How Heidi Klum Catwalked Her Way To Being a Household Name
It’s been years since Heidi Klum catwalked her way onto the list of indelible household names (perhaps alongside Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan, and Beyonce), but the German supermodel shows no signs of slowing down. Famed for her Sports Illustrated covers, position as the Emmy-nominated model matriarch on Project Runway, legendary Victoria’s Secret campaigns, and crazy-insane Halloween costumes, Heidi’s largely to thank for bridging the gap between fashion, business, and television. These days, she’s making waves as the judge on “America’s Got Talent” and with a signature lingerie line, “Heidi Klum Intimates”, but in between the chaos of running a family, business empire, and planning a Halloween party, Heidi slowed down to tell us the secrets to being Heidi Klum.
You’re such an iconic, prominent personality. Were you always the life of the party?
No, I’m pretty shy. I don’t love being in front of large crowds, or speaking in public. When I’m asked to, I’m always like, ah! no! It’s actually easier when there are thousands of people sitting there, when I can’t really see anyone in the sea of faces. But even that—when I have to read a prompt, or be loud…I don’t like. It’s always weird to hear my own voice echoing in a room of so many people.
But you’re always in that position! How do you do it?
I don’t think it was so much of a conscious decision, but rather that when I started doing things for television, I knew that it’d be my own personal challenge. I’ve never had problems taking my clothes off, or in terms of my body image. When I have to speak in front of people, I’ll choke up, get anxious, have spit in my mouth—I just have to know that that’s where my work will be. And now, with America’s Got Talent as a live show, I practice that all the time, because whatever comes out of your mouth just comes out. It’s a ton of pressure [laughs].
“At the end of the day, it’s me that’s in the public eye with whatever decisions I’ve made—I’m the one who gets hammered or loved for it. I’ll always bite the bullet and try crazy things out, because I think it’s worth it to be gutsy.”
So did you decide on what your ‘personality’ would be?
The best thing for me to do is to just be natural. I know that maybe I don’t have as good of a vocabulary as some other people, or even that my English won’t be as good as maybe it should be…but I’ve seen that just being myself is what people are most interested in.
Are you a good boss?
Well, I’m able to work with others, but I’d always rather do what I want to do. I’m a creative person, you know? Regardless of whether we’re talking about shoes, or a show, I’m an ideas person, so in order to get what I want, I’ll envision something, and then I have to explain to people what I want. Then we can do it. Because at the end of the day, it’s me that’s in the public eye with whatever decisions I’ve made—I’m the one who gets hammered or loved for it. I’ll always bite the bullet and try crazy things out, because I think it’s worth it to be gutsy.
When you started out, how did you get people to start listening to you?
I mean, when I started modeling, in 1992, both in Europe, and here, people didn’t really care what you had to say. But I kind of would always incorporate my ideas into the things I was doing, and then afterwards they’d say, “You know, Heidi, that wasn’t a bad idea!” I was a fit model for many years, and I’d start to give feedback on the designs, or on the shoot, on what I thought was cool or wasn’t. After a while, people started to listen to me.
There are so many girls I know who’s careers in modeling actually just end up making them feel worse about themselves.
I never had that problem. Of course, I was sent away from castings, or rejected many times, and there was always criticism. I came to America from Germany in the ‘90s with big boobs and a big smile—that wasn’t what was in at the time. I struggled, but I was never depressed. I thought, if they want me, then they want me, and if not, then they don’t. I always thought, there must be a job I can do as a healthy woman, or I’ll just go home. I always had my head on in the right place, in that way. I guess it’s also because I wasn’t as young as the girls these days. I was around 19 years old when I started modeling—the girls today get started super young.
It must be so hard to not internalize the kind of criticism you’re getting from people in the industry!
Yeah, I luckily really didn’t have that issue. Oh my god, bookers now—the model bookers are devils. For a lot of models, when you’re really young, your booker becomes your family. They drag you to all these places and parties, and who knows what they all do. I always stayed as far away as I possibly could from situations like that. That just wasn’t my thing. I was here to work, not to party.
Okay, so I always wonder how successful people go about their days. What’s your secret to staying so bossy?
I just focus on whatever I’m doing in the moment. I work hard to stay in the present, and to take things as they come to me. This week, for example, was a crazy week. We filmed America’s Got Talent every day, and now there’s this, and you know, every morning, I’ll just tell myself, just get through today. If you look at your goals big picture, it’s just too overwhelming. There’s always something to do, but I also have no problem doing nothing. A lot of people need a lot of time before they can relax. I’m not like that. When I’m home, there’s always something to do. I cook, I unpack, the kids and I go to the supermarket, we all cook together. If I’m on vacation, I’ll put down my work and totally just chill.
“I love people who are original, who don’t care about what other people say. I think it’s so cool when girls don’t follow ideas of what they’re supposed to look like, or do what’s expected of them.”
But then when you do feel completely overwhelmed—
I always find a tool to get through wherever I’m at. I do get stressed out, and I do get frightened. But I say to myself, no one else is going to do this, and I want to do this, or else somebody else is going to do—then it’s like 90 seconds before you have to go on live, and there’s just the sound of crazy applause. Those moments before, I’m really hyperventilating, I have no spit in my mouth, and everybody’s around me doing things, and everything gets on my nerves, and I just don’t talk. I try to focus. You know where is the only place I get some peace? When I go to the bathroom. Those are moments I look for. I can’t ever just sit anywhere. People are always talking to me, you know? Either I’m an interview, or I’m approving a photo, or my kids have a fever—the only time is when there’s literally no one around me is when I’m in the bathroom. I’ll just sit in the bathroom, enjoy the quiet, and think about everything I have to do.
And these days, who are some artists that you’re loving?
I think Rihanna is super hot and super sexy, you know, when she goes to the Met Ball and she’s wearing nothing but glitter, I just love that. Or Miley Cyrus—people always have something to say about her, but she’s original, and does her own thing, and I totally respect that. I love people who are original, who don’t care about what other people say. I think it’s so cool when girls don’t follow ideas of what they’re supposed to look like, or do what’s expected of them. Just do your own thing, you know? Just go for it.
Photography by Max Montgomery