At 18, model Karlie Kloss conquers the runways at New York's Fashion Week

Karlie Kloss stalks the catwalk. She has a way of moving -- at once soft and powerful -- that goes beyond simple locomotion. Think of the breaking surf, swallows in flight, breezes through palm trees. The Post's Sarah Kaufman reports.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 15, 2011; 10:05 PM

IN NEW YORK Now that womenswear is on display, Fashion Week's runways are populated by Giacomettis come to life.

Many of the models are abstractions of the female form, all exaggerated lines and angles. Jutting hipbones atop praying-mantis legs, thin and sharp. The tender fabrics of the fall 2011 fashions can take on hard edges when worn by the average runway model here.

But not when Karlie Kloss stalks the catwalk. She has a way of moving - at once soft and powerful - that goes beyond simple locomotion. Think of the breaking surf, swallows in flight, breezes through palm trees. On Monday, in a turquoise and amethyst silk faille gown by Carolina Herrera, the six-foot-tall Kloss prompted thoughts of the Cutty Sark, with the silk billowing in her wake as she sailed down the runway.

Still in her teens, this focal point of Fashion Week eased up just as she approached the bank of cameras dead ahead; she stopped and took in their zooms with hungry eyes and a roll of her shoulders that echoed down into her liquid hips. Then - and this is what the photographers love about her - she gave them another shot to snap, keeping her gaze focused on the cameras even as she started to make her U-turn.

Like a ballerina riveted to her visual point of reference in a pirouette, Kloss's eyes lingered on the cameras before she turned her head to look where she was going, up the other side of the runway and finally drifting out of sight.

"I love the way she shows," Herrera gushes backstage. "She moves like a cat. I love the way she walks. For me, it's more important than beauty."

Herrera is not alone. Fashion designers appreciate movement and energy, whether in fabric or flesh. Kloss, 18, studied ballet before becoming a model, and her sensuous walk and dramatic stage presence are highly prized. In addition to walking in shows this week, she is featured in a new ad campaign for Christian Dior, for whom the high school senior has modeled for the past three years. (She splits her time between New York and school in her native St. Louis.)

"She embodies for me everything that is about a woman," says designer Donna Karan after her Monday show, in which Kloss wore the last outfit, the most coveted spot for a runway model. It was a viscose satin jersey gown in pale gray. Through sheer corporal emphasis, Kloss turned the ensemble into a neon sign; it might as well have been flashing "Look Look Look."

Photographers are also in her fan club. "She gives us more time to take the picture," says Karl Prouse of the International Herald Tribune. He wants to say more, but "you couldn't print it." So he offers this: "She swings her hips like nobody else." Wink! (A sexy runway model is rare indeed.)

The object of all this praise has a tissue clamped against her cheek by a makeup artist who is tracing eyeliner around one green eye. Kloss, wearing jeans, motorcycle boots and a black leather jacket, is backstage before the start of the Herrera show.

She's one of dozens of models in a huge tent at Lincoln Center who are being fussed over by people wielding hair spray and brushes with the sober intensity of neurosurgeons. Behind them, tables are piled high with muffins and croissants, in which only photographers and reporters show an interest.

A ballet beginning

Kloss deflects compliments about her walk: "I'm not graceful. I'm one of those tall, lanky, awkward kids," she says with a laugh and a megawatt flash of teeth. Her tipped-up eyebrows give her an adorable elfin look, even with her height. She has a simple answer to her rapid rise in modeling, from Missouri at age 13 to photo shoots and runways around the world.

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