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Interview with a Supermodel: Kara Young

Kara Young's name and career lives in perpetuity in the rarefied category of supermodel! An icon of the 90's, Young's extreme beauty and accessible personality has been immortalized by some of the world's greatest fashion photographers such as Herb Ritts, Peter Lindbergh, and Richard Avedon. And, she has worked alongside some of her supermodel sisters like Stephanie Seymour, Christy Turlington, and Cindy Crawford in some of the most glamorous editorial spreads and cosmetic campaigns.

Young belongs to the era in which models became branding machines and took intentional control of their image to build lasting businesses and legacies. She is a testament to the fact that it's more than just looks, but the full package of earthy charm, smarts, and humor that makes 'supermodel' a life-long moniker.

Her great career is far from over. Young is still modeling, most recently Tina Turner's iconic silver Versace dress, and she assists her fashion photographer son Nick D'Orazio, an emerging photography superstar.

She talks about her career in the 90's and shares some of her many stories of being a supermodel during fashion's greatest decade.

JJ: What was it like shooting with Richard Avedon for his last Vogue cover?

KY: “He taught me a lot about having the right expression. Looking like something was going on with you, because that blank stare of modeling, people don’t like it. They want you to have a thought, think of something. That really helped me for the rest of my career–to emote.

He was a master. This was October of ‘88. I had two covers that year. I worked with him several times for Revlon, and another Vogue cover before. It was Anna Wintour’s second and Richard’s last cover for Vogue. I love that historically, and it sold really well.”

Vogue, October 1988

JJ: What was your greatest adventure from your modeling career?

KY: “One of the most fun jobs I ever had was when I went to Hawaii. Herb Ritts was shooting a Levi’s campaign. He had me, Stephanie Seymour, and 25 male models and gymnasts. It was a recipe for disaster to have 25 guys and us. I said to Stephanie, 'NO romantic entanglements because there will be a war over you.' Herb wanted to make it fun and interesting for people. He knew you could make it look real, like people were really friends, if they were having fun.”

JJ: What is one moment during your career or life that shaped you the most into who you are today?

KY: “I learned so much perseverance from the job, so much stamina because I didn’t understand how hard it was to have to work such long hours and still look good. Always be freezing cold. I learned so much strength from my career.

It’s funny because last night I had a meeting with someone and we were talking about modeling being hard. I said, ‘I was at a job once and they almost cut the model’s ear off and they expected her to continue working.’ You know who the model was? Your mom.”

JJ: What did/do you love most about modeling, having done it most of your adult life?

KY: “Those lasting friendships. You spend so much time with people, like Stephanie and Christy, you become a little family. We would always go on trips. I’ve gone to the Seychelles, so many places. I feel so fortunate to have traveled and to have gone to Africa. It made me understand different cultures and different ways of life that I don’t think I would ever have known. It’s important to see how other people think, feel, and interpret things. Not just the way we do as Americans. It’s a really special part of the job.

Also, I loved the independence of making money. I really did, I’m not going to lie and say that wasn’t a part of it. It definitely was a part of it.”

Kara Young and Christy Turlington, Vogue Italia, 1993

JJ: What was it like going from being a normal teen girl to modeling for the biggest names in fashion? Did that ever change your relationships with friends, with people you knew from before?

KY: “It probably did. My dad used to laugh and say, ‘how come you still care about all the stupid things going on at home? Your world of your friendships and sisters?’ I’m never going to not care about that.

My friends say there was a time when I got really into my own world and I barely went home. So I went through a phase of that for sure, but I don’t think I ever started acting differently. I never thought I was ‘all that.’ When you're living that life it's so surreal you don’t even really know you’re doing something so special and so unique.”

JJ: What is one thing from the 80's or 90's that you wish would make a comeback?

KY: “Magazines with big photoshoots. I love looking at photos, I love magazines and pictures.

I like glamor, the music videos and all that. I was obsessed with seeing the new music videos. I do hope shoulder pads never come back.

But I love the progress of life, that we have phones and computers. I try to not ever look back.”

JJ: When do you feel the most beautiful?

KY: “I don’t look at myself in that way. But, it’s definitely when I work, when I do shoots. Because I’m never going to spend an hour doing my hair and makeup and nails. I will do basic things to myself so I don't look bad. So, when I did that shoot a little bit ago I felt really good, you feel really pretty. The super awareness of your body and expressions. But it doesn’t make me feel different because I don’t think of myself like that. I just think of myself as Kara. I don’t think, 'wow I’m really pretty.' I just don’t.”

Vogue December 1988, Photograph by Steven Meisel

JJ: What is glamor to you

KY: “Great style and great clothes. I don’t care about the expense. That’s never been me. I hate trying on clothes at stores. I tried on clothes 10 times a day for 25 years, so I have a physical aversion to trying on clothes when I shop.

Last night for my birthday I had nails put on that are super pointy and gold. They’re stupid but I love them.”

JJ: You work with your son Nick D’Orazio who is an amazing fashion photographer. What is it like working with him?

KY: “He grew up on photoshoots, on Victoria’s Secret sets, he’d assist his dad (Sante D’Orazio). He was the assistant at Julia Roberts' wedding. It was so hush-hush. She said, you can only bring one person, and he brought Nick. He had to hold the reflector, camera, and lights. But he wasn’t into all the glamor of it. It was just his life. I love working with him because it's the happiest he is to me.

I also do hair and makeup with him when he works with models. That’s been a bonding thing for us. It’s the only time he can sort of talk down to me and say ‘I want you to do it this way.’ He loves it because of that, but it’s a bonding thing for us. I don’t do it all the time, maybe one out of every 10 shoots. But when I do, we’ll pick the makeup, hair, and clothes together. That creative process is great for our relationship."

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