lessons that you have gained as a result of your exposure to the industry?
KY: Work ethic. Nothing is forever. We are all the same. I learned to function on little sleep. I never complained about being tired or sick because a client would see that. I was alone a lot so I read a lot. I think seeing the whole world was very fortunate. Learning about different cultures and being exposed to many different kinds of people made me more tolerant and sensitive with respect to all people.

US Glamour - November 1989
Photographer - Paul Lange
Source -bellazon.com

US Vogue - April 1988
Photographer - Richard Avedon
Source - thefashionspot.com

German Vogue - June 1990
Photographer - Marc Abrahams
Source - thefashionspot.com

US Elle - March 1988
Photographer - Gilles Bensimon
Source - thefashionspot.com


IMA: What advice would you offer to aspiring young models, and if you could turn back time, would you have done anything differently with regards to your career?
KY: The advice I would offer to young models is to savour every moment. Don't look in someone else's pocket and be envious. But most of all be wise with their money because chances are it is the most they will ever make. If I could turn back time? Hmmm, I don't think that way. I'm not a could've should've would've Prada person ;-). I recognise the mistakes I made. Like choosing an insecure boyfriend over a great job. Sometimes I stayed too long in one place. One thing I wish I was a better show girl. I just did not take the time, even though I loved that part of modelling. That is a showcase I did not take full advantage of. For the most part though, I have little regret.

IMA: Would you consider a return to modelling given the return of fellow Supers Tatjana Patitiz, Claudia Mason, Liisa Winkler, and fashion's ongoing interest in Christy, Naomi, Linda et al.?
KY: I am not opposed to a career move. I think that as long as you can do it you should. It's great all these women continue to work so much. They have branded themselves very well. I love that so many women in their forties continue to be so visible. It's good for society to see such a diversity in colour and in age range. Just so you know there were many great people; stylists, make up artists, and editors that were so incredible and so key in shaping those times.

IMA: What makes you "Inoubliable" (Unforgettable)?
KY: Confidence! My look is intense. I seem exotic but have very American features. I think that's why I was very fortunate to get covers early on. My smile is sweet but I hate my laugh - it sounds evil.

British Vogue - June 1989
Photographer - Sante D'Orazio
Source - thefashionspot.com

US Elle - May 1991
Photographer - Gilles Bensimon
Source - thefashionspot.com

US Vogue - September 1989
Photographer - Peter Lindbergh
Source - thefashionspot.com

US Vogue - October 1988
Photographer - Steven Meisel
Source - thefashionspot.com

Paris Vogue - June/July 1990
Photographer - Sante D'Orazio
Source - bellazon.com

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