Leni Klum on growing up famous and the best advice she has gotten from Heidi and Seal
As Leni Klum packs her bags for college, we catch up with the model to talk fame, what she wants the world to know about her and what it’s like being born a celeb.
It’s been a few days since Leni Klum got back from a trip to Mexico. She jumps on a Zoom call from her home in LA, her holiday glow slightly lost in the low lighting of her bedroom, which appears to be underwhelmingly normal. Clothes are strewn over a wardrobe behind her, her jumper sleeves are pulled over her hands Ariana Grande-style and there’s no sign of a glistening pool in the background, or private chefs perfecting an omelette for her 9 am start. A run-of-the-mill bedroom scene was not exactly what I was expecting for this recent high school grad who also happens to be the daughter of the world-renowned model, talent-show judge and singer Heidi Klum and Italian businessman Flavio Briatore, with British musician Seal becoming another father figure in her life.
But there are some aspects of Klum’s life that do pander to expectations of what it’s like in the world of a celeb’s kid: she lives in LA, enviably situated between the city’s two Jon & Vinny’s Italian eateries, she embraced the modelling world after seeing her mum do it and she travels the world. But all of that seems to be lost on the person she really is – an 18-year-old with the same interests and hobbies as her peers, a teenager on the cusp of adulthood whose focus is not entirely on being in the spotlight.
Since her first foray into the fashion industry, Klum has made an impact that aspirational models of her age could only dream of. Being a face of Michael Kors, featuring alongside her mum on the cover of Vogue Germany, appearing solo on the cover of Glamour Germany and walking for Dolce & Gabbana. It’s a CV to be proud of. Though as she sets her sights on moving to New York to study interior design (something that, as she says, no one expected), what Klum has become known for is becoming a part-time passion.
Luckily for us she’s happy to combine packing for college with talking to HUNGER – about what growing up famous has really been like, the great advice she has received from her parents and what she wants the world to know about her.
RY GAVIN: Hey, Leni! To kick us off, let’s take it back a few years. Growing up, surely you didn’t just want to go into modelling from when you were a child. So what did you dream of becoming?
LENI KLUM: I wanted to be some type of dance teacher. I did dance from when I could walk. Then, at about the age of 13 or 14, I decided I wanted to be a model. But when I was younger I only wanted to be a ballet teacher. That was my top goal. I liked the costumes a lot. And my favourite colour is pink, so the little pink leotards, I loved, and I loved my ballet teacher more than anything. I really looked up to her when I was super young. I wanted to be just like her.
RG: And then after that, how did your mum’s career in modelling influence your aspirations?
LK: I went to work with her a lot. I started to realise that what she did was super fun. Watching from the sidelines or backstage, I was like, “Oh, this is so cool.” I realised that this was a job and I could do this for the rest of my life. I want to have fun with the career that I choose.
RG: I understand that a few years ago, Brandy Melville, one of the biggest clothing brands among young girls, approached you and asked you to model for them but your mum said no. Why do you think she didn’t want you to do it at the time?
LK: She kept saying I was too young. I was really sad, but I understand why she said it and I’m glad she did because I feel like I’ve grown up so much more. I feel like it’s easier for me to handle it now. And I don’t know how I would have handled it a few years ago. I just feel like work in general at the age of 12 is stressful. When you’re older it’s easier and you understand more things. And I started when I was turning 17, so that’s pretty OK. I mean, way better than 11 or 12!
RG: I think that’s a really interesting point, actually. Because you often hear of loads of models getting into the industry at about 13, but you wouldn’t start working in a bar at 13. So how do you think modelling has changed since your mum started out?
LK: I think when my mum started modelling there was a pretty big standard. And now I feel like that’s sort of gone away. And there’s no restriction to what you can look like. That’s the main thing. It’s honestly amazing that has changed. I know so many people now that can do what they want to do. If modelling is what they want to do and they didn’t fit the standard years ago, now they can do it. I think that’s really good.
RG: Was that ever a worry for you, that the modelling industry is often known as having a certain standard?
LK: I didn’t realise years ago. I didn’t really know everything that went with it, and what was happening with modelling. A year before I started I watched YouTube videos of all these models and I realised that I was really short compared to a lot of the runway models. So, I was like, “That’s fine, maybe I just won’t be able to do the runway.” But then I got booked for runway shows. Even before me, I saw people shorter than me being booked for runway shows. It’s exciting.
RG: Growing up, what was your concept of fame?
LK: It was normal. We had soccer practices when we were younger and the paparazzi would always be there, people would always come up to my parents. I knew it from a young age, it was just part of [growing up]. I wouldn’t know what it feels like without that.
RG: So when you got a bit older, did you start to feel as if you didn’t really enjoy the fame or that you didn’t want your life to be completely like that?
LK: I wouldn’t say I didn’t like it. It’s just different. I feel like when you’re put in the situation that my family was put in, you have to be a little bit more careful. I would always want to go out and party with all my friends and be out until 2am, which is normal for parents to say no to because I was 13 and in freshman year. We all had security if we wanted to go to a party and they would wait for us. When I got a boyfriend it was awkward, but I understand why my mum did everything that she did.
RG: What was it like rocking up at a party with security?
LK: They would usually wait outside and then I’d text them every hour to make sure I was good. It was more so an issue when I would go to my boyfriend’s house. It was just the fact of knowing that they were somewhere in the area, which was a little weird.
RG: I can imagine! So have there been moments when you’ve wanted to take a step back from that limelight?
LK: There have been so many times where I’ve gone out thinking no one would be there and I would look crazy, or I had just woken up to get a coffee, and then pictures would come out. At those times I’d be like, “That is horrible.” I don’t think about it that much, because it’s just something that’s normal, it’s been in my life since I was a baby. I feel like there are snippets of times when photos come out of me that I look horrible in, but for the most part it’s just normal.
RG: What are you excited about with university?
LK: I just want to be on my own. I love my mum. I love living with my family. But I’ve always wanted to move out and figure things out on my own. I’ll be in New York, so that’s like really figuring it out for myself, I can’t just drive to my mum’s house. I’m just excited to flee the nest and be at my own place, cook, clean, do laundry, all that.
RG: That was my next question. Obviously you and your mum are very close, so is it a real excitement to go and take on a bit more of adulthood or does it seem scary?
LK: I feel like it won’t hit me until I’m there. At the moment, all I’m thinking about is leaving and going and starting to grow up on my own. But then I feel like once I’m there, I’m gonna get sad because it won’t be normal. It’ll be very different, not living with my family. But for the most part I’m excited.
RG: You’re the child of a famous model, so people often want to figure out how you and your mum are similar. But underneath that is you, your own life and your own personality. So what’s something you don’t normally get asked or something most people don’t know about you?
LK: I feel like my major in college is something no one expected. Not even my mum – she was like, “interior design?” She didn’t know I was even interested in that stuff. I’m always wanting to reorganise everything. I reorganise my closet maybe five times a week. I look at houses all the time, and no one knows that I love interior design. And my drawing too, I feel like that goes hand in hand because I draw houses, homes, interiors and exteriors. That’s something no one really knows or thought that I would do in college.
RG: As this issue of HUNGER is all about celebrity, what does that word mean to you?
LK: It’s different for everyone. For me, it’s someone I admire or look up to, or who gives me inspiration.
RG: Finally, other than how to live with fame, what else have you learnt from your parents?
LK: Always be yourself. That’s number one. They both started to tell me these things in different fonts and versions. “Be yourself”, “Have a good time”, “You only live once” – my dad [Seal] says that to me. “Clear eyes open, heart can’t lose trust” is the saying my dad says to me all the time with little emojis. My mum’s really big on “Be yourself” and “Don’t let anyone bring you down”.
RG: Thank you, Leni. Best of luck at college!