“You are really pretty but you’re not super tall”
– Steven Meisel
RK: So what’s going on? How have you been? What have you been up to?
CN: Nothing and everything is going on at once—if you know what I mean. But the wheels are in motion. I’ve been organizing a fundraiser with Bridget Hall for the I Am Waters Foundation—luckily with lots of great hands. Do you know about this charity? It was started by Elena Davis—who’s a super-cool special person that people just rally around because she is so great, and because everything she does is awesome. She herself grew up homeless, and this is the only charity in America that focuses on the water needs of the homeless. As their mission statement explains—two out of three homeless people in America don’t have an adequate daily supply of safe drinking water, and most of them use what little money they have to buy bottled water. So I am Waters holds a supermodel luncheon every year to raise money, they run homeless programs and distribute bottled water with inspirational messages. I’m not a professional event planner but I’m doing my best and I think it’s going to be a great event…. Hopefully we raise a lot of money! So that’s what I’ve been doing, and some modeling, and being a mom.
RK: I wanted to ask you about the beginning of your modeling career in New York City in the 90s.
CN: I was 19, maybe 20, and it was around the time I was trying to figure out whether or not I would go to Los Angeles to be an actress. One of Sassy’s editors decided I needed to meet Steven Meisel. And I was excited to do so because to me he was the epitome of New York’s top, elite photographers. These were still the days when everyone was at least 5’10”. So when he told me, “You are really pretty but you’re not super tall,” I thought it might be his way of letting me down easy. He said wanted to work with me but to try to be an actress. I had always wanted to try it, but I was still figuring it all out. Growing up, my mom worked in the Neiman Marcus couture department, and I spent a lot of time there. She was a working single mom, so after school or ballet, I would sit in the dressing room with French Vogue. I loved that I didn’t know anything about the models, but could make up these stories in my head for each of them. Even though I was raised to love movies—my dad was super big into movies—models were so intriguing to me from the beginning.
RK: Was ballet training useful or an influence on your fashion career in some way?
CN: It’s funny because I didn’t realize it at the time…. Now you see models like Karlie Kloss, or even Naomi Campbell, who are very influenced by their dance backgrounds. But the guy who was my teacher in San Francisco was so anti-modeling, he was funny. He would say, “Dancers don’t make good actors,” or, “If you don’t want to work hard you can always go to New York and be a model.” So I think I was feeling a little rebellious by the time I quit dance in high school. I would slump around school and not stand up tall like a ballet dancer because I didn’t want people thinking I was too cool. I was definitely a little rebellious by the time I got to New York.
RK: So, it was uncool to be “too cool” at your high school. Was there “peer pressure?”
RK: I ask because that’s one topic of this Issue. We focus a lot on perception, consciousness, the question of nature vs. nurture, and even astrology.
CN: It’s funny because my name is Hindu for moon goddess. I just started this guided meditation and the woman who runs it told me, “You are super lunar focused.”
RK: We’re also looking at whether it is still possible to be a gentleman…
CN: Right. Just today, Daniel [North’s husband] and I went out to get a sandwich. Daniel was holding the door for me, like a gentleman, and this guy kept trying to cut me off! The guy wasn’t thinking, he wasn’t looking, he wasn’t observing where he was, and he wasn’t aware of me until he got to the door. Then he just ran off.
RK: What else do you think we’ve lost which we think of as old fashioned?
CN: I heard the coolest thing on NPR yesterday; it was a monk from upstate New York who was talking about happiness. He was saying that being grateful is such an easy thing to say, but the ability to actually be so—to stop and be observant—is difficult. I hate that everything in school is on my kid’s phone. There’s never a moment where he cannot be glued to the screen. I often want to take the phone away, but everything is on the damn phone. To bring up vulnerability, you make yourself so vulnerable by investing all of that energy into a screen. Unless you’re completely off the grid, none of us are immune to it. It is required.
RK: What about mentorship? Do you think one generation still tries to nurture the next?
CN: I look back and I think that there were some models I worked with who were not nurturing in any way. But some were—Naomi Campbell was one of them. She is such a human person. She has been in this business for such a long time but she seemed to sense when someone needed mentoring. Or to return to the idea of vulnerability, when someone was showing fragility in the wrong way. She’d say, “Guard yourself in terms of not wearing your heart on your sleeve when working—because some people will, unfortunately, take advantage of that vulnerability.” This business is hard. Girls come and go, and only a few—like Karlie or Daria—stick around. They don’t get the chance to build relationships like Linda, Christy and Naomi had with Meisel. Or that Kate Moss had with Mario Testino. Today, it’s hard because girls feel they have to promote themselves over Instagram or social media, and do so every day! It’s so immediate. There used to be some hang time, but now there’s none.