Kim Alexis was discovered in a place our mothers might have called a charm school. When a visiting modeling scout asked if she’d like to go to New York to model, Kim said, “No! I’m going to be a pharmacist.”
It wasn’t long before the illustrious John Casablancas, himself, came to Buffalo to meet Kim and signed her to his agency.
“Two days after coming to New York, I was in Rome and Paris doing the print photographs of the haute couture collections.”
Kim Alexis is the first to say, she’s not a fussy girl, but she’s always felt good about herself. “I enjoyed being good for my parents. I enjoyed getting A’s and being on the honor society. I enjoyed fast swimming times, and I played an instrument. So for me, my value system was good performance; being a good girl; being on time and showing up and doing the right thing. When I went to New York, nobody cared that you were an A student. Nobody cared you could swim fast, and nobody cared if you were a good girl.”
“When I first started, somebody at the agency said, ‘Julio Iglesias just called. He wants to send a private jet for you and take you to Mexico to his house for the weekend,’ and I’m like, No! House in the middle of nowhere? Private jet? I will have totally lost control. I’m sure a lot of young girls would have jumped on that plane, but I knew I didn’t want to put myself in that situation, but some girls don’t know it’s okay to say, no.
“By the time my first cover came out, three months later, I was already on the cover of Glamour and had started modeling here in the United States. Things just took off. I worked all the time, but I didn’t think of it as competition, plus my best friends were Kelly Emberg and Nancy Donahue. They were both blonde-haired and blue-eyed, and there were plenty of jobs to go around. I didn’t have to scratch and fight my way to the top. I kind of started at the top, and then moved my way down and back up again. (Laughs!)
“I was always trying to learn and get better and see why people chose the clothes they did because I’d never been that aware of fashion. With the Vogue covers, I got to the point where I would pick the same jewelry for the shoot they picked, and they would have two big tables of jewelry for just one cover.
“At one point, after I’d been modeling for awhile, I remember thinking, “What drives those in the fashion industry, and why am I here? I did a lot of soul searching, because I probably should have left and gone off to college. I don’t know what made me stay, but I did. I’m lucky. Everything worked out well for me.”
HERE’S MORE OF MY FIRST CONVERSATION WITH KIM ALEXIS:
BRENDA: What are you doing now?
KIM: I’ve got my own wig line, Kim Alexis Hair. We have hair extensions you can attach in various places so a lot of your own hair shows on top. We also have a a full wig line that’s all real hair. You can wash it, curl it, blow-dry it. Most of the hair we use will not frizz, but natural hair does what natural hair does.
BRENDA: I’ve never seen such great wigs! I want one! You’d never know they’re not your real hair. Where can I buy one? Seriously! I want one!
I’m also lending my name to a number of other products, and I’m doing some writing and encouraging women. I’m interested in writing three different books. One is encouraging women in all aspects of their life; that they’re good enough. I have a lot to say. Also I enjoy speaking to young girls and would like to help them in any way get through modeling.
BRENDA: Women in our demographic applaud companies for using ANY woman over a certain age in their ads because we feel abandoned.
KIM: I think it’s refreshing when people are themselves and they’re honest. There was a lot of my business that was coverup and fake. We could pretend to be who we wanted to be, or we could hide behind clothes. Now, at this age, it’s hard enough for established models—that you and I both know—to get jobs. The actresses have taken over the covers and all the ads from skincare, to anti-aging products, etc. People look at magazine covers and say, “You look so beautiful on that cover,” but if you saw that cover before it was retouched, I look just like you.
BRENDA: Not really, but I get your point. (Lots of laughter!)
KIM: I was in a grocery store, and this girl kept staring at me. I was used to being recognized, so I thought she was going to say, “I’ve seen your magazine covers.” That was about the time I was on eight covers in one month, so I said, “Hi.” She said, “I’ve been staring at your face. I’m a Photoshop retoucher, and I’ve been working all day to retouch your face.” That knocked me down a notch. I thought you’re either a slow worker, or I needed a lot of work! (Laughter!)
BRENDA: You have a quote on your website I really like: “Don’t ever be afraid to step out and do something different.” That’s where our demographic is right now, and it can be a difficult thing to do. So many of us think, what in the world will we do? At some point in your modeling career, did you reach a point where you realized you had to step outside the box that had defined you?
KIM: I’ve had to do that a lot. A lot! From modeling, I transferred into broadcasting. I remember talking to William Morris Agency, and they said, “Good Morning America is looking for a fashion correspondent. Go talk to them.” The woman at GMA said, “Do you think you’d like to give it a try?” and I said, sure. She said, “Good. You’re live on the air at 7:43 am, tomorrow.”
Joan Lunden was away on maternity leave. Charlie Gibson and I are sitting on the couch, and I’m nervous because it’s live TV. Charlie looks at the clock, which had hands, and it said 7:53, and Charlie says, “Good morning! It’s seven minutes to eight,” and I thought, how could he possibly add like that while he’s live on TV? That’s how panicked I was that he was so relaxed. Now I can do that.
BRENDA: What gives you strength?
KIM: Helping and encouraging other people. That’s just built into who I am. People come up to me and tell me what they’ve eaten, or they haven’t worked out in months, and I inspire them to go back and run… and I haven’t even said a word to them. When other people see some of my strengths, that empowers me.
BRENDA: What do you value now more than 20 years ago?
KIM: Family and friendships. I have a weekly call with my mom. I have three sons, so they’re not super chatty, but when they have a success, I will literally bawl. When they call me up and say, “Mama, I got this job, or I’m doing this and that… “ My life is complete when I know they’re happy and healthy and doing well.
BRENDA: Does anything scare you?
KIM: I was such an athlete, but I’ve gotten more cautious. I don’t feel I need to ski the blacks anymore; I don’t feel I need to waterski. My sons took me out to race small cars. I’ve raced on tracks in celebrity races, but that day I was just puttering around in these little cars, and my sons were saying, “Come on mom! You’ve got to go for it,” and I said, I am going for it. This is me! I’m happy just driving this little car. I don’t have to go fast.
I crashed a car in a Washington, DC celebrity race. My teammate was William Shatner, and he didn’t like the way the brake and the clutch felt to begin with. I had the fastest time and went around the last turn and was supposed to pass the car off to him. The brakes felt loose, and I crashed into a wall. The whole windshield cracked very slowly in front of my eyes. The racetrack shut down. The EMTs came, and said, “We’re so happy you crashed because we’ve been wanting to meet you!” Then… they asked if I was okay. (Laughing!)
BRENDA: You’re not that concerned with fashion, so how did you make it through a modeling career?
KIM: (Laughs.) …and fashion editor at Good Morning America for three years. I know fashion, and I can do fashion, but it’s superfluous to me. It’s not what life’s all about. Instead of $3,000 for a purse, I’d rather give my money to poor children in another country.
BRENDA: What’s your favorite indulgence?
KIM: I think of a really long hike as an indulgence. Where I live, in the summer, you go up 10,000 or 11,000 feet, and there’s wildflowers everywhere. You go up to 13,000 feet in August, and there’s ice and tundra.
BRENDA: How do you stay in shape?
KIM: I pack on five to 10 pounds in the winter, but it comes off in the summer because I like to run and do anything aerobic, and I like to lift weights once or twice a week.
I’ve fought this all my life… My outer appearance has defined who I am, and it’s not so, but I still fight that. Even though I’m 55, people still think of me in a certain way. It’s like your favorite rock band. You don’t want their music to change because it brings back memories, but we do age. It’s hard to maintain a certain look and still feel good about yourself and be able to handle the mental mindset that goes along with it.
BRENDA: You have a long way to go before that’s a problem.
KIM: (Laughter) Thank you. It’s important when you don’t feel good about yourself or you’re feeling… I don’t know if the word is ‘depressed,’ but it’s good to help someone out. I enjoy volunteering and giving to others. That feeds me, and I feel better. I think a lot of women look at someone like me and think, “Oh, well, she has everything, or she has no problems. How could she ever be depressed,” but I think everyone goes through times where they don’t feel good about themselves. Just realize we all feel that way.
BRENDA: You’re a very grounded woman. I like that about you, and I think other women will as well. You started off as the good girl, who’s low maintenance, but your career as a supermodel didn’t change you.
KIM: You have to fight it though, because people expect that of you… that you’ll fly off with Julio Iglesias. Young girls in the business are being taken advantage of, and I want them to be aware of that funny feeling in their gut. For me, that was a sign someone was trying to manipulate me. I had great core values and great parents.
I go to lots of celebrity golf tournaments, and I remember taking an actress’s face in my hands and saying, “You’re better than this. You don’t have to do this.” She had some guy beating her up. I saw her recently, and she thanked me and told me because of that, she’s talking to God…. That’s when I feel really grateful; when I realize I’ve helped someone on that profound a level.
Oh… and I don’t have a Prada bag.