Karolina Kurkova, mother of two, Victoria’s Secret Angel, fitness and charity devotee, and youngest model to grace a Vogue cover, sits down with Philip Huang to talk about the Czech model’s work with IWC and how the experience was more than just a series of photoshoots.
Philip Huang: Are you ready or do you need a moment? Karolina Kurkova: I’m ready. I was born ready.
Ok, cool [laughs]. I had so much fun interviewing you last time. Because it was just so much fun and it was kind of a serious event [AMFAR Hong Kong]. KK: Thank you. Even though it was a serious event but still, you know, they put on a great show.
So, how did your relationship with IWC actually start? KK: It started about five years ago when they were first opening their New York store on Madison Avenue. A friend was working on the store opening and—you know IWC really wasn’t as it is now—and my friend said, “Would you come? You should come. You should meet the new CEO, Georges Kern.” That was when he had just become the CEO, and so me and my husband went and we got to connect with Georges and we really had a great conversation.
You know, there was so much energy in an effortless way in terms of, like, how we work, how we think, how we create, and that’s when it started. I think he appreciated us—kind of supporting from early on and showing up, which is very nice, and IWC really kind of, I think, appreciates that people who are loyal to the brand and they are loyal back to friends of the brand and supporting of whatever they do.
So it’s been a really fun relationship. You never know what’s it gonna be. There’s always such a big story, there’s always such a something unique and beautiful, whether it’s a portofino shooting with Peter Lindbergh and Portofino… you know these raw, beautiful black-and-white pictures that are so timeless yet so now. It was so effortless and timeless. Or the Da Vinci, which is really going back to Florence and, you know, the code of beauty: what does that mean, this perfection, you know, trying to achieve perfection and there’s identity of who you are and celebrating who you are. So it’s really just also exciting for people like me—models or actors—working with a brand like that. It’s very creative and it’s so much about storytelling. It’s really exciting. You know, it’s not just about a product where it’s just a product: it comes to life. There’s an emotional story that you always have when you go on a journey with IWC. They take you places. Not just take you places but they also create an experience. You know, like me being in Thailand: yesterday I went to an organic, locally-sourced restaurant. Everything was made in Thailand, came from Thailand.
You remember the name? KK: Baron? Boran? Bo.lan. So then we had a puppet show, you know, which is very like Thai-Indonesian… you know, the story that everyone knows. The city really merges you to whatever you do and educates you and really creates that full experience.
Yes, must be nice, especially with the client relationship. You really get to know them and have time to build the relationship. KK: Yes, exactly. So they understand who you are and they really celebrate everyone they work with, their art. They don’t try to make them something else. They don’t tell them how you should… you know, they really want you to be you. And there’s such a nice mix of incredible people who are associated with the brand, you know, who are the best of the best. They really go for the best.
So where have you been with IWC? KK: Lots of places. Last year we started this new concept, going on these trips to these different places and really creating this whole experience. So last year I did “KK goes to Asia” and I went to four different countries in four days, and this is really kind of the second edition, being in Thailand.
Where did you go? KK: We did Seoul, Taipei, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. This time it’s very focused…
That’s my hometown, Taipei. KK: Oh that was cool. I went to one of the temples and had some local food and—I can’t remember that now but—this place that was cool, it was like a market, you have shops…
Oh, the night market. KK: Yeah! Yes! And now being in Thailand, and I am looking forward to what will be the next big trip. It’s really been fun for me. It’s really an opportunity for me to travel and meet new people and learn about cultures because when you do IWC, it really merges you and the experience.
It’s nice to have a conversation beforehand so you get to plan a little bit and actually do some research about the places where you are going… KK: But I also organize little things, like tomorrow I am going to do “24 hours in Bangkok” so I will go to all the different temples, old museums…
Are you going to Jim Thompson? KK: Yes. We will also go to the restaurant that’s like a must-go in Bangkok.
Nahm? KK: I don't remember, I think it’s Nahm.
They are the first Michelin star Thai restaurant and started in London. KK: Oh really?
Yeah, so you should definitely go. KK: Yeah and then we going to the canal boat trip and we going to document it, you know. So it’s really also nice to create content that people get to see if they are not in Thailand: you get to be inside of Thailand and the culture through my eyes.
Wow that’s fun. So it’s really like organizing these expeditions… KK: Yes. Expedition is a good way to put it. I’m also put with a great group of people—you know we really had a nice dinner—people from Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, so we get to learn from each other and connect… and people from fashion or film… it was really a mix of excitement and in terms of conversation.
How was working with Peter Lindbergh? KK: Amazing. I love working with Peter. He’s just so kind and sweet and he’s just able to capture these moments which are so raw and pure and intense at the same time. So effortless, so real but yet there’s so much in there because he really goes deep in. He’s able to pull and go deep inside.
He’s very personable. KK: Yes, he makes me feel very comfortable and he’s always shooting [laughs]. When he’s around he’s always shooting. You never know from which angle but he’s always shooting. That’s what you need, because he’s able to capture the moment. It’s not just staged.
What was the latest campaign shot? KK: So the Da Vinci, Peter shot it. It’s not a specific campaign like that. It’s more with the “Code of Me” video that all the brand ambassadors get to do that reveals the discovery when you were at the cape and then, you know, this is the “Code of Me”. This is me. Then we did a photoshoot in Florence, sightseeing and expeditions in Florence. Different types of content, more for social media and stuff.
Sounds like fun. I’m a bit jealous. KK: Yes, it’s really special.
So, you’re actually like a part of it instead of just another... KK: Yes, it’s not like I come in, I shoot, then I leave. It’s really, as I said, they create, even if it’s a shoot or project we were working on, it’s so rich, you gain so much out of it and from it. It’s not just like: you come in, you shoot, and you leave, like I didn’t get to see anything, i don’t really understand this…
That’s the usual case with a photo shoot. KK: Exactly. You showing this Parisian thing but when you get to Paris, you never really walk around, you never get to understand the history, just the studio, everything is put in post-production like you’ve been in some cathedral that you have never been to. So they don’t do that. They do it all for real.
You are lucky that you go outside [laughs]. And what has been the most memorable experience with IWC? I mean, there must be so many but I guess each one is very different. KK: Very different and unique.
You got to take your kids along? KK: Yes, sometimes I do. I mean, on the edge of things I didn’t because it was four countries and four days. It was quite intense. Even this time is only three days and I really wanted to, but then I have to work back in Europe and my son was finishing school so the timing didn’t work out, but hopefully next time I will be back here and I can make it more with the family and a little bit of longer trip. But during January it’s always very unique going to that SIHH, which is 500 people all over the world and they really create a shell that’s really special to go to and very unique if you have never been to it. I mean it’s a full production. This year they had a whole virtual like a…what is the word…hologram show. Like a hologram show, play, based on Da Vinci, and by an actress from… some HBO show…
Game of Thrones? KK:Game of Thrones. So, you know, it’s always unique and unforgettable.
That sounds amazing. KK: Have you been to a SIHH? [Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie; The International Show of Fine Watches]
I will really have to put that on my list [laughs]. KK: It’s in January.
Where is it? KK: In Geneva.
And what do you consider as time well spent? KK: Time is well spent when you remember what you did.
When you like fully engaged? KK: Yes, and having a great time, or just memorable. Something you never forget and you gain something out of it. It’s laughter or love. Learned something. Got inspired.
Speaking a bit about collaboration, are there any dream projects or collaborations you would like to make happen? KK: Many, of course, many. I am working on one, which is very cute and fun, a little bit out of the box but it makes sense. It has to make sense, of course, otherwise, it isn’t good if it doesn’t make sense. So I think, yeah, I am someone who is very creative so I love to collaborate and put all experiences for 18 years from everything I’ve seen and learned and done put into working with different brands, on different projects and products that I can put that all in. So it’s definitely exciting and I’m definitely looking forward to more working with people and doing interesting things.
So are you more into the product development side or are you more into… KK: Product development, the whole marketing, the storytelling, the whole package… I mean not just one thing, I like to be involved with the whole…
So one thing you are cooking up right now? KK: We are discussing, yeah, one thing which is kind of different, like completely different but can be really fun.
With the brand or with the IWC? KK: With the brand.
So it's not IWC? KK: No, not IWC.
Cool, that’s very exciting, especially if it’s like a dream project. KK: I mean, something definitely different. I take everything as a challenge and it’s all experience and everything has a chance to do it all… good and beneficial, you learn something from it. Nothing is a waste of time.
What do you enjoy more, clothing, textiles, or…? KK: Everything. I mean, I like to create so I could be creating a bottle of water or how do you market that, how do you create the picture, the video, the commercial, but it could be a piece of clothing, could be a toy, I mean anything is exciting. Anything. But be a part of the creative process.
One more question: is there anyone that you want to work with in particular? Whether it’s like Bill Gates? Or Ilan? KK: I got to meet Ilan actually. My husband knows Ilan for many years. Um… I think like Steven Spielberg would be kind of interesting to work with. Being directed by somebody like that… Tony Robbins; I really like Tony Robbins. I have been to lots of his seminars so I think he’s super fascinating. There is so much to learn from him, just his stage presence and…
Yes, it’s bigger than life. KK: Amazing! I mean, it’s really amazing, affectionate, and very effective how he’s able to help people and give them tools to live a good happy life.
Yes, it’s his thing at HBO, the positivity that you walk away with every time… his presence is incredible. KK: Yes, it’s sort of like… so much. He’s very impressive. So I am going to meet him but to continue learning from him. He’s really inspiring, and his passion and love that he has helps people, and he’s doing very well. It’s practical, where he understands and apply in your everyday life.
He really connects and engages and it’s incredible. I would like to meet him too. KK: Yes, he’s great. I mean, I get to meet him and he’s huge. He’s really larger than life. He’s a big guy. Tall.