Fashion legend Kate Moss opens up about her life as a young model, her thoughts on getting older and her down-to-earth approach to beauty.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Fashion legend Kate Moss opens up about her life as a young model, her thoughts on getting older and her down-to-earth approach to beauty.

Dress, Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello. Bracelets; earrings; ring (left hand), Bvlgari. Ring (right hand), Moss’ own

Kate Moss is on a roll. The famously guarded supermodel is rhapsodising about lotions and potions. “Sorry for going on,” she says, finally coming up for air, surrounded by a pile of makeup and moisturisers, “but when I get really excited about something, I can talk about it for hours.”

The reason for Moss’s volubility, and her visit to New York, where we meet in the penthouse of a downtown hotel, is her recent signing as the Creative Director of Decorté, the cult Japanese beauty brand known for its state-of-the-art serums and whose advertising campaigns she has modelled in for the past three years. “I love the products, I really believe in them,” she offers. “So it’s easy for me to talk about them. I used to bring them back for my friends every time I’d go to Japan because after the first time they were all like, ‘Please, can I have some more’.”

Although clearly excited about her new gig and loaded title (“It’s so grown-up; it basically means I’m responsible for the look of the ad campaigns as well as starring in them”), Moss, 44, knows that being the face of the brand invites scrutiny as to how she is ageing. “Well, people are going to do that anyway,” she says, referring to the tabloid obsession with her maturing. (The Daily Mail, for one, keeps a running tab on her looks.) “I’m used to it by now.” She recounts how, when she was starting out as a teenager, the photographer Mario Testino used to inspect her face for imperfections after she was done with hair and makeup on their shoots. “He’d hold his glasses up to my face like they were a magnifying glass, and I’d start shaking my head so he couldn’t focus,” she recalls, drawing uncomfortably close to my face before filling the room with one of her signature cackles. “Luckily I had a good head on my shoulders, but can you imagine?”

The supermodel, for the record, looks great. Dressed in a black Prada cashmere sweater and trousers by The Row, her arms adorned with bracelets by Dior and Cartier (not to mention tattoos of an anchor and a cross), Moss is a picture of unstudied glamour. “It’s my lounging outfit,” she jokes. Before I can ask about the rings on her left hand, she chimes in, “Diamonds, darling. Vintage diamonds.” Her hair is Bardot-blonde and perfectly tousled in a way that suggests she woke up like that. Sure, her face (tanned from a recent Greek vacation with her boyfriend, the photographer Count Nikolai von Bismarck) betrays a few incipient lines around her eyes and mouth, but she remains every bit the iconic beauty who has appeared on countless magazine covers, and inspired artists and photographers from Lucian Freud to Mario Sorrenti (in fact, the latter just came out with a coffee-table book called Kate that’s filled with intimate, never-before-published portraits of Moss when she was on the cusp of stardom).

Friends say that Moss’ humble nature has played a key role in her unusually long reign at the top. “We can all see something of ourselves in Kate,” says former model and band manager Tricia Ronane, a longtime friend of Moss’. “Women see her living a normal life, having a job and being a mum, going out with friends and having a boyfriend. We see her doing these things and looking great while not appearing to spend too much time worrying about it. It is an approachable lifestyle that we can all see ourselves living.”

James Brown, a London-based stylist who grew up in the same working-class suburb of Croydon as Moss and who worked on the new Decorté campaign, agrees. “She always looks effortless, and maybe because nothing is ever too scary on her, it looks achievable. People relate to her. We’ll be in a deli grabbing a sandwich, and someone will just go up to her and ask her what she is ordering.”

It’s a relatability that Decorté and Moss are gambling will pay off at the beauty counter. “I think it helps that I don’t take myself too seriously,” Moss muses on the sway she has on women around the world. “You don’t want to be a slave to beauty. Don’t get me wrong, I love beauty products more than ever—as you get older, you have more to hide—but I’m not obsessed. Even when I’m going out, I still find it hard to wear false eyelashes and stuff. Sometimes [makeup artist] Pat McGrath will be like, ‘Come on, darling, let’s put a lash on you,’ but I would never put one on myself.”

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Overalls, Salvatore Ferragamo. Necklace; bracelets; watch, Cartier. Ring, Moss’ own

Moss, who learned about beauty on set from the world’s leading hair and makeup artists, is good at it, says Brown. “The second you touch her with a tool or a product, she just knows and will be like, ‘The fifth curl on the right behind my ear doesn’t feel right,’ and she is always spot-on.” These days, Moss is being schooled by Lila, her 16-year-old daughter with Dazed Media co-founder Jefferson Hack.

“She teaches me everything,” says Moss. “Lila and her friends follow all the beauty blogs and Instagram accounts, and she’ll be like, ‘Mum, you have to try this, it’s amazing what they can do now.’ She does all that contouring and stuff, which I’m sure they do to me when I’m at work, but I never pay any attention. I’m too busy talking.”

The only advice she has for Lila—who was recently named the newest face of Marc Jacobs Beauty—is to appreciate her individuality. To this day, Moss says she finds it hard to believe that she managed to make a name for herself in the age of Naomi, Linda and Christy. “I never could compare myself to those girls,” she explains. “I wasn’t five foot eleven, I wasn’t built like they were. I was always different, and that’s why I got booked. For Lila and her friends, it’s hard because it’s all there on the phone, the Kardashian factor, it’s in their face much more than it was for us. It’s instant inspiration, but also instant judgment. But she has seen me, and I’m not obsessed with myself, so hopefully that will rub off.”

Lila would do well to also learn from her mum’s work ethic. “Kate has an incredible personal style and great taste,” says the photographer Sølve Sundsbø. “But in the same way that Bowie was more than his music, she represents much more than just being a supermodel.” In addition to remaining one of the world’s most in-demand models, Moss is a contributing editor for British Vogue; has designed capsule collections for Topshop and Longchamp; collaborated on wallpaper with de Gournay; and after 28 years of being represented by Storm Models, launched the Kate Moss Agency two years ago. Her roster consists almost exclusively of models with interesting side hustles, such as DJ Luka Isaac, Game of Thrones actress Gwendoline Christie and singer Rita Ora. “It’s an eclectic mix,” says Moss, “but as a gang, everyone kind of works together.”

Though she claims to have become a mother hen who gets depressed when her charges don’t land a job, Moss says she works hard to keep stress in check. “I’ve learnt to take care of myself a bit more,” she says. “I do yoga every day. I don’t go out nearly as much. And I take care of my skin, which somehow has held up. The bad things I have done usually take their toll, and I’ve been quite lucky in that respect, but you have to put in the work.” Spoken like a true beauty impresario.

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Photographed by Sølve Sundsbø. 

Styled by James Brown

Makeup: Sam Bryant

Hair: Malcolm Edwards Manicure: Lorraine Griffin

Set design: Robbie Doig/ Dragonfly

Scenery Photography assistant: Simon McGuigan

Digital operator: Lucie Byatt Retouching: Digital Light Ltd