Supermodel extraordinaire, Kate Moss turns 40 today (January 16) and she’s celebrating by posing nude, again, this time in Playboy. Emirates Woman salutes fashion’s wild child turned institution, and examines the life of an English rose that bloomed into full-fledged stardom over two decades ago.

The nineties began in 1988. Katherine Ann Moss, a schoolgirl from Croydon, sat for a roll of innocent, black-and-white headshots by Londoner David Ross. It was half-term at Moss’ school: she knocked on his door with a friend and wore a black satin shirt and wooly jumper. It was all very English.

Ross had no idea he was launching the career of a superstar. Almost 26 years later and on the eve of her 40th birthday, Kate Moss, as she became known, is the most famous model on earth. The pastoral innocence of that first set of photos has long been shed, put paid to by wild parties, celebrity friends and enough controversy to fill a dozen biographies (there have been 10 to date). Britpop, Girl Power and mass media: Kate Moss was the gorgeous emblem for an entire decade of cool Britannia.

But the deep, wan gaze, those soft-but-skewed cheekbones and that body have never left her – despite a love for roast dinners – fitting her status as one of England’s true roses. And with a young daughter and a husband (Jamie Hince) in her life, it’s no stretch to suggest that 40 really is when Kate Moss will enjoy a second, more serene existence.

Kate Moss the tearaway has become Kate Moss the wife and mother. But Kate Moss the model never left. You only have to peek at the Playboy shoot she just did for their 60th anniversary issue, complete with interview by Welsh singer Tom Jones, to know that age hasn’t dimmed Moss’ ability to light up a page. Middle age may be upon her, but it’s hard to tell.

In fact Moss’ ability to pull in the endorsements has barely flickered since a tabloid exposure of her hard-living lifestyle snuffed out several major contracts in 2007. Then H&M, Burberry and Chanel cancelled deals with the star. But today agreements with fashion giants such as Longchamp, Mango, Rimmel and Vogue eyewear – not to mention a longstanding deal with Topshop – have kept her among Forbes’ celebrity elite. Last year Moss earned US$9.2 million, making her the world’s second-highest modelling earner (first prize belongs to former EW cover star Gisele Bündchen with a stunning US$45m).

The cash might still be coming, but Moss is known as no prima donna. Neither have her quirks stopped giving co-workers a headache. Make-up artists still call her the ‘moving target’ due to her constant fidgeting and messing around on set. And she recently admitted to Vanity Fair she’s “not very good at pictures, really”.

“I’m terrible at a snapshot,” the star said. “Terrible. I blink all the time. I’ve got facial Tourette’s. Unless I’m working and in that zone.” Considering her status as a global icon, she’s managed to shake off the stigma pretty well.

But it wasn’t always so.

“When I started, a lot of the models were still doing their own make-up,” says Moss. “Now that’s just unheard of. Now you’d never go in and do your own make-up before a show. I never did that – I couldn’t. The first time I went to Paris for John [Galliano’s] show, no one knew that I was even a model. All the girls were lined up, and I remember Stéphane Marais said to me, ‘Are you in the show?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He’s like, ‘Who are you in the show?’ I said, ‘I’m Lolita.’ He’s like, ‘Oh my god, get her done quick.’ I was just sitting there all day. I’d been there since, like, 10 in the morning. They just didn’t take me for a model.”


Kate at the start of her career

However, although it’s hard to mistake her features these days, it is a little tougher recognising Moss’ life off the catwalk, compared with her earlier days as one of the industry’s enfants terribles. There’s certainly no headlines of the sort that threatened her career over six years ago. Then she was dating former Libertines frontman and wild boy Pete Doherty, following a string of relationships with the rich, famous and debauched.

Moss’ high-profile affairs began just six years after that fateful first shoot, when she was wooed by big-screen star Johnny Depp. The pair were together from 1994 to 1998, which was even rumored to have blossomed into an engagement before their split. Moss admits she shed plenty of tears after the split but thanks Depp for sheltering her meteoric rise to the top of the fashion world. “I was lucky to be with Johnny at that stage,” she wrote in last year’s Kate: The Kate Moss Book. “He told me, ‘Never complain, never explain.’ That’s why I don’t use Twitter and things like that. I don’t want people to know what is true all the time and that’s what keeps the mystery.”

By the time Moss and Depp had broken up, Kate was firmly ensconced within Britain’s emerging class of young, hip celebrities. All-nighters alongside best friends like Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher and actress Patsy Kensit left their mark, and by the late nineties party-loving Kate was checking into the Priory to sort out some troublesome temptations. She said the parties were in combat with her “boring” modelling career. “That’s all I want,” she told Jones for her Playboy story. “To never get, like, ‘I’m bored.’ I don’t do boredom.”

Luckily Moss has had plenty of excitement to keep the dull moments at bay. She gave birth to daughter Lila Grace in 2002 during a long-term relationship to Dazed and Confused founder Jefferson Hack. Kate has managed to keep Lily’s feet on the ground so far – a move she’s keen to keep up throughout her daughter’s teenage years. And besides, Lily is “not into” modelling. “She’s not into having her picture taken,” says Moss. “She gets shy.”

Another thing that separates mother from daughter is Moss’ allergy to social media. “It’s just a different generation, I think. That’s how they communicate. That’s what they do. All the kids do it. My daughter loves Instagram. I mean, I do Instagram but I’ve only got 25 followers. I don’t really want anyone to know where I am. I don’t want people to know what I’m doing. That’s the complete opposite of what I feel like.”

Maybe it’s why Moss decided that Mario Testino, no less, would be the man to shoot her 2011 nuptials to The Kills guitarist Jamie Hince, 44, who the snapper revealed as the most ‘real’ of all Moss’ conquests.

“We were just so loved up, and he asked me to marry him every day,” she said of her rock star hubby. But it was curling up in front of the telly with her indie beau that convinced Moss that Hince was the man for her. In particular, the pair drew romantic inspiration from the British documentary Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.

“I am so romantic about gypsies,” she said. “They’re not allowed to do anything until they get married. So they all get married really young, at 16. You can’t believe the dresses. They’re like blinging butterflies times ten; they can’t move down the aisle! It’s so genius. I was just watching Jamie, so cute, and I was like, these girls, they just spend their whole life waiting for that day – let’s do it!”

That’s Kate Moss for you. Superstar, fashion queen and rock star wife. But she’s always been the wooly jumper girl at heart. And that’s we will always love her.


Words by Sean Williams

Images by Getty