Kirsty Hume is in her bedroom in The Ritz. As her blue lace dress is taken in to show off her slight, supermodel silhouette, she is captured in the moment, poised in the liminal space between her past and future, between marriage and divorce, between her home in the States and her homeland of Scotland, between youth and her prime. Where does she go from here?
Hume has already decided on a return to the catwalk as she stages a modelling comeback after taking time out to raise her daughter Violet, now 10. She has relaunched her career with Jaeger, the brand responsible for the blue dress she is showcasing that night at a party for the magazine Tatler.
At 5ft 11ins in her bare feet, and with her trademark long, flowing blonde hair, vanilla-white skin and blue eyes, she’d have a touch of the ice queen were it not for the warmth of her generous-mouthed smile. Looking at her it’s hard to believe Hume, Scotland’s very own homegrown supermodel, is 38. Her willowy, ethereal beauty seems almost unchanged from her teenage magazine shoots. Of course she’s still young, yet in catwalk terms she’s a veteran. She was the face of Chanel and gracing the covers of Vogue and Elle when half of her contemporaries were still in knee socks. She was planning to go to art college when she was plucked from school in Ayr and propelled into the fickle, capricious world of fashion.
How did she handle it?
“Knowing I was earning really good money was always helpful,” she laughs. “And I did take frequent trips home to Scotland. It’s kind of surreal looking back, because it never felt like me. At the same time, I’m incredibly blessed and grateful for what unfolded because it extended many opportunities to me.”
There was no connection with the world of modelling in her background, but an artistic bent can be traced in her genes.
“The modelling is just something I stumbled upon. The art is just in my blood. My mum was a professional mum and my dad worked in management, so they weren’t artists, but my grandfather and great grandfather both were. And my great grandfather took photographs of Dunfermline – some of them have just been published in a book,” she says, proudly.
Hume has been in Scotland doing another fashion shoot and took the opportunity to visit her dad in Dunfermline and brother in Ayr before flying back to London for the Tatler event en route to LA where she lives with Violet, her child with Donovan Leitch, US-raised son of Scottish folk singer Donovan.
“It’s been a whirlwind. I’ve just got here from Inverness,” she says a little breathlessly in the soft-spoken Ayrshire tones that have picked up only a slight mid-Atlantic twang after 20 years stateside. “And I went to see my dad. It’s hard for me that he’s moved from Ayr because when I used to come home, the first thing we did when I arrived back was have fish and chips and go for a walk on the beach and just breathe in lungfuls of clean sea air. But we did go to Ayr to visit my brother and had a walk on the beach. Just to see the wind coming in off the sea and breathing it in… It was really sunny and the beach was busy. If anything I like it better when it’s not sunny,” she laughs.
Spoken like a true Scot. You get the sense that Hume was never totally at home in LA and that it’s no longer California that’s calling her but Caledonia. She exudes a visceral love of what she calls her “homeland” and admits to a yearning to return. Now that her marriage to Leitch is over – the couple who wed on the banks of Loch Lomond in 1997, separated in 2011, with Hume filing for divorce last year – she may well be considering relocating, but with a divorce and custody of Violet to negotiate, she won’t comment, apart from to say, “I would very much like to move back to Scotland and I can only say that life will unfold and that will remain to be seen, but I plan on spending more time in Scotland, whether it’s a permanent situation or not. I will always consider Scotland home. When I step off the plane in Scotland, I always feel like I’m home.”
Hume was signed by a Glasgow model agency as a teenager and offered work in the US. When she was “discovered” by photographer Patrick Demarchelier at 19, her career really took off and all of the big fashion houses came calling.
“I had always planned on going to art school since I was knee high. I had a place in Dundee, but then I was offered these opportunities to go to the States and model so I thought I would just wait a while before going to art school and then the career took over.”
She did covers for Vogue, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar and Allure, became the face of Chanel, and worked with Yves Saint Laurent, Gucci, Gap, Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren, Dior, Givenchy, Lanvin, Lacroix, Alexander McQueen, Armani, Versace, Roberto Cavalli, Prada, Calvin Klein, Oscar de la Renta and Donna Karan.
She also found time to get married, and her new husband was also a Calvin Klein model, and musician. Their 1997 medieval Scottish themed-wedding on the banks of Loch Lomond looked like a shoot in itself, and the couple settled in the US living in New York, then Woodstock in upstate New York and later California.
But at 23, Hume took time out from the modelling, cut her hair short and took a course in permaculture, the science of living lightly on the planet in a sustainable way, in Sonoma County, deep in California’s wine country.
“I love nature,” she says. “I feel the most at peace in nature and I think I’m interested partly because of that and also a response to the things that are happening in the world today and realising that we need to change the way we are doing certain things. I see permaculture as a very positive way to interact with the land and how we use it.
“It was a nine-month course and I really loved it. It’s very much in line with the direction I want to take my life. Living in closer connection with nature and in a way that’s more healthy, environmentally speaking. There are a lot of people out there writing about this, but the prevailing systems are still traditional. I definitely want to be living more in nature and having a little land. Not a lot of land, it’s a big responsibility and I don’t want to be tied, but I do want to live more in nature,” she says.
There’s a wistful quality about Hume, that comes across in the pauses between questions. When she was younger and first on the fashion scene, people spoke of her wise and other-worldly demeanour. Does she think this came from losing her mother when she was just a teenager?
“She had a cerebral haemorrhage when I was 16. She was just 52. Yes, I think that was a huge part in forming who I am and who I was and who I became,” she says.
Ask Hume about the past and if there’s anything she would do differently, and there’s a gentle sigh, like the tide sucking pebbles down a beach.
“If I could go back there are things I would change. I would definitely move back to Scotland or maybe at least London or the UK instead of staying in the States for as long as I have. That’s one thing that I have thought of many times. I’m a very quiet person and I really am happiest taking walks on the beach in Scotland rather than indulging in any of the extravagance that I have experienced in my line of work. I would always rather be walking on the beach to be honest.”
She smile-sighs again and comes back with a positive thought – you don’t settle in the land of self-help without picking up some of the lingo.
“Even though there are things I would have done differently, I feel I have experienced much and learnt much through this and so I’m grateful for all of the experiences I have had that have essentially made me who I am today.”
Indeed Hume has a lot for which to thank modelling. It’s given her a good income and job security, and through it she met her husband, without whom she wouldn’t have Violet Jean, the Jean in memory of Hume’s mother. Violet has inherited her parents’ good looks and already modelled for Zara, but it’s not something Hume is particularly pushing on her daughter.
“We’ll see. Even if she does more modelling, I’d like her to go to college or uni and have that experience too,” she says.
“With modelling, the experience itself was the best thing. From the travel to working with so many talented, creative people, it was very inspiring. It’s been a real education. I must admit I was quite green when I came into the business. I felt like Dorothy landing in Oz, coming from Kansas and wondering where I was. I just stumbled upon it, and learned as I went. I learned who people were and just enjoyed being exposed to their creativity through working with them.”
Karl Lagerfeld is someone she singles out as having been a seminal influence throughout her career.
“He’s a creative genius and lovely too.”
Is he not a bit nippy?
“No, not at all, he’s lovely. I have worked with Chanel over the years and hopefully will in the future. I don’t know what’s coming, what’s ahead. Those kind of things just come out of the moment.”
Pushed to find a downside of modelling, Hume struggles to complain about her lot.
“OK, there are often days in the winter when you’re shooting spring summer and it’s freezing. And vice versa in the summer when you’re shooting jumpers and coats in the melting heat of New York, so that can be challenging. Oh, and standing for long periods of time in high heels.”
So does she suffer from model foot, if there is such a condition?
She laughs, “No, I don’t. My feet are fine. I don’t wear high heels in my personal life at all.”
She might wear trainers and jeans on the school run but you can see why Jaeger chose Hume to model their Spring Summer 15 Collection. She fits their simple, elegant tailoring, with this year’s look inspired by the work of sculptor Barbara Hepworth, who has a major retrospective exhibition at London’s Tate Modern this summer. As well as the long lines and graceful curves associated with the sculptor, the collection features bold prints and suede, safari-style pieces and trench coats in a nod to the 1970s.
Until now fashion was something Hume fell into rather than a calling, so why has she gone back to modelling now, initially with Jaeger?
“Because they approached me and I was really excited to work with them because they’re a British brand. I’m always thankful to have an opportunity to work with the homeland, so I saw it as a great opportunity,” she says.
There’s something quintessentially British about Hume that has stuck despite all her years in the US and you can see why Jaeger were keen for her to front their campaign. Despite her appearance, she’s about as Californian as cardies and tablet, a Scottish thistle with English rose looks, and the knitwear element of the Jaeger collection is something that Hume becomes enthusiastic about.
“Some of the knitwear designs are produced in Scotland with Johnstons of Elgin, and I was really excited about that. I love that connection,” she says.
For Hume has a thing about knitwear and knitting. In fact the only time I think she takes umbrage during the interview is not when her divorce is mentioned, although she won’t talk about it, but when I suggest that knitting isn’t a very California-sounding past time.
“Oh yes people knit in LA,” she says, defensively. “Well, I do. I went to classes and re-learned. I first learnt at school in primary seven and I knitted one mitten. I didn’t manage the second because I knit too slowly. It was a very Virgo, perfectionist mitten. Red, I think. And since I learnt again I’ve done a little cable and Shetland lace knitting, but that’s really hard, complicated.”
And all Hume’s efforts aren’t pointless, she assures me, because LA isn’t all sun and swimming pools.
“LA is in the desert,” she says, “so it’s very cold in the mornings and evenings and I have tons of cardigans. I love them. For me, they’re something that’s easy to put on, then take off in the afternoons when it gets really hot. But no, it’s not a word that’s used in the States. They call them sweaters and if I say cardigan, people look at me and I have to explain what I’m talking about.”
Hume’s interest in knitwear is not purely recreational; in the future she plans to weave it into her working life, but she’s keeping the plans for this very much under wraps for the moment.
“I’m planning on starting something with knitwear but it’s very much in the preliminary stages. It’s something that I’m very passionate about and planning on pursuing. I can say, it will be womenswear, and some clothing and accessories.”
Knitting, permaculture, there’s a lot more to Kirsty Hume than her trademark catwalk sensual slink. In the unlikely surroundings of The Ritz, as the seamstress works on altering her dress, she’s musing about the possibility of someday having sheep.
“I may very well end up with sheep. I was doing a [modelling] shoot on an estate this weekend and was holding a lamb in one of the shots. I could see me with sheep, you never know,” she laughs.
• Kirsty Hume models the Spring Summer 15 Collection for Jaeger (www.jaeger.co.uk)