It was always pretty likely that Kaia Gerber was going to follow in her mother’s footsteps — after all, the very definition of a supermodel is embedded in her DNA. And among a sea of social media celebrities and Insta-bred models, Kaia has become one of the fashion industry’s favorite new faces. A wealth of designers have fallen under her spell since her turn as the poster girl for Young Versace when she was just 10 (handpicked by Donatella herself, no less). Now just shy of her 16th birthday and in her career’s relative infancy, she’s pretty much got the art of transformation down. With her stunning chestnut locks, ethereal skin, and expressive dark eyes, she can move seamlessly between edgy model (her spring 2016 Alexander Wang campaign is the perfect example) and coquettish girl next door (see her recent Marc Jacobs Daisy campaign). In fact, the man himself agrees, explaining, “When we were looking to cast the Marc Jacobs Beauty campaign, [Jacobs’s longtime show stylist and creative collaborator] Katie Grand suggested Kaia Gerber. She sent me a picture, and I immediately agreed. We shot with David Sims, and Kaia was absolutely fantastic in every way. Her beauty, her charm, her incredible personality, and her professional work ethic proved the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
That tree, of course, is Cindy Crawford, the all-American beauty who, as part of the rat pack of Amazonian supermodels of the ’90s (Cindy, Christy, Linda, Claudia, and Naomi), ruled the runway and became one of the faces of a generation. According to fashion insiders, like influential stylist and editor Carine Roitfeld and fellow fashion darling Kendall Jenner, Kaia is picking up where her mom left off. Along with her Marc gig, she’s been a face of Miu Miu and Chrome Hearts and racked up a coveted French Vogue cover alongside her maman, shot by master lensman Mario Testino.
Despite growing up in the shadow of celebrity, Kaia spent her childhood away from camera shutters and prying eyes, in the intimate and isolated community of Malibu, with her brother, Presley (now also a model, storming the runways of Milan and Paris), as well as her businessman father, Rande Gerber, and her mother, who, Kaia explains, “would separate her busy home life and work life the best that she could.” Kaia’s was a grounded childhood, free of the typical trappings of fame. “I think it was only on my eighth birthday, at Disneyland, that I started to understand what was going on. I wanted to take pictures with the princesses, and everyone wanted to take pictures with her!” she laughs.
Listening to Kaia talk about her love of psychology (“That’s definitely what I would major in”), her obsession with R&B crooner Khalid and the new SZA album, and chocolate, which her mother slipped her bites of when she was two — “It was even my first word!”— it’s easy to forget that Kaia is a girl seasons away from superstardom. Family time is something she holds dear, too. “As my brother and I get older and busier, I really cherish the time we spend together. Every summer we go to our house in Canada; it’s our tradition. It’s on the lake, and we go for four or five weeks. There’s no Wi-Fi, so I stay off social media.”
These days, with modeling campaigns being handed out to girls with the biggest followings, Kaia acknowledges that having an active social media presence is important, but she’s determined not to let likes and follows rule her life. “I try to take breaks. Everyone expects you to be on it all the time, but social media is just everyone’s best version of themselves. I try and give people a truer depiction of who I am,” she says.
Beyond Kaia’s physical beauty, her 1.4 million (and counting) Instagram followers are privy to glimpses of a warm and relatable teenager who isn’t afraid to be herself. Surreal moments of Kaia standing in front of her first billboard on Melrose (“I wasn’t even the one to see it; my friends sent me pictures and video”) are juxtaposed with down-to-earth snaps with the close-knit circle of friends she’s had since she was three. “My parents have always taught me to be myself and to follow my instincts,” she says. “They also say that you should never let what other people do affect what you want to do. It changes everything when you accept who you are and you don’t try to change yourself.”
Kaia’s unique selling point is that she makes being the good girl the coolest thing you can be. She is hyperaware of the countless eyes watching her life and work on Instagram, and she feels a responsibility to be someone they can be proud of. “It is so key to me to be a good role model for young girls and someone their mom would want them to look up to,” she stresses. “I now reach so many people, and it’s hard for them to know what is real. I don’t take any platform I have lightly. It’s so important to send a good message.”
Right now, Kaia’s wrapping chemistry classes at summer school before her first big show season this fall, but something tells me she won’t have any trouble as it is likely to be the first of many. Jeremy Scott muses, “Even when I met her briefly last year when she came to cheer on Presley at the Moschino resort show, I knew hers is the kind of classic American beauty that is timeless and never goes out of style.” Supermodel Karlie Kloss concurs, reflecting, “Launching a career this early isn’t easy, though Kaia’s ability to balance her life as a model, student, daughter, sister, and friend is a testament to her hard work and authenticity, which is the perfect recipe for success.” Karlie’s polymathic approach to life — flawlessly mixing modeling with founding a coding camp for girls — is one that resonates with Kaia. “I really look up to Karlie,” Kaia says. “She’s broken all the rules of what a model should be and uses her platform to benefit others. Plus we’ve met a bunch of times, and she’s one of the nicest people ever. All my icons I look up to as people, not just their work. ‘Iconic’ is not a word I use lightly. You have to earn it.” With Kaia’s star firmly in the ascendant, she’s well on her way.