It’s 25 degrees in the shade on a perfect summer Sunday as GRAZIA’s fashion assistant Daisy unpacks rails of swimsuits and sheer dresses for today’s shoot. The crew mills around wearing appropriately breezy cotton sundresses, shorts, slides and sunglasses, distracted by the spectacular view across Sydney’s Pittwater as they wait for today’s talent.
When Kelly Gale finally arrives (sans entourage FYI), the 22-year-old is as striking in person as you’d expect of a four-time Victoria’s Secret runway show model: tall and willowy with trademark flowing locks (no extensions, FYI again) and killer curves.
Her exotic looks are a hint at her mixed heritage and history. Born in Sweden to an Australian father and mother of Indian origin, Gale spent four years of her childhood in Ghana before returning to Sweden, where she was discovered in a café at age 12 in a by a pair of model scouts.
What’s most startling on this fine summer’s day though is Gale’s get-up. Thigh-high black suede Stuart Weitzman boots and a thick woolly Asaf Ganot jumper bookmark tiny Levi micro-shorts. There’s a collective gasp from everyone present as she steps through the door.
Credit: Steven Chee
“I’m like super, super, super cold – always,” she says minutes later when a make-up artist asks politely if she’d be more comfortable in a T-shirt. “I’ve never experienced being too warm, ever. I don’t know what that feels like.” It’s an ironic statement given Gale’s widely considered one of our hottest young commercial models on a global scale right now.
New York-based Gale has packed a lot of career – and travel – into the past decade. Two years after that pre-teen scout experience, she made her international modelling debut for H&M. Just three years later, age 17, she was walking for Chanel. During her first audition for Victoria’s Secret after turning 18 – the minimum age to front the show – casting agents were so impressed they created an extra runway look so she could be included.
Three more VS shows, including the most recent extravaganza in Shanghai, along with countless editorial shoots, campaigns, fashion weeks and an appearance in Sports Illustrated have followed since.
Today’s shoot caps off a six-day trip to Australia with her boyfriend of five years Johannes Jarl (they were school sweethearts) to shoot a resort campaign for much-loved swim label Tigerlily. Days earlier, a rep for the brand tells GRAZIA that Gale is the embodiment of their Tigerlily girl ideal: beauty, strength, individuality and confidence, but also a little wild and unpredictable. “Kelly embodies all these qualities – that’s one of the reasons the brand has wanted to work with her for so long,” she notes.
Credit: Steven Chee
My dad is from Melbourne and all of dad’s family – my cousins and everything – are in Melbourne. My mum is originally from India, but she was adopted to Sweden so she grew up in there. They met on vacation in Thailand. We lived in Melbourne when I was really young, then we moved to Sweden so my mum could finish her pilot degree. [Gale’s mother is also a medical doctor]. When I was five, we moved to Ghana for four years – my dad was working there. He’s a film photographer. I still have two brothers in Sweden. One’s 13 and the other one’s 20. My youngest brother did a lot of child modelling.
I started travelling alone when I was 13, so I think that if we hadn’t done a lot of travelling together as a family when I was younger it would’ve been a lot harder. And if I didn’t speak English, that would’ve been hard too.
It was in Gothenburg in Sweden and I’d just played in a soccer cup. After the tournament, we went to have lunch at a café and I remember this couple – or like, a girl and a guy – that were sitting staring. They came up to me and my parents and asked me if I was interested [in modelling] and my parents said no.
They didn’t want me to do it because first of all, my dad worked in the business [as a photographer] and he was like no, I don’t want you to be a model. Then I was scouted again by that same woman who’d come up to me and I just followed her, with a friend of mine, up to the agency and they took Polaroids of me and then I was on their website. I remember showing my mum and saying look, somehow they got photos of me. [Laughs] Now Dad thinks it’s great.
Credit: Steven Chee
No, because I was very ugly when I was growing up. Well, I was told I wasn’t very pretty by everyone, seriously.
I started that right before the whole social media thing kind of took off. Back then it was more about casting looks and personality had nothing to do with it. I prefer it now a lot more because it’s more about who you are as a person – or at least, who you portray yourself to be. What your brand is, which you decide yourself, as opposed to it just being about what you look like. I prefer it now [fuelled by social media], but I know a lot of people don’t.
Very determined. In all ways – with what I want, what I want to achieve. And then probably fun, and busy. That’s probably what my boyfriend would say. [Ed’s note: Gale’s boyfriend Johannes Jarl is a Manager of Business Services at the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce in New York.]
The first year I got that (casting) was big for me. I saw the show for the first time when I was 14 and was like: if that’s the top of the top [for modelling] then I want to do it. I wanted to have a goal because I didn’t like the way models were treated when I younger – when you’re not an established model, they don’t treat you as well. So I looked up the requirements and saw you couldn’t do it before you were 18, so when I turned 17, I was like okay, the prep begins.
I amped up my workouts a lot and started working with Adriana Lima’s personal trainer [in New York]. I ate super healthy, started doing a lot of meditation and I made sure I was on top of the social media thing because that was when it was just taking off. [Ed’s note: a model’s social media following and the brand image she projects there is now an important consideration for casting agents of commercial shows like Victoria’s Secret.]
Credit: Steven Chee
I remember feeling like ‘okay, I’ve done my best and I’m as prepared as I will ever be’ before going in. I went to the casting and I thought everyone waiting was so perfect and [wondered] why would they ever choose me. Everyone was so tall and beautiful. Then I got the callbacks, which is the second casting with all the cameras and lighting. All the girls found out if they got it or [not] the day after, but I didn’t and my agency kept saying we don’t really know yet, most likely not. Then three days before the show I got called in for a fitting. Apparently, they’d made an extra outfit for me.
The last show was probably the hardest casting because it’s usually less than eight weeks before the show, but  was three and a half months before. I had to start prep 10 weeks before the casting, which was six months before the show.I think I work harder every year because I need to. There is more competition and everyone works really hard and I feel like I need to be better and better each year.
I have a green juice in the morning – a big one – with kale, spinach, celery, cucumber, two lemons and lots of ginger. Then I go work out for a few hours. I do a lot of walking. [Ed’s note: Gale has famously admitted to walking 20-30 kilometres every day in the lead up to the VS show.] Then I do boxing and jump-rope and Pilates. I like to mix it up, so sometimes I train with my personal trainer, sometimes I take classes because I feel like my body gets very used to it if I just do the same thing all the time. I’ll do like a more intense workout in the morning and then for lunch I have lean proteins, like all the seafood I want and white fish, turkey and lots of veggies.
My eyes are allergic to everything. Like, I can’t put anything on my eyes without taking medicine first – which is every time I’m shooting. I use Bobbi Brown and [usually] bring my own stuff to shoots.
Credit: Steven Chee
Every morning and every evening, yeah. It helps me with stress.
It was a lot bigger and very different to the other shows I’ve done because it was in China and nobody spoke English. Nobody. Like, nobody. Just people that were flown in from New York. Even at the hotel we were staying at [the Mandarin Oriental] it was very hard to communicate and um we were locked in the hotel most of the four days before the show.
Oh yeah, that was the only thing we were doing. I was jet-lagged and I went in at 3am thinking ‘I’m going to be all alone’ but there were literally 30 people in there. I was like ‘why aren’t people sleeping?’ [Laughs]
We got there at 8am and it was a lot of stress for everyone. I wasn’t happy with my hair and makeup until around 3pm so I didn’t do any press because I was trying to make sure I was ready in time for the first show. [Ed’s note: Victoria’s Secret films the whole show twice so that it can edit out any major mishaps and capture more footage.]
Credit: Steven Chee
I think I spent four hours looking for food. They told me I couldn’t order room service because there were too many people trying to order! [Laughs]
Definitely. It was one of my favourite brands growing up in Australia. My favourite bikini from [new] collection is the leopard print. I love the cut of both the top and the bottom and the print is fun – and hot. I like triangle bikinis with lots of colour and no padding.
I’m always dressing to be warm. The most important thing for me is to not be cold – I hate being cold. Other than that, it’s also very casual. I like to wear dresses as well, but comfortable is the most important thing.
I like getting into different characters. I think I do that in everyday life as well. I have different accents and I like to play around with them. My challenge was to start taking classes and then see if I like it – if it’s something I want to do.
Still living in New York, working hard, doing a lot of modelling jobs, working with people that enjoy working with me as a person and enjoy working with me and my brand.
If the opportunity came up, then yes. It’s always fun to work with them.
Fashion director: Charlotte Stokes
Photographer: Steven Chee
Hair: Noni Smith
Makeup: Michael Brennan
Fashion assistant: Daisy May Uffindel
Model: Kelly Gale