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Karolina Kurkova: The Czech model is walking on a bigger runway

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Karolina Kurkova: The Czech model is walking on a bigger runway
Celebrity
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January 16, 2014 - 9:07PM
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Bob Morris
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watches "You have to keep showing up because just being in magazines isn't enough": Karolina Kurkova. Photo: Reuters
Replica Glash The crowd in New York's Central Park had swelled to 60,000 as Karolina Kurkova, the Czech fashion model and former Victoria's Secret Angel, waited backstage at the second Global Citizens Festival, a star-studded concert last September. Scheduled to go on after Alicia Keys and her performance of "Girl on Fire," Kurkova sang along with gusto from the wings.
Fake Tudor Ocean Prince After the applause died down, she stepped out in front, statuesque in a white Proenza Schouler leather skirt and Manolo Blahnik stilettos. Her blond hair whipped as she leaned into the microphone and spoke with the brio of a cheerleader and the confidence of a politician.
M "Hello global citizens, the world is on our shoulders," she called out.
1:1 replica watches Magazine editor Anna Wintour described Kurkova as "distinctive" and "instantly recognisable". Photo: Reuters
top brand watches After introducing Janelle Monáe, she hit the VIP tent with Archie Drury, her husband, and their 4-year-old son. She yelled hello to Russell Simmons and Amy Sacco, and hugged Gayle King. She goofed around with fans, stealing their caps and mugging for selfies with them. Then it was on to Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general of the United Nations, whose office had arranged a photo op. She greeted him like family.
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"You're so tall," he said.
"And I'm not even wearing my heels," she replied.
Kurkova wants to be more than just another pretty face who has graced countless magazine covers. Photo: AFP
Perhaps not, but she is definitely flying high these days. Kurkova wants to be more than just another pretty face who has graced countless magazine covers. With a budding TV career and a regular presence on the charity circuit, her fame now extends beyond the runway, and she is poised, as Anna Wintour once said, to be the "next supermodel" and a bigger celebrity.
In an industry with looming expiration dates, Kurkova, who turns 30 in February, appears here to stay. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, has worked on sitcoms and reality shows, lunches with royals, walks runways and red carpets, and was on People magazine's "Most Beautiful" list in 2004. Even those who don't know the difference between Prada and Pucci may recognize her from NBC's "Tonight Show With Jay Leno," where she is a playful and regular guest. "Jay knows I'm fun," she said. "I always want people to have a good time."
Clearly word has gotten around. As Kurkova said, "I'm the girl who gets asked to do things."
Kurkova beat out Hollywood stars Angelina Jolie and Scarlett Johansson on the E! network's 2008 list of the world's sexiest women. Photo: AP
It has been some time since the supermodels ruled catwalks and popular imaginations, a time perhaps best personified in George Michael's 1990 video for "Freedom '90," which featured Linda, Naomi, Christy and Cindy - no last names necessary, thank you. Since then, models seemed to have receded back into the fashion fishbowl, though there are notable exceptions. Milla Jovovich and Amber Valletta took to acting. Padma Lakshmi remade herself as the host of Bravo's "Top Chef," as have Heidi Klum with "Project Runway" and Tyra Banks on "America's Next Top Model." And if you marry Tom Brady, as Gisele Bündchen did, well, touchdown.
But few outside the fashion bubble have heard of today's top models, which according to the industry website Models.com are led by Joan Smalls, Saskia de Brauw, Liu Wen, Karmen Pedaru and Cara Delevingne.
And while Kurkova doesn't even crack the site's list of top 50 models, she continues to be a presence in and beyond the field. Maybe that's what happens when you beat out Angelina Jolie and Scarlett Johansson on the E! network's 2008 list of the world's sexiest women.
Brand ambassador: Victoria's Secret models Kurkova and Adriana Lima, left, at the launch of the Biofit Uplift Bra. Photo: Reuters
"Everyone has a different idea of beautiful," she said with a self-deprecating smirk.
Her road to semi-supermodeldom began in Decin, a small city in the Czech Republic, where her father was a basketball player and her mother was a bank administrator. She worked very hard at school, especially on her English, knowing it would help get her out of town. "I was a girl with big teeth, and the tallest in my class, who coped by being funny," she said. "I mean I was always drawing attention but not always for the right reasons."
That changed when she was discovered by a modeling scout in Prague after a friend submitted some pictures. From Prague, she quickly moved on to work in Milan, where Miuccia Prada gave Kurkova a contract with Miu Miu before she turned 16. To improve her career prospects, Kurkova moved to New York in 1999, and in 2001, she became the youngest model to appear on the cover of Vogue. It was the first of several covers.
Kurkova and designer Vera Wang. Photo: Reuters
"Distinctive" and "instantly recognizable" is how Wintour described her in a fashion documentary on A&E.
Kurkova's career took off with appearances on runways and in advertising campaigns for Valentino, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Versace and Christian Dior. Mario Testino called her a model who could "fit into any moment." Marc Jacobs noted her "angelic look with a dark side." In the first few years of her professional modeling career, she ended up on 52 magazine covers and was named model of the year at the 2002 VH1/Vogue Fashion Awards.
But there was something else that set her apart from other models. Beyond her towering physique, aquiline nose and perfect credentials, Kurkova also showed that she had charisma and a bubbly, witty and disarmingly gracious personality. She was game for anything.
Power couple: Husband Archie Drury helps Kurkova with strategy. Photo: Getty Images
Soon, she was getting speaking roles on NBC's "Chuck" and "30 Rock," and CBS's "Person of Interest," as well as the 2009 action film "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra." She also co-starred last year in "The Face," Oxygen's reality show about modeling, but left after one season. Insiders assume she couldn't handle Naomi Campbell, the show's star, who called her a "complete idiot" on the air. Kurkova doesn't comment. But last year, Leno pushed her on the air about working with the notorious, phone-throwing supermodel.
"Being the mom of a 3-year-old prepared me for a lot of things, I guess," she said with a sheepish grin.
"Meow," Leno shot back.
On the charity circuit: Kurkova with tennis star Novak Djokovic. Photo: Getty Images
In addition to TV, she now appears with socialite regularity on the charity circuit, not just as red-carpet eye candy, but as a presenter and member of various committee lists including the Novak Djokovic Foundation, New Yorkers for Children and the Semper Fi Fund.
Every move is considered and many meetings are taken in a crucial career moment that requires both pollinating and mining for gold.
"Models need to be more proactive these days," said Scott Lipps, the founder of One Management, who handles her career. He noted that she had started to focus on her social media presence substantially, with nearly 168,000 Instagram followers, up from 15,000 a year ago. "Karolina is a real businesswoman who knows she has to tap into pop culture."
At the tennis: Kurkova attend The Moet & Chandon Suite with fellow model Kate Upton (left). Photo: Getty Images
Her husband, Drury, 42, is a former Marine with the looks of Tom Cruise and a reported interest in Scientology. He helps with strategy, as does her publicity agency, Rogers & Cowan. "The important thing is to do everything to ensure your staying power," said Rod Aissa, an Oxygen executive who is producing a second season of "The Face." Terron Schaefer, a Saks Fifth Avenue executive who appears on NBC's "Fashion Star," agreed. "Karolina wants to do more, which is why she's everywhere," he said.
Everywhere is putting it mildly. Last winter, when Jay Z needed a co-host for his party after his Carnegie Hall benefit, he asked Kurkova. When someone was needed to sit next to Prince Harry at his polo charity event in Connecticut in May, she was there to kiss and chat. The next week, she was towering over actresses on the red carpets of Cannes as a "friend" of the Swiss watch company IWC Schaffhausen.
In September, at the U.S. Open tennis tournament, she hit the Moët & Chandon VIP suite before sitting with Kate Upton in the private box of Djokovic. Right after that, she was omnipresent during Fashion Week in New York, walking the runway for Michael Kors and posing with Jim Carrey at the Marchesa after-party, and then in Milan, where she could be spotted on runways and on guest lists of events like the amfAR benefit for AIDS research and a Condé Nast charity concert at La Scala.
Then, after presenting at the Global Citizens concert in Central Park, she and her family were off for meetings in China and an appearance at a Dubai Cares charity event sponsored by Italian Vogue.
She knows it's necessary to keep the momentum going. "She's not at the point where people on the street know who she is," said Albert Watson, a cover photographer for Vogue and Rolling Stone. "But she's a much better model than Kate Moss ever was. Sometimes notoriety is what you really need to become known."
Scandal-free and without a diva's disposition, Kurkova, who now lives in Miami, will have to rely instead on her charm and ability to accept as many invitations as possible. And even if the jet lag can be overwhelming, especially with a toddler in tow, she isn't complaining.
"You have to keep showing up because just being in magazines isn't enough," she said.
On a sunny day last fall, she was walking in New York City, where she keeps an apartment, chattering away and gesticulating wildly, as is her way. Although gorgeously dressed, taller and far blonder than anyone in sight, she was not drawing any stares or smiles. But as a sign of her relevance, two paparazzi aimed their long lenses at her from a distance. She didn't seem to mind.
"They have to make a living," Kurkova said.
She would know.
The New York Times
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