New Zealander Kylie Bax first found fame in the early nineties. As a protégé of legendary photographer Steven Meisel, Kylie’s gamine allure inspired many a designer. She has appeared in numerous blue-chip editorials, advertising campaigns and her visage has graced the covers of international editions of Vogue, ELLE and Harper’s Bazaar.
Now a mother, Kylie has returned home to New Zealand where she continues to model and breed horses. I caught up with her as she reflected on her career and much more.
Tell us about the transition from the Miss Thames Valley competition to signing with an agency and moving to New York.
You are asking me to dig deep into my memory bank. It seems so long ago now. I think it was a brazen decision on my part to go to New York. It wasn’t what everyone thought was the best idea for me, including my agency in New Zealand.
I was scouted by Elle Macpherson’s manager, at the time, in New Zealand. He was working for Women Management, a new, cool and trendy agency in New York. I had to bite the bullet and go with my gut instincts which were telling me that if I didn’t make it in New York then I may as well do something else and move on from modeling.
I saved my pennies through working small catalog jobs in New Zealand and bought a ticket to the States. I hardly had any money and the value of the Kiwi dollar to the American dollar was pitiful. I knew that the leap had to be one of faith and hard work.
How did you deal with the isolation of being in New York so far away from family and home?
I am not one for being scared to be out on my own. I love the sense of new adventures and making new friends plus discovering new countries and cultures. Of course, arriving in New York at midnight was certainly the beginning of a quest. My family has always been supportive and given me the feeling that I can do anything I try if I work hard at it.
Oh, definitely Steven Meisel. He is a master of design and creativity and he boosted my self-confidence through his support of my burgeoning career. He was the first one to shoot me for two covers of Italian Vogue and a 23 page editorial. Pat McGrath did the makeup and it was her first major editorial too. Garren oversaw the transformation of my hair and gave me my famous short bleach blonde look. We had so much fun.
Before heading to New York, in my teens, Linda Evangelista was my modeling inspiration. I remember her D&G campaign as clear as if it was just this month. Little did I know then that one day I would be called Linda’s little sister. What an honor!
Modeling has become such an aspirational career. What are your thoughts on this?
It looks very glamorous to the outside eye, but it’s very hard work especially if you want to make it to the top. I think the grounds for being a top model stem from having a team of family and friends that collectively give you strength and love. Modeling is a loveless industry; one minute you’re hot and the next not, in and out of fashion like fashion itself. I don’t believe modelling is what it used to be. I was lucky; I think my era was a special one.
What changes have you noticed in the industry from when you started?
I think the term supermodel is used very lightly and the turnover of top models is fast. Faces are less familiar and names are not remembered or household names. Actresses adorn coveted magazine covers more often than models now.
What effect has social media had on fashion in your experience?
The concept that the amount of followers you have dictates if you get the job or not is far beyond what I ever would have conceived the industry would turn to. I understand it but am less likely to accept it so readily. However, one must follow trends. The public dictates what is in and who’s cool and not so much the art directors and editors anymore.
I still model. I’m the face of Paula Ryan clothing and still get countless requests for work in Europe and other places. However, my horses and what I was born into, which is the bloodstock industry, has always been a strong part of who I am. The first major campaign I signed on for was Escada and I used that money to buy a horse farm in Kentucky.
Fashion and horse racing have always been connected. One of the biggest fashion extravaganzas is the Kentucky Derby. New Zealand is a far cry from New York but it’s a superb alternative and such a wonderful lifestyle.
Do you feel like you have come full circle?
Yes, I’ve definitely set out and done what I said I would do when I was 20. I’ve had bumps along the way and it hasn’t always gone smoothly but the ride and journey has been unforgettable.
In retrospect, what did you discover about yourself through modeling?
That I’m stronger than I think I am. That I can achieve goals and I am incredibly lucky to have gathered so many amazing friends along the way. I think the friends I’ve made through modeling are pure gold. They are so lovely, warm, kind, artistic and talented and I’m glad I can call them friends. I’m insecure about my looks and I am grateful to my friends in fashion who gave me confidence in that department.