NEW YORK KIND OF GAL - Kristy Hinze
There, cavorting on the freckled sidewalk abutting one of the world’s most famous thoroughfares, you will find an inordinate number of very, very attractive people. You will witness beautiful men and women taking each other’s pictures with their mobile phones, hopping about like excited schoolchildren, smoking cigarettes, powdering noses and flirting.
Number 111 may be between 18th and 19th streets in Manhattan, part of the urban borough formerly known as “the photo district” for its concentration of fashion houses, camera equipment retailers and film development laboratories. But that doesn’t fully explain this gathering of curves and searing eyes and lantern jaws. This is a rash, a herd, a plague of world-class looks on a tiny apron of concrete.
What’s going on?
It all makes sense when you learn that the 9th floor of the delightfully refurbished Edwardian office block at 111 Fifth Avenue is home to the Ford Models agency. Ford. Perhaps the planet’s most prestigious crucible of beauty. Professional long-time home to Jerry Hall and Christie Brinkley. The ultimate millennial dream factory for young women and not a few young men. A glamour epicentre. Possibly the exact longitude and latitude of “cool” on Earth.
Is it any wonder, then, that all that gorgeousness should sporadically spill down to ground level and gather in a pretty pool out the front of the building?
We have come to Ford to see one of their special clients - Queensland-born model Kristy Hinze. The elevator to Ford opens to a bare foyer, the walls painted in blistering red. It is like stepping into a giant supermodel’s pout.
Behind the reception counter is the poster of a stunning male model. Approaching the desk, you realise it’s not a poster at all, but a real person (not easily distinguishable at Ford). It’s Ben, the receptionist. He, in turn, calls Charlotte, Kristy’s “booker” at the agency. And Charlotte comes out to tell us that Kristy is half an hour late. Can we wait?
One of the wonderful things about the modelling business these days is that surnames seem to be superfluous. It is all very egalitarian and informal. It’s also a bonus for people with dull, unattractive or difficult-to-spell surnames. No Smith and Jones here.
So Kristy is Kristy. And inside Ford, there are literally walls of photo cards depicting the agency’s stable of models who are just called Ajuma or Asa or Flavia or even the less exotic Pamela, Stephanie, Hollyanne or Vanessa. Who would have ever thought that plain old Vanessa would one day be the stand-alone moniker of a famous fashion model?
Ben, at reception, is politely frazzled. It’s children’s audition morning for an advertising catalogue and there are innumerable good-looking kiddies running about the agency. It has, for a while, become a crèche full of perfect human genes.
Does he get a lot of modelling “hopefuls” turning up cold at the Ford desk?
“Every day of the week,” he sighs. “I had a woman in here the other day who was performing yoga, yoga, right there in front of me, telling me her daughter, who wanted to be a model, could also do yoga.”
Ben confides he sometimes takes Polaroid snaps of drop-ins, ensuring them the picture would “get to the right people”, and slips them in the bin when the subject has left. It is understandable. Ben sits at the gateway between anonymity and unimaginable wealth and recognition.
Then Kristy arrives.
According to her official Ford thumbnail biography, Kristy Hinze is 177cms tall, wears a size 40 shoe and a size 34 dress. Chest 86 cm. Waist 61cm. Hips 89cm. She is 26 years old.
In real life, statistics aside, she is on this day tall, almost willowy in a flowing floor-length halter neck dress and sandals. She is lightly tanned. She is almost completely devoid of make-up, and her blonde hair is pinned up at the back. Large, gold hoop earrings extend from her lobes.
When Kristy smiles and introduces herself, she immediately betrays a hint of the source of her popularity, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere – she radiates a peculiar naturalness that gives you the feeling, as improbable as it sounds, that she has just come in from a stroll on a beach, a hike through a forest, a swim in the ocean. There is a sense of freedom about her, a whiff of wildness, that is even more accentuated when placed against an urbanised landscape layered with technology, infrastructure, and the pace of modern life, like New York City.
Indeed, the more you observe her, the more mercurial she becomes. Over the two days in her company, a slight change of hairstyle or outfit alters her appearance each time – she is teenager then mature woman, farm girl then cosmopolitan professional, sportswoman then art aficionado.
The former editor-in-chief of Australian Vogue magazine, Nancy Pilcher, once described Hinze: “…she has a very Australian look, a unique attitude, a sort of coltish look which doesn’t come around that often.” Other fashion editors have also detected Hinze’s chameleonic quality – with the turn of a head she can appear as if she just alighted from a horse, or come from dinner at the Waldorf Astoria.
Kristy herself later summarises her own style and appearance perfectly: “I am not the girl-next-door, but the girl you wished lived next door.”
She laughs at this. That wishful look has made her probably the most successful and recognisable Australian model since Elle McPherson, afforded her a lifestyle that to most is simply unimaginable, as we shall see, and continues to feed her glamorous peripatetic existence.
“I thought I looked like a camel when I was a teenager,” she says matter-of-factly. “Then a donkey. But I was the donkey that morphed.” She glances out the window and across the rooftops of Lower Manhattan.
“And to think, when I was younger, I wanted to be a horse chiropractor when I grew up.”
THE Kristy Hinze story is not exactly Pygmalion, but it’s not far off it either. (“I don’t want no gold and no diamonds. I'm a good girl, I am.” - Eliza Dolittle.)
Before Kristy “morphed”, as she puts it, into a beauty, she was most famously paternal granddaughter to the late Queensland “Minister for Everything”, Russ Hinze. She was 11 when he died of cancer, aged 72, in late June, 1991. Hinze, from a family of south coast dairy farmers, faced allegations of corruption stemming from the Fitzgerald Inquiry at the time of his death. Former deputy-premier Tom Burns described him in parliament as “an old crook”, the world’s worst singer and ‘a good bloke’.
Kristy says: “I’ve had some people come up to me who didn’t like my grandfather’s politics. All I’ve got to say to them is - I was his granddaughter, I was eleven, I had no idea about his politics. At home he was just Gramps, lying around watching movies with us and taking us to see the horses. He was wonderful. He was awesome. There was nothing he loved more than his grandkids.”
Hinze’s son and Kristy’s father, Rod, was also a dairy and cattle farmer. She has fond memories of the family farm at Beaudesert.
“I thought it was the most amazing way to grow up,” Kristy says. “I thank God that I grew up the way that I did. It gave me responsibility. I had to get up early and even before I’d started my school day I fed the horses and cows and pigs and chooks. The same thing happened when I got home.
“It taught me a lot - how to look after other things as well as myself. I think it helped me with my modelling, having that sort of background. You show up on time. You do your job. I know what it takes to get me to that job.
“Getting my hands dirty wasn’t really a problem for me. I think it definitely gave me grounding. Knowing where I came from helped me deal with the success and fame and fortune that have been afforded me in this industry.”
At 14, it was decided by her mother Vivienne that Miss Hinze would attend the Buckingham School of Modelling in Southport on the Gold Coast to smooth out some of her personal edges. (“I was a terrible tomboy.”) There were issues, it seems, with her deportment.
A scout at Buckingham informed Sandra Robbins of the Brisbane branch of Vivien’s Models (founded by agency doyenne Vivien Smith) that they had “someone special” in class, and many months later Kristy – who ummed and ahhed about it – headed to the big city for her fateful meeting.
“We saw her in the waiting room and thought – yes, thank you,” says Robbins. “She just stood out. The eyes. The hair. The way she carried herself. A Kristy Hinze doesn’t come along very often. She was 14. Living in the back of beyond. Riding horses. The farm. There was nothing pretentious about her. She just had that X-factor.”
Within weeks Kristy was on the cover of Vogue magazine.
“That sort of thing doesn’t happen much,” Kristy recalls. “I was shooting with a male model as well and I was supposed to look sexually intimate with him. I had no idea. I’d never even kissed a boy.
“There was a shot where I had to straddle this guy. It took a lot for the photographer to get me to do it. I thought - I can’t do that. My mother will kill me! What will my grandmother think? I’m going straight to hell. I got through it.”
With her first pay cheque - $2,000, and astronomical for a teenager – she made her first investment. “I bought six cows at auction. I actually did make a lot of money on them. I bred them and ended up having something like fifty cows. It was quite profitable. Those six cows, I called them Kristy 1, Kristy 2, Kristy 3, 4, 5, and 6.”
At Ford, the auditioning model children are still running amok. Kristy suggests lunch. Leaving the building, we pass through the pool of beautiful people out the front. She doesn’t seem to notice them. And they stare after her, as if they have just recognised a superior member of their species.
OVER on West Broadway in Soho we arrive at one of Kristy’s favourite restaurants – Downtown Cipriani – part of the exclusive chain of eateries started by the legendary Giuseppe Cipriani, founder of Venice’s Harry’s Bar and inventor of the Bellini and Beef Carpaccio.
One reviewer wrote of Downtown Cipriani when it first opened: “…attracting the same sort of moneyed, international clientele as Harry’s uptown. The yellow awning bears no name, so only the privileged are in on the secret.”
“I love this place,” she says, and as she enters a volley of waiters and the maitre’d smile in concert. Cheeks are kissed in the European manner and we are ushered to a table at the front, beside the glass and wood doors.
The food is stupendous. She orders some simple asparagus and then tuna.
She talks of her first experiences of New York City: “I came here when I was 16 with my Mum and Vivien (Smith). I was over here for a month and I stayed at Eileen Ford’s (as in Ford Models) apartment in the city. It really was the big smoke. I walked around stunned the whole time. Big buildings. The car horns going off all the time. Phew. I needed to sit down. It was just like every first experience, it was crazy, incomprehensible.”
As her modelling career took off – she is only the second Australian model after Elle McPherson to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated’s famous annual swimsuit edition - she juggled her schoolwork with the demands of constant international travel. The books and lessons ended up following her around the world, and often the twain did not meet. Bundles of schoolwork in London. Kristy in Japan. Or vice versa. She was happy, however, to be removed from the milieu of Beaudesert High School.
“I wasn’t the most popular kid at school,” she recalls. “I was head of the sporting teams, the swimming. I did all that. But as far as popular girls go, I wasn’t the popular one. Then I started modelling.
“I had instances where women, girls, would have a go at me in the bathrooms. There was pushing and shoving. One day I couldn’t take it anymore and decided I wasn’t coming back. I told the principal my reasons and decided to finish school by correspondence. I didn’t have to put up with it anymore.
“I was a really good student and I really enjoyed school. I loved my ancient history classes, biology, chemistry, all of those sciences. It was a pity.”
After lunch, we meet up with some of Kristy’s “crazy” New York friends. There is artist and art dealer Peter Tunney, who is dying to show off the latest works of his client, photographer Roberto Dutesco, in a studio in Crosby Street. (“I did $60,000 business in one day in a restaurant uptown. I’m gunna go there every day, set up a cash register!” says Tunney.) There’s a short stopover at the hole in the wall café Ruby’s on Mulberry Street, owned and run by Australians. Friend and fellow expatriate, photographer James Houston, drops by for some coffee and cake. (“New York is about survival,” says Houston, “and to see Kristy go on and have so much success, well, you’ve got to be proud of her, she’s done a great job. Her look represents the essence of Australia. She’s about natural beauty.”)
“I’ve got a whole little Australian community here,” Kristy says on the way back to her apartment in Tribeca. “It’s comforting, to hang out with Aussies.” She has lived on and off in New York since she was 18.
Interestingly, her dialogue is peppered with Australianisms. She talks about being “cactus”, “stoked”, and throws in the occasional “bloody hell”. She laughs at herself when these little home aphorisms pop into her speech. Yet when talking to her agent or booker on the mobile, or in the company of New York friends, her accent shifts to a definite American twang. It doesn’t appear deliberate. Like many long-term expatriates, she seems to tune into the dialect at hand as someone might tune in a radio station.
By chance, our car passes Downtown Cipriani’s again. A man sitting outside, wearing a white singlet and with slicked back hair and dark sunglasses, sees her and waves enthusiastically. “When are you going to make it down to Mexico?” he shouts, an imploring hand suspended in the warm, late afternoon air.
“I’ll call,” she responds. ‘I’ll call.” She slumps back in the seat. “Guys,” she says, almost with self-bemusement, “this is my life.”
SHE lives in a comfortable, rented two-bedroom apartment with views of Lower Manhattan. In fact, if it wasn’t for the New York panorama, it could be a flat on the Gold Coast or at Noosa with its white couches, parquetry floors and bright, beach shack-style decorations and pastel touches. It has the air of a place only occasionally lived in. It is the digs of a woman on the move.
On one wall is huge painting/mural by her friend Peter Tunney. It reads: NOTHING HAPPENS UNLESS, FIRST A DREAM.
Kristy pulls a beer from the fridge, curls up on the couch with Grace Kelly, her miniature Schnauzer, and is relaxed enough to talk about love, or its lack thereof.
Is she seeing anyone at the moment?
“I’m dating a couple of people, but…” A long pause. “I’m too serious about all the other things going on in my life at the moment. I’ve realised I’ve spent a lot of time with boyfriends over the years and haven’t really focussed so much on what I needed to do for my career and for myself.”
She cringes at the list of her more public past romances – French-born model turned art dealer Mickael De La Selva, Fashion TV supremo Dan Benayer, Andrew Videto.
“They were all nice guys, well, actually no, one of them wasn’t,” she says. “He stole a lot of my money. But that’s another story. My parents have been pretty accepting of all my weird choices, and when they’re no longer around – phew, thank God. French guys. Fashion-y type men. I guess you have to try different things before you find out what you want. I’ve made mistakes. I should have listened to my friends.
“I need someone who is down to earth and can deal with the fact that I’m going to be away quite a bit and that I’m going to get a lot of attention from other males. Not someone with a hot head who’s out to fight every guy that looked at me.”
She recalls a story and laughs. “Do you know Marcus Schenkenberg, the model? His pick up line was – ‘You and I would have really beautiful children.’ I thought, that’s the worst line I’ve ever heard in my life, and I’ve heard some pretty bad ones.”
It is a rare day that Kristy gets to relax in New York. She has just returned from jobs, golf and scuba diving in Florida. On the weekend prior to our meeting she went up to a friend’s house in the Hamptons – the summer playground for the rich and famous on Long Island, east of Manhattan - in a private seaplane. She recently swam with sharks in Costa Rica. In three days time she is off to Europe again for a modelling assignment with her client, Decleor, the French skincare company, then to St Tropez to meet some friends.
According to Sandra Robbins, models in Kristy’s class are capable of making “serious” money. “Runway girls get more publicity, but it’s the girls who do the product catalogue work who earn the big dollars. Someone like Kristy can earn $A10,000 a day from a regular client, and a shoot might last three or four days. That might happen two or three times a year for the same client. Then you might have several regular clients you work for.”
Hinze has properties at Bondi Beach in Sydney and at Noosa on the Sunshine Coast. Her business investments have included a juice bar in Coolum and a chain of baby product stores throughout Queensland. She is contemplating buying property in New York.
“I have some great clients,” Kristy says. “A lot of beauty stuff. I’m still travelling around doing catalogues and editorials. It’s pretty much the same as I’ve always been done. My career has never really taken a big dip; it has maintained a level, which is wonderful. I’m very lucky.
“I have to be in St Tropez at the end of month. I have a fragrance campaign with Puffy (hip hop impresario Sean Combs) or whatever he calls himself these days, Germany again for a department store campaign. Sometimes I forget which country I’m in.
“I’ve already started thinking - how much longer can I do this? - but the truth is I can do this for another ten years, and I have no problem doing that, as long as I have other challenges. I’ve managed to set myself up with a very nice lifestyle and I’ll be able to continue that for the rest of my life.”
A few of the aforementioned challenges include finishing her high school certificate by correspondence (she abandoned it mid-Year 11), completing an acting course in New York (she has a small part in the film Perfect Stranger, starring Bruce Willis and Halle Berry, to be released next year), and bringing down her golf handicap (in the low 20s). One of her favourite things in the world, she concedes, is heading down to the nearby Chelsea Pier Golf Club and “belting the crap out of a few balls”.
She misses Australia, and says she slipped in and out of the country last May when her sister, Lauren, 25, gave birth to twin boys. (She has two other siblings – Russ, 19, and Guy, 32.)
“Nobody knew I was in town,” she says. “I’m very passionate about Australia. Extremely passionate about Queensland. I will always go back there. But I’ve got one foot firmly planted in New York, and the other firmly planted in Australia, and I kind of like my lifestyle right now.”
Her mother, Vivienne, still wonders if the family made the right choice in letting Kristy go into modelling: “It was a very hard decision we had to make. To do it again now that we’ve done it, and as a mother, I don’t know if we would do it. We miss her, and she’s a lot older and wiser in the mind than her 26 years. I think she missed out on a few things because of her career, but she’s done incredibly well. Unfortunately she has to be in the U.S. and Europe. That’s where it is.
“She has a different life. It’s not like back home on the farm. It’s a high lifestyle they lead, but Kristy has always been grounded. Kristy is Kristy. I’ve met people in her industry and 90 percent of them are wonderful, but 10 percent are sharks, and you have to keep an eye out for them.”
With so much exterior colour, glamour, celebrity, and global travel in her life, what is it, then, that nourishes Kristy Hinze’s inner life? Her private self?
“Just because modelling is so…it can be a very fake industry,” Kristy says. “People who get together on a photo shoot become friends instantly because you sort of have to, but it’s acting. Everyone’s acting on the job. Even if you really don’t like them you can’t have that vibe at a shoot.
“You get phone numbers and you never call, or you do and try to make plans and it all falls to pieces. I go back to my real friends, friends who have been there since I moved to New York, and make sure I have a really good network of people around me, that care about me as a person and not just what you I look like.
“I don’t look at myself as any different from anyone else because I’m not, I’m just a human being who happens to do something that some people can’t do, which is just like anybody.
“Then there is my family, of course. I treasure my friends. And there’s my dog.”
The next day, Kristy meets us at the Chelsea Pier Golf Club after finishing a morning audition for a major hair product company. She feels the need to unleash a few one woods.
Kristy changes into her golfing attire and takes us and her Callaway clubs up to the fourth level of the driving range. Chelsea Pier is not a real golf club at all, but an elaborate multi-level practice facility, protected by towering nets, that juts into the Hudson River.
She belts a couple of clangers – hooking and shanking left and right – then starts to find her range. “I want to hit the net at the end, on the full. Here we go.” It’s 250 metres. And she does it.
Later, she says: “I was a daydreamer as a kid. Fantasising about different things. The catwalk was the furthest thing I’d ever thought. I’d never even looked at a fashion magazine. I knew of Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell but it was not something I aspired to. I thought Elle PcPherson was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen, but I just wasn’t interested in fashion.
“I probably would never have even been to New York. It’s funny to think about that. I might have been a show jumping professional in Beaudesert. A horse chiropractor. And yet here I am.”
A friend has loaned Kristy her chauffeur and car for the day. The black, polished Maybach and suited driver are waiting at the entrance to the Chelsea Pier Golf Club.
She wishes us farewell and the limousine slowly pulls out. Suddenly, the spritely head of Grace Kelly pops up and the Schnauzer watches us through the rear window of the car before it disappears into the afternoon Manhattan traffic.
Something is glinting in the back of the limousine. It is Grace Kelly. She is wearing a sparkling, diamante collar.