Carmen Kass: My love of chess helped me to get to the top!
Agree or disagree?
She is the girl from TV with those impossibly long Max factor lashes; she is the model with the sassiest strut on the catwalk!
Carmen Kass is not like other supermodels. As well as occasional burger scoffer, she can also add politician, business woman, actress and president of Estonian Chess Federation to her lists of accomplishments.
There is no history of public meltdowns, no tantrums and no rock star boyfriends. Although she briefly dated Leonardo DiCaprio in the past, these days she is happily settled with Eric Lobron, a bespectacled, curly haired German chess grand master. The glamzon and the geek might make an odd couple, but not for Kass. “Everyone has to find the right one for them” she says matter of factly. “For me it was never about being the girlfriend of a rock star”.
Kass knows her own mind. She has done since the age of 14 when given the opportunity to enter a modelling competition in Milan, she faked her mother’s signature, needed for the young girl, to travel from her home town of Paide, in Estonia, to the Italian fashion capital. Now 31, she admits it was too young to leave the school and start a career but, as for many eastern European girls in the mid 90s, escape from a small town and its crushing lack of opportunity was her main motivation. She left the frugal home where she was raised by her mother (her father, a chess professor, lived apart), and didn’t return for three months. “I am very much an opportunist in the sense of what life brings me. I take chance”, she says.
Given her extraordinary youth, she could have been gobbled up by the fashion industry, but Kass always seemed to make smart career choices. “I never took at this as a life style. I always look at it as a business. A lot of models make a mistake of thinking their work is fun and glamorous and they burn themselves out”. By the age of 18 she had moved to Paris, where fine feline features and lean, athletic body (she cycles everywhere when at home in Germany or Estonia, but otherwise “I do nothing”) caught an eye of Anna Wintour.
She worked hard, made friends and quickly became one of the worlds most sought after faces, appearing in campaigns for Chanel, Gucci, D&G and Michael Kors. She is still a regular on the catwalks. Appearing alongside girls half of her age, where she deploys her killer walk: a wampish. Sassy, hip-swinging strut that rivals even Naomi Campbell’s.
Kass believes her love of chess, which she describes as “a game of tragedy” has helped her to get to the top- and stay there. “In life, we make decisions and we have choices,” she says. “Chess trains you to see through the head. You can make better choices, you can analyse good and bad, and you can see further. Life is a chain of command- basically, one thing leads to another and if you make the wrong move, there are consequences.”
She’s had business success as the owner of Estonia’s biggest model agency. And then there is a political career. In 2004 she joined the then ruling right wing Res Publica party in Estonia and stood for election to the European parliament. However MEP status evaded her, although she does not regret it, saying “a pretty dirty business, I learn that”.
These days she focuses her energy on persuading young people to vote and has become passionate about education, including her own. “One should never stop leaning. I did not do the 11th grade exam, but I am going back to school, because one day, I would like to go to university.” Philosophy and Law are her favourite subjects.
At this point of her career, Kass has earned the privilege of choosing exactly who she works for. Her latest gig is as face of Hoss Intropia – fast growing Spanish brand prides itself on choosing models who are more then just pretty faces, and Kass likes its focus on personality and individuality. “It’s not just about great clothing, they care about the substance of beauty as well,” she says.
In Kass, they have a great ambassador. But she is uncomfortable with being a role model. “I don’t think there should be role models,” she says. “Every individual has to find themselves. You can not live in exactly same way as somebody else. You can take the ideas and principles of something, but it’s never going to be exactly same for you. If you have a role model, you can get distracted from who you are”.