It’s not shocking to hear that Kaia Gerber gets complimented…a lot. When she’s walking around Malibu, where she grew up, or Los Angeles, where she currently resides, keeping it low-key in her off-duty outfit of “a good white T-shirt, Adidas Sambas, and $5 sweatpants,” people often approach her to praise her work. But while you can commend her latest Celine campaign or her appearance in the most recent Valentino couture show, what she’s really interested in is hearing your thoughts on what she’s reading.
“When someone comes up to me to talk about my book club, I will talk to them all day,” the 22-year-old says of her Instagram Live series, on which she’s discussed everything from Slave Play with its playwright, Jeremy O. Harris, to My Body with author Emily Ratajkowski. “It’s my favorite thing, to actually hear that people read along and listen to the conversations.”
As the daughter of the 1980s supermodel Cindy Crawford, Gerber basically came out of the womb with the ability to find her light. She made her debut in a Versace campaign when she was just 10 and took to the runway for the first time six years later, in Raf Simons’s spring 2018 presentation for Calvin Klein. Name a brand, and Gerber has likely worked with it.
Valentino jacket and shirt; Valentino Garavani tie.
Rabanne bra top, skirt, and belt.
But in between runways and campaign shoots, Gerber has felt pulled toward another path. “I was the first kid at the auditions for the community theater,” Gerber recalls of her youth. She grew up with a love for film, musicals, and plays, but she put her interest in acting to the side as her modeling career took off. “I had this other amazing job that took me around the world and exposed me to so many things. But still, I felt this longing.”
While she technically made her acting debut in the indie TV film Sister Cities, in 2016, the turn of the decade brought with it more enticing opportunities. Gerber found a part in a handful of episodes in the sister shows American Horror Stories and American Horror Story. Then, in the spring of 2022, she walked onto her first feature film set as an adult, for the sapphic high school comedy Bottoms. Written by Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennott, the minds behind the cult classic Shiva Baby, Bottoms tells the story of two high schoolers (played by Sennott and The Bear’s Ayo Edebiri) who start a fight club in order to get closer to their cheerleader crushes. It should surprise no one that Gerber portrayed one of those unattainable, pom-pom–wielding cool girls, though she’s adamant that typecasting it was not.
“I was not popular in high school, and I was not a cheerleader,” Gerber says. “I felt kind of like an outcast.” But she does relate to her character, Brittany, in some ways. At one point in the film, as the members of the fight club are coming clean about some difficulties they’ve been facing (stepdads, stalkers, and the like), Brittany gives a speech about her own adversity. (“I’m more annoyed that everyone knows me for being beautiful and popular, and no one knows that I’m actually smart and super driven,” the character says.) “Obviously, the example in the movie is quite ridiculous, but feeling like you’re not taken seriously or people aren’t focusing on the thing that you’re passionate about is a very real thing,” she says.
A while ago, Gerber recognized that the public tends to have certain preconceptions about her. “Sometimes compliments can be a little bit condescending,” she says. “Like, ‘Oh wow, you’re actually intelligent? How cool.’ ” Seligman, who also directed Bottoms, has plenty of genuine praise to throw Gerber’s way: “She’s one of the most brilliant, well-read actors I’ve ever worked with. She cares so much about doing the job and honoring your vision as a director. I’m sure it’s the same thing with a photographer or a designer. She’s just trying to be a good soldier.”
It’s in her book club, though, that Gerber feels most comfortable taking charge, guiding discussions not for a cheese board–fueled roundtable in someone’s living room, but for half a million viewers online. Conversations have included subjects such as politics, race, and gender. “Being able to tie in issues affecting our world has been really important,” Gerber says. “It allows me to show people I’ve been opinionated from the beginning.”
How would you describe your personal style?
I would say I’m a tomboy, but I’ve always been very influenced by the French “cool girls” like Jane Birkin and Françoise Hardy. I like simple, comfortable pieces—trousers, sneakers, and blazers.
What are some of your go-to pieces at the moment?
I have this green Celine bag that I carry literally every day and have dragged through the mud, and it’s still in great condition. It’s like my safety blanket. I think investing in clothes is smart, but I can’t justify buying trendy, expensive clothes.
Celine by Hedi Slimane cape, blouse, pants, belt, and rings.
Celine by Hedi Slimane dress.
Is there a particular designer who is an important person in your life?
Hedi Slimane, for sure. When I was growing up in Malibu, he was this legend who would hang out where the kids from my school hung out, and cast people. So I remember hearing his name all the time growing up, and now I get to work with him. I think we’re both obsessed with the same cultures—Malibu, surf and skate culture mixed with this Parisian chicness. I just think he has the greatest style. If Hedi says it’s cool, then it is cool. He’s also really loyal, and he forms deep friendships with everyone around him, and the people who work with him have been with him for years. To have that kind of relationship and those loyalties in an industry where there’s a lot of swapping around and moving—that draws me to him.
What are some TV shows you’re watching at the moment?
I loved The Bear, which is funny because it hadn’t come out yet when I worked with Ayo Edebiri, and she was talking about this show she filmed. Then everyone in the world was watching it. Also, I May Destroy You, which I think is one of the greatest shows ever created. Fleabag, too. My comfort show is The Office. I rewatch that when I’m traveling. I feel my sense of humor has been shaped by The Office. I’m also really into cooking shows like MasterChef. I have a weird obsession with children’s cooking shows. I love them and simultaneously feel really bad. To experience that much stress as an adult is difficult, but then they put 8-year-olds through it. But it’s just so entertaining. I felt that way about Jury Duty too. I was like, “I love this, but I feel bad for him.”
What are your travel essentials?
Books, of course. I also like bringing my own water bottle so I don’t use the plastic ones. And then Lucas’ Papaw Ointment. I put it everywhere. If you put it under your eyes, it makes you look like you’ve slept even when you haven’t.
Hair by Anthony Turner at Jolly Collective; makeup by Lucia Pica for Byredo at Art Partner; manicure by Emily Rose Lansley for Elemis Handcare at the Wall Group. Senior Fashion Market Editor & Menswear Director: Jenna Wojciechowski. Model: Kaia Gerber at DNA Models. Casting by Piergiorgio Del Moro and Samuel Ellis Scheinman at DM Casting. Set design by Griffin Stoddard at Streeters.
Produced by January Productions; executive producer: Leonard Cuinet; producer: Amelia Heritage; production coordinators: Barbara Eyt, Nycollas Abreu; photo assistants: Richard Kovacs, Simonas Berukstis, Emilio Garfath; digital operator: Niccolo Pacilli; digital assistant: Cassian Gray; lab: Dreamer; fashion assistants: Katie Dulieu, Ryan Wohlgemut; production assistants: Oliver Shipton, Hunningan Webster, Luke Boxall, Ryan James; hair assistants: John Allan, Reve Ryu; makeup assistants: Kate O’Reilly, Maeve McElholm; tailor: Alina Gencaite; set assistants: Nana-Yaw Mensah, Alice Ferrante, Jeremy Rwakasiisi.