Heidi Klum, the original, ever-enduring supermodel, has just returned home from 11 weeks in Europe. Her husband, 34-year-old German glam rocker Tom Kaulitz, was shooting a television show in Berlin, and Klum, accompanying him and unable to sit still, knew renowned photographer Kristian Schuller was also in town. Having seen Schuller apply his abstract lens to contestants on Germany’s Next Top Model – a fashion reality series of which Klum has been a host and executive producer for 18 seasons – the mother-of-four jumped at the chance to work with him.
“To me, [Kristian] is one of the greatest photographers out there,” Klum tells GRAZIA, her German-accented voice girlish and warm. “In my industry, a lot of people compartmentalise. They see you in a certain way. A lot of the time, I come to a set and the crew will say, ‘She needs bangs, or the hair needs to be like this so that she’s recognisable.’ And it’s so boring! I always look like that.
“As a woman, you love when you’re really being looked at – rediscovered, changed – and I love that about Kristian,” she continues. “He was like, ‘I want you to look like you but a different side of you’. I said, ‘Go ahead.’”
Klum – who just celebrated her 50th birthday in June – has deftly navigated a prodigious career in modelling and television, one which has spanned more than three decades. And, while she’s made serious bank with her classic bombshell look, she has always had a penchant for transforming her appearance, as seen by the innovative and unpredictable costumes she pieces together for her annual Halloween bashes. (For last year’s party, Klum went against conventional beauty standards and dressed up as a pinkish-brown, bulbous, enormous rainworm!)
But, as the German-American wunderkind discusses below, perhaps the key to her lasting success is seeing the great power that lies in always being open to opportunities and, if you do so with kindness and a megawatt smile, way will most certainly lead onto way. Ahead, a jetlagged, albeit vivacious, Klum openly reflects on the early days of her career, the lessons in love she’s learnt along the way, and the elements that make up a life well-lived.
GRAZIA: Let’s take it back to 1992 when you won a modelling contest in Germany. As a young woman, what vision did you have for your life?
HEIDI KLUM: I always wanted to be a dancer. I started when I was seven years old and did everything from ballroom, jazz, hip-hop and even tap dancing. I practised [the latter] in our basement at home because that was the only place where we didn’t have carpet. I loved being on stage and performing in front of people. In Germany, belly dancing was a big thing. Most mums were doing it, so I’d go with my mum. I always thought I was going to become a dancer and be on Broadway one day. I never thought modelling would be a job or lead to all of these different things that I’ve gotten to do in my career.
GRAZIA: Sports Illustrated and Victoria’s Secret signings came soon after. Was there a moment where you felt a change from “normal citizen” to “celebrity”?
HK: For sure. I remember landing the Sports Illustrated cover and they had millions of readers at the time, and suddenly I had all of these eyeballs on me. I would walk into a restaurant, and people’s heads would turn and they would start whispering, “Isn’t that the girl from the Sports Illustrated cover?” So, I could definitely feel all of this rumbling and whispering. It propelled me into more of a household name in America, and appearances on TV shows followed. As there was no social media in that day, everyone watched The David Letterman Show, or The Jay Leno Show, or Spin City with Michael J. Fox (I played his love interest for six episodes).
GRAZIA: I’ve watched so many moments on America’s Got Talent and Germany’s Next Top Model where you are not just a judge but a real television star who exudes this highly watchable, alluring, infectious energy that is very specific to you. Where does this energy come from? Did you always have this confidence as a young woman, or was it something you developed throughout your career?
HK: We are who we are. Most of the girls on Germany’s Next Top Model who are shy in the beginning are also shy when they leave me after many weeks. I was always excited about things, and always happy to be wherever I was. I was always a ham backstage. When reporters couldn’t get interviews with the Victoria’s Secret models, I would literally be like, “Give me that mic.” I would run backstage and say, “So, Stephanie Seymour, what do you think?” It sort of snowballed into more work in television, and I made connections with people which turned into businesses. I was open to new things, loved to travel – it was like, “You’re going to Brazil for two days, then Mexico, then Africa, and then Paris and Australia.” How could you not be excited?
GRAZIA: You just had your 50th birthday which is so exciting! You really do bring new meaning to the number. How do you best take care of yourself?
HK: If you look at interviews of mine from 30 years ago today, I still say the same things. We all know not to lay in the sun without putting sunscreen on, that eating fried things are not as healthy as unfried things. We know you have to have a balance in life. You have to drink water. You have to sleep. You have to move your heart so your whole body is working, instead of just sitting around. My nails and hair grow because I eat well. My skin looks good because I take care of it. We know all of those things, but it’s just the mindset of following those things that is always the hardest to do. Coming from Germany, my mum would make super unhealthy things all the time – cream sauces on everything! – so I just learned how to cook for myself. Maybe because [in the beginning of my career] I didn’t have the money to go to restaurants, I learned how to really eat well.
GRAZIA: What’s been a poignant lesson you’ve learnt about love?
HK: I’ve fallen in love a bunch of times. I’ve learned over the years that love is endless. When you’ve been crushed, or people have hurt you, or you feel like you love this person so much and that person is no longer there, [you feel like] “this can never happen to me ever again!” But your heart can always love again. Your heart has endless love. Although, it’s not always easy to find it.
GRAZIA: There is still so much unnecessary rhetoric in the media and in life about the process of ageing– and it’s so unfairly skewed toward a focus on women. As you’ve gotten older, has your opinion on ageing evolved?
HK: We’re lucky to get old. When I was younger, I would think, “50! That’s like a grandma already.” Now that I am 50, I don’t feel like a grandma, even though I could be one very soon, who knows? I feel lucky to be 50, I would feel luckier if I got to turn 60 or 70 or 80. And we’re all sitting in the same boat. Every day, the clock is ticking. Time waits for no one. So, be in the moment. Make every day great. We read it and hear it all the time, but that’s a fact. We all will die one day so make the most of what you have.
GRAZIA: When it comes to life and love, is there a moment where the pressures of how old someone is melts away, where age doesn’t matter?
HK: For me it never really mattered. I’m in a relationship with a man who is much younger than myself. We don’t care. It seems to be that everyone else does. The only people who should care are the people in the relationship. Sometimes when people are like, “Oh, why would he pick such an old woman?” – well, he did. Why did I pick him? Because I did. When we close our door and all the noise is gone from everywhere, it’s just us and we’re happy with who we are, and we appreciate each other. It works for us. I think we could all be a little bit kinder, open-minded, loving, and let people do what they want to do.
GRAZIA: Modelling is a career for the strong-minded ones. Have you reached a point in your career where other people’s judgements do not impact how you see or judge yourself
HK: I’m my biggest judge. I’m also my biggest cheerleader. I don’t really need anyone to judge me on anything. I know who I am. I only have one life and I want to make the most out of every day for myself and my family. I try to always stay away from the noise. When I started [my career], I’d always question myself…It’s important to understand that you’re good the way you are. You are enough.
GRAZIA: Do you pass these pieces of advice onto your beautiful daughter, Leni?
HK: Yes! I tell her it’s important to say no and don’t be afraid to do so. People always expect a yes, especially from a model. It’s like a service industry. They don’t care if my dog died, I took the job, I get paid for that job and I better be smiling that day. But if you don’t want to do certain things, say no. If you are asked to take your clothes off and you don’t want to do that, don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t want to do that.” If you want to do that, great! At the end of the day, you have to be happy with what you’ve done.
GRAZIA: In 2018, you said, “If I could go back in time, I would appreciate every moment more. When I was younger, I was always looking ahead and how to get there faster. Now I wish I had been more present during each moment to fully enjoy and savour them.” Can you recall a moment that washed over you because you were looking past it? And how do you savour moments nowadays?
HK: I have that when I’m really nervous. I’ve tried everything. There isn’t a medicine for not being nervous. On the live shows on America’s Got Talent, you sit there and know 17 million people are listening to what you’re saying in every moment, and that goes through your head. It can get to the point of blackouts because I’m so in my head about what I’m going to say. I have this amazing job, I see these amazing people on the stage, I need to stop worrying so much about how I will come across or what people will think. I’ve gotten better over the years – not because I’ve become a better judge or seen more things – but because I’ve allowed myself to be in the moment, and I have more fun. I used to be so in my worry that the fun sometimes got sucked out of me.
GRAZIA: Halloween is coming up. Can you give us a clue into the character you will be embodying this year?
HK: No! Even when I get my nails done, I never talk about Halloween, and my team cannot mention it in emails. I always try to come up with something unusual, and I pretty much have sleepless nights wondering if it’s good enough. There are so many Halloween fans and I don’t want to let anyone down! Last year, people were like, “What do you mean you want to do a rainworm?” I said, “I want to be a rainworm. No, I don’t want it to have feelers. No, it doesn’t have legs either! Have you seen a rainworm with legs? No, it doesn’t have a face!” It was this whole thing convincing everyone around me that it was going to be good. Maybe a creative might see it and think, “Oh my gosh, this is so cool,” and it’ll trigger something in them to create their own. This is how we are: we learn from each other. That makes the world go round.
CREATIVE DIRECTION: DANÉ STOJANOVIC
PHOTOGRAPHY: KRISTIAN SCHULLER
ART DIRECTION: PEGGY SCHULLER
FASHION DIRECTION: ANNA CASTAN
HAIR: JEAN LUC AMARIN
MAKEUP: GABRIELLE THEURER
SET DESIGN: KATHLEEN ALISCH
DIGITAL TECHNICIAN: CHEYENNE HOCH
LIGHTING ASSISTANT: ALLAN JAMES LIPP
FASHION ASSISTANT: CHRISTIAN MARCHESICH
TALENT: HEIDI KLUM