Heather Kemesky, the 25-year-old model who hails from Orange County, Calif., hasn’t always had such an androgynous look.
“I think I went through this phase of being confused about what I wanted to portray,” she explained on a recent afternoon at WWD’s office. Her hair, which was chopped into a boyish pixie cut eight months ago, used to be long and blonde when she first started her career over a decade ago.
“My agency would send me on castings for swimwear and beach stuff, and I had this beachy, bombshell vibe,” she continued. “I felt this need to be sexy. But I realized that I didn’t need long hair and boobs and this whole ‘fake’ thing to be sexy.”
So far, Kemesky’s makeunder appears to be treating her just fine. Repped by DNA Model Management, the 5-foot, 9-inch model has recently graced the pages of i-D Magazine and has nabbed campaigns for Lucky Jeans, Benetton and Kate Spade. Even still, she has insecurities like the rest of us. “Everyone always says, ‘Your nose is amazing, your profile is amazing.’ I think I’ve come to accept it,” she said.
WWD: How did your career get started?
Heather Kemesky: I started modeling when I was 14 years old. My grandpa was a producer, actor and photographer, and my brother and I did some acting in commercials when we were young. I said “Mom, I kinda wanna model.” She was initially like, “Oh, God.” She grew up in the industry, too. But she was like, “Well, whatever you wanna do.” I signed with Ford when I was 14.
WWD: That’s pretty young. How did you balance it with school at the time?
H.K.: Because I had been acting when I was little — not too heavily, but I did commercials here and there — I was used to leaving school. When I started modeling, I was going into 9th grade, and my principal pulled my mom aside after a couple months and was like, “We need to have a meeting. Heather’s getting really bad grades. She’s not in school a lot.” It was a lot of “sick” notes. My mom explained that I had been modeling and the principal suggested that I do homeschooling. So I was homeschooled and did online classes over the weekends and ended up finishing [high school] early.
WWD: Where do you live now?
H.K.: I just moved to New York full time. I moved to the Upper West Side, where grandpas and grandmas live. It’s beautiful though. My house overlooks the park. I live with my best friend. This place is temporary. I’m going home for the holidays and then coming back during fashion week in February, when I’ll get a more permanent place. I love the city so much; it’s a good change from L.A. I do miss having a car though… and the weather.
WWD: You used to have a slightly different look.
H.K.: Oh, completely different. I had hair that fell below my butt. My hair is naturally blonde. But I always felt tomboyish inside. And I didn’t feel like myself, even when I had blonde hair. I kept trying to change things. I was trying to move away from this L.A., commercial look. When I would travel, my agencies would be so confused as to what to do with me and how to market me. Eight months ago, I chopped all my hair off again. I cut bangs, dyed my hair brown, pierced myself and got tattoos. I have 15 piercings altogether and eight tattoos.
WWD: Having worked within the fashion world, have you seen your style evolve through the years?
H.K.: I went through phases when I was younger, like hardcore rock ‘n’ roll, listening to emo bands and wearing skater stuff. I think I’ve always been a little boyish, a little rock ‘n’ roll.
WWD: Tell me about the recent editorial you shot for i-D, photographed by Cass Bird.
H.K.: It was so much fun. Cass was actually the first person to shoot me in L.A. when I was 14-years-old. We lost contact after that, but then rekindled. I love her so much. We shot it at Rolling Stone Ranch in upstate New York — it was so beautiful. We got to ride horses and ATVs — that was a lot of fun. And we all wore wigs. We had to look like sisters.
WWD: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve been asked to do on a photo shoot?
H.K.: It was for S Magazine. It was when I first started out, and the photographer that was shooting me told me that she wanted me to act like a drunken lioness for the shoot. I looked at her like, “Can you explain?” She showed me a video of this girl crawling on the ground and pawing at the camera. The shoot ended up being pretty funny.
WWD: Do you see yourself modeling for a while?
H.K: Yes, but there’s bigger things that I see myself doing, too. I’m an animal lover — the biggest. I’d love to eventually work with animals. I have lots of pets: a snake, a cat, two dogs, a rabbit. I used to have a Flemish Giant rabbit, he was 29 pounds. His head was as big as mine. When I started traveling more, my mom was like, “Heather, the dogs alone are enough!” There was a lot of maintenance involved in keeping the Flemish rabbit, so I found an amazing home on a ranch for him.
WWD: Do you find that maintaining an Instagram account is increasingly important to your career?
H.K.: I do have an Instagram, but it’s on private. I’ve tried taking it off private because people keep telling me that I need to, but I thought it was weird having little kids following me. I just post what I like and what I want — about myself, friends, work, animals. I think it’s funny how clients and agencies have been like, “How many followers do you have?” Even the clients are asking now. But I get it — the companies want the [recognition]. That’s what it has come to. Everything’s about social media. It’s just interesting.
WWD: Bucket list?
H.K.: A little girl/dream fantasy of mine was to be a Formula One driver.