The rewilding of Kate Moss
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The woman once described as “the greatest fashion icon of our time. Endlessly watchable, never predictable, always natural and utterly unpretentious” is curled up opposite me on the dusty-pink sofa of her Cotswold home, beside her dog, a Staffy-Vizsla cross called Archie. Kate Moss has just finished being photographed in her garden and we are now talking books, specifically Women Who Run with the Wolves, which was recommended by Moss’s neighbour in London, Courtney Love. “It’s about how we [women], we’ve got all this power and we’ve been held back,” she says in her high-low Croydon whisper, part songbird, part wolf. “And it’s about how to release that power. It’s great.”
At 49, Moss is channelling a new wildness.
I was first in the immediate orbit of Moss 10 years ago. We were at a private view at Christie’s auction house for an exhibition of 59 works of the supermodel. The pieces were an homage to Moss as muse and a testimony to her chameleon-like, global success since she was “spotted” in 1988, aged 14, at JFK airport by Sarah Doukas of Storm Model Management. Artists included Allen Jones, Peter Blake, Jake & Dinos Chapman and a stellar roster of fashion photographers: Nick Knight, Mario Testino, David Sims, Tim Walker and Herb Ritts to name a few. As Alexander Montague-Sparey, then Christie’s head of photographs, noted at the time, the evening changed the art landscape: “We are seeing fashion photographers recognised and celebrated as artists,” he said. “A new auction market within fashion photography has been created.” I also remember wondering, “Which of these artworks is most like you?” As Moss’s motto was famously said to be “never complain, never explain”, I seemed destined never to discover.
And yet, here we are. The sitting room of Moss’s home is elegantly lived-in; far from a show home with chopped cushions and artfully placed objets, it is dotted with personal knick-knacks, mystical trinkets, half-burned candles, books and plenty to engage the eye: an oval fuchsia Damien Hirst painting dotted with butterflies hangs opposite me, the vintage fireplace is a rich, mottled marble, and the window opposite frames a tree outside whose branches Moss has tied with brightly coloured ribbons. Moss’s boyfriend of almost eight years, Nikolai von Bismarck, and his brother Sascha, who has taken today’s photographs, politely traipse through the room, moving kit about. Archie the dog tries to eat my brownie, then settles down and starts snoring. Moss, dressed in a knitted nutmeg top, jeans and Blundstone boots, laughs – a magnificent pub landlady cackle: warm, unfiltered and infectious. “That’ll be on the tape, won’t it?” she says. “Snoring dog!” Indeed, it provides the soundtrack to our conversation.
The reason we are sitting here today is the culmination of several decisions in recent years: 35 years after signing with Storm, and becoming the face of impossible-to-number international campaigns for fashion, beauty, and lifestyle brands – from Chanel and Louis Vuitton to Rimmel London and Kérastase – it simmers down to one thing: “I want to be in control,” she says. “I don’t really want to just turn up and be the face of... or [turn up] for a day... I want to be able to create something.”
Yes, there have been collaborations – countless collaborations – over the years, from jewellery with Messika to perfumes with Coty and cans with Diet Coke. There were also, notably, 14 fashion collections with Topshop. But, of course, with Topshop, Philip Green was the man with the real power.
Last autumn, Moss launched her own wellbeing brand: Cosmoss, an all-natural range including Sacred Mist scent (£120), cleanser (£52), face cream (£95), beauty oil with CBD and collagen (£105) and Dawn and Dusk teas (£20). Moss joins a long list of high-profile celebrity names including Scarlett Johansson and Pharrell Williams in creating vegan skincare lines. Hers, she promises, is all her: “A lot of people with brands, they just put their name on it,” she says. Not only is she the creative force, she is sole investor: “I put my money into it. I own it. I don’t want somebody to say to me, ‘You have to do this to get sales up’; I want to do it myself, and feel it out. How I want to play it.”
Cosmoss, named after a giant daisy found in the fields around her home, tells the story of who she is now, what keeps her sane, sober and grounded. The story begins around five years ago, when Moss, in search of a more balanced life, began to consult homeopath, naturopath and shamanic practitioner Victoria Young “to get healthy, and more healthy”. Of the life change, she says: “I just felt like I needed all the help I could get.”
She doesn’t need to go into the details of how she arrived there: tabloids have long pored over her private life, from her early heartbreak with Johnny Depp to her tumultuous relationship with Libertines singer Pete Doherty, and her divorce from Jamie Hince of The Kills; from her 1998 confession that she had never walked down a catwalk sober, to the 2005 incident that captured her on camera allegedly taking cocaine. “Life is… can be, you know, tricky,” she simply concedes.
Young, an articulate earth mother, explains that she set about “looking at the structure of [Moss’s] day” and resetting her habits, putting in place new daily rituals that “really helped her move away from one lifestyle”. They aren’t radical, but simple, “such as getting up and having herbal tea. Cleansing her face. Spraying [a scent], almost like a sort of arc that you walk through, and there: your day begins.” It is, she says, “what often happens to people in their 40s… They sort of wake up and think, ‘Oh, I don’t want this, I don’t want this rock ’n’ roll lifestyle so much any more because, you know, our bodies can’t cope.’”
Moss was approached by Pawel Walicki, CEO of Warsaw Creatives and Warsaw Labs (who had produced shoots she had worked on) about the idea of setting up an independent brand; she says he persuaded her by saying she might appeal to “people who don’t usually get into wellness”. Her vision was a reflection of her daily routines. “I wanted things that were natural and that worked, and [to create] rituals that people are able to share in.” This is one way, she believes, of connecting more with people.
As such, she has finally had to take on a more public-facing role – something she has never been especially comfortable with. “I didn’t do anything for so long,” she says of personal interviews, “I’m quite shy, really… I hate doing [them] because I felt like [the press] always had an angle. And it was scary.” Big press days became things she loathed: “The kind of days when I was like, ‘I can’t do it any more.’ I didn’t for a while, and then I became ‘Kate, who doesn’t give interviews’.”
Last year was something of a watershed moment. In May, Moss testified in Johnny Depp’s defamation trial against Amber Heard. Though only three minutes long and made up of concise answers, it was more than many had ever heard her speak. In July came her Desert Island Discs, for BBC Radio 4, where she shared the eight tracks, book and luxury item (a cashmere blanket “in either a duck-egg blue or pink”) she would take with her if cast away.
“I think [people] didn’t really know much about me because I never really wanted to talk about certain things,” she says. “I have that fear. I don’t want anyone to know, really, where I am, what I am doing. I’m private.” Moss’s clique is tight and includes former model Rosemary Ferguson and her husband, artist Jake Chapman; hairstylist James Brown; stylist Katy England and Primal Scream singer Bobby Gillespie; and model Amber Valletta. “I’m a loyal person, so I expect loyalty back,” says Moss. Adds Ferguson: “We always say, ‘Keep it in the family’ – the family being all the friends we have knocked about with for three decades.”
The Cosmoss creative team, of around seven people including Young and Walicki, developed the vegan brand from Moss’s home, with much of the brainstorming done outside, throughout the seasons. The garden is a mosaic of pretty enclaves: there’s a firepit surrounded by a ring of log benches, beside which is a deep-red Romany caravan that sleeps two (at a squash) on embroidered blanketed bunks. Many creative gatherings were cooking around the firepit under the trees, or picking rosemary and sage for tea tastings: “We turned into proper hippies,” laughs Moss. “Hippie Deluxe!”
Her earliest ambitions were to evoke an English country garden, and a personal elixir, Sacred Mist. “Victoria went in with her singing bowl and kind of went into a trance and was like, ‘What does Kate need?’” explains Moss. “And it was protection. I probably do need protecting a bit,” she says. The essential oil for the task? “Oak moss,” she says delightedly: “It was my name, it smelt amazing and is hardly used.”
“Oak moss grows around forests and protects the ecology of the forest from farmland,” explains Young. “That’s a perfect beginning. Kate got into the fashion business so young with no protection; and subsequently very little over the years. So for her, part of her journey of wellness is to understand that you need boundaries, you need protection.” Added to the scent’s foundation is cedarwood and tonka bean, which “is about good fortune and bringing good luck”, explains Young. The oil also includes mastic resin, known as “Tears of Chios”. For Moss, these stories hold equal value as the benefits. “The base is all kind of magical, mystical,” she says. “When I spray it, I feel better. I wanted it to be an aura mist that’s cleansing.”
Vegan beauty is a fast-growing market, forecast to grow at a rate of 5.9 per cent a year for the next eight years, reaching $28.5bn by 2031 – but it faces stiff competition from science-backed beauty formulations. Take German biomedical scientist and physician professor Augustinus Bader’s eponymous brand, which has just hit a billion-dollar valuation – four years after it was launched.
“Cosmoss is very true to Kate and her journey – her own evolving lifestyle and ethos to help her feel good in herself,” says Ferguson, now a functional medicine practitioner and nutritionist, who has known Moss since their early days modelling together, and whose daughters Elfie Reigate and Bliss Chapman have, like Lila Moss, followed in their respective mothers’ footsteps. “Let’s face it, the girl knows what she is talking about when it comes to finding calm in a world of madness – and this is her sharing all the things that she uses daily to help her feel balanced.” Besides, science doesn’t promise to “cleanse your aura”.
The brand launched on the Cosmoss website and exclusively at Harrods in September, and more recently in international stores including Brown Thomas in Dublin and La Samaritaine in Paris. US stores are on the agenda. “Cosmoss has been phenomenally successful since its launch… exceeding all expectations,” says Triona McGinley, beauty director at Brown Thomas Arnotts. “Customers resonate with the ethos of the brand.”
Moss is quietly ambitious. “I’ve always wanted to have, like, you know, ‘the world of’ a bit. Eventually,” she utters in an almost whisper. The world of Kate Moss? “I didn’t want to say it. But yeah. The Cosmoss world.”
For counsel, she has turned to make-up artist Charlotte Tilbury (“a force to be reckoned with”, says Moss), who founded her own line of cosmetics in 2013, a majority stake in which Spanish group Puig paid $1.2bn in 2020. On Tilbury’s recommendation, Moss has invested time and energy in becoming “personal with the customer”. Says Tilbury: “Knowing what you stand for is so important.” Success means creating a brand that “draws on her extraordinary life, reflects her beliefs and is truly authentic”.
Moss’s dream is to have an entire lifestyle brand, and a spa with hyperbaric chambers, infrared saunas and cryotherapy. Her inspiration? “Lady Bamford. I was at lunch with her 20 years ago, and she was talking about doing organic foods. Now look at what she has done.” Cosmoss is “much smaller, obviously”, but eventually the plan is to “grow, grow, grow”. The evolution is, and will continue to be, instinctive: “I go with my gut. If I overthink something, it’s not going to be right for me.”
Cosmoss is a new development in Moss’s evolving business profile. In 2016, the Kate Moss Agency was founded. “I’d been with [Storm] for 27 years. And it was time to move on. I think I probably knew who I was a bit more, and had an idea of what I wanted to do. I started trusting my instincts more and more. I wanted a say. And we kind of clashed.”
As she considered her options for an “awkward” year, Moss realised she didn’t just want to go to another agency, “because they’re all the same, really”. She decided to branch out independently. “But then I realised, I don’t want to be on my own. And so I thought: start my own [agency]. Let’s get some kids in that I know. It just went from there.” Kids, of course, is literal: her own daughter Lila Moss; Stella Jones (daughter of The Clash’s Mick Jones); Ferguson’s daughters; and Stevie Sims (daughter of David Sims and Luella Bartley) are just a few of the roll call. Though there are other names alongside: Georgia Palmer and Blondey McCoy to name two.
“They’re different, they’re creative, they’ve got something else going for them other than their looks. Charisma. Cheeky,” says Moss of her signings. Vincent Rockins, 16, makes his own clothes. McCoy is a skateboarder. Luka Isaac a DJ. A sprinkling of Moss’s ineffable cool, perhaps. “When they’re all together, they’re like a little gang. When I grew up, modelling... we had a little gang; there was Shalom [Harlow] and Amber [Valletta], we were like the young grunge ones.” Of the new crew, she says: “It’s so sweet when you see them together.”
“KMA takes good care of their models,” says Ferguson. “Because of our background as models we know what young girls and boys need, and where the pitfalls are, and Kate has created an agency using all her experience to help these young adults have the best experience possible. I know my daughters are in very good, very experienced and very caring hands.”
Moss has spoken out about the trauma she often felt as a young teen in the industry – sobbing when asked to take her top off for a shoot with her friend Corinne Day; or feeling “vulnerable and scared” during a Calvin Klein shoot with Mark Wahlberg in 1992. Of the talent in her agency, she says: “I just want to look after them, because I know what can happen. And so there’s somebody with them [on shoots] because people take advantage. And I’m there if they need me. I can give them advice. If you’re not comfortable, you are allowed to say no, which I found really difficult because for years I said, ‘Yes, yes, yes.’ Even now I find it weird to say no.”
Now she says she is better at trusting her instincts. “I’d like to concentrate on [Cosmoss] and not have to do the modelling any more,” she says. She makes exceptions for projects and people with whom she has a special connection; it’s all about the “vibe”. Last September she memorably walked for Matthieu Blazy in Bottega Veneta’s SS23 show; as Vogue wrote at the time: “Any outing [of hers] on the catwalk is sure to be a moment.” Says Blazy: “Kate represents true style and inspiration. [She is] a true icon. A rare bird… I dreamed about Kate Moss all throughout my teenage years. I designed look four from the SS23 collection with her in mind. The look was about Kate, her presence, her character… The look brings to life the Bottega way of wearing your style and individuality with ease and confidence.” He recently created a fanzine to Moss, available in the Bottega Veneta stores, featuring pages from a binder of collages and images he put together when he was a teenager, and which he says “defined my coming of age”. She still exudes that “timeless cool”, he says, while “her kindness and energy are contagious”.
“I have to like the people I’m going to be working with,” says Moss. “Whereas before it was just a client – now I have much more engagement.” She mentions Diet Coke, for which she took on a creative director role last year. “I met them and was like, yes: this is a nice rapport. I’ll be able to work with you. It’s not so much just turn up and get pushed out [there].”
The Diet Coke collaboration has prompted some raised eyebrows, especially at a time when her business focus is so “clean”. Moss is unfazed. “You can be two things at once. I can eat quinoa and still have a burger.” She pauses. “I’m not perfect. And I don’t want to be puritanical.”
Another new connection is with the writer and director James Lucas, who is working on a biopic about Moss’s friendship with Lucian Freud. She sat for the painter for nine months and sports a tattoo created by the artist: two swallows on her lower back. Moss says Lucas wanted to make a film about what he called their “weird” friendship. “It’s not really weird,” though, she laughs. “It’s just because I was from Croydon and he was Lucian Freud! And I was a fashion model, and a bit wild.” Reviewing the scripts, she changes things she feels she wouldn’t have said, but otherwise leaves him to it. “I don’t want to be too controlling. I think he’s got an idea of how he wants to portray it.” When I ask what she thinks people will take away from this snapshot of their friendship, she considers the question. “I haven’t even thought about that.”
At this point in her life, Moss has been the focus of so many artistic lenses, it’s perhaps inevitable that interpretation fails to faze her (though one must pity the poor actress – Ellie Bamber – who has to play her). Of the numerous pieces that exist in her name, her favourites include those by Allen Jones (“He portrayed me as a really strong woman. I loved that.”), Chris Levine (his lightbox process “became really like a meditation. And I think he captured that feeling of serenity.”). And Marc Quinn. She claims not to have bought any pictures of herself – “No! Photographers always give me prints of myself. And I find it… embarrassing. What am I going to do with them?” – but then concedes that she has a Mario Testino picture of her and daughter Lila in her bathroom, and a Quinn sculpture upstairs. “You wouldn’t necessarily know it was me,” she argues. Then pauses. “Yeah, you would! But um. No, no. I just think it’s weird. Vain or something.” Maybe that’ll change with time? “I’m sure that one day, maybe when I’m older... I’ll be like, ‘Oh look, I was young.’”
“I get a bit sentimental about how young I was,” she continues of her now 35-year career. “Nostalgic. It’s almost like looking at another person. I did so many shoots; ones stand out that I had so much fun on... and then it becomes something else... People have those pictures on their walls. And then it’s like, ‘Wow.’”
I think back to something Moss had said earlier about her friendships with Courtney Love and Demi Moore. She described them as “strong and vulnerable. And I love that; I’m really attracted to that in women.”
Why, I had asked. “I just aspire to be like that myself: strong and vulnerable.” The thought hangs in the air, with the scent of Sacred Mist: an invocation of protection, love, luck and the wild, mystical power of nature.