We chose Katie Rost for the cover of our first annual ‘Color of Style’ issue because, (1) we are consistently dedicated to showcasing Black women and men in a more beautiful and positive light, and (2) her bi-racial DNA helps to breathe life into a steady approach towards the world’s diverse and creative, multi-cultural landscape.
I first became aware of Katie about two years ago, by viewing her profile on a website that belonged to Mocha Socialite… and boy, did I get a cup full of grande! She was the featured beauty for their November ‘Socialite of the Month,’ and although I had never heard of her before, I was drawn to the light shining from in-between those edited lines of copy. Katie’s interview and pictures led me to further investigate who she was, but it wouldn’t be until late 2008 -on a chilly, Sunday afternoon in December- when I would have the chance to finally meet her… albeit somewhere far-off, along the Potomac River.
As we sat down for this interview, I increasingly realized that she beams much brighter than what one can glimpse from the images of her on-line repertoire; not only has she modeled for Chanel and Cosmopolitan magazine, but she is also a philanthropist who oversees the operation of The Ronald F. Rost Foundation (a charitable fund established as a legacy to her late father).
Growing up, she had the best of both worlds, but was taught not to take her blessings for granted. She was born to an African-American mother and a Caucasian father, both of whom came from loving, hard working and accomplished families. When talking about her mom, Mrs. Rynthia Rost-Buccine (a Vice President at Geico), Katie says, “…before The Secret, there was Rynthia! She was an ‘open the world to your child’ type of person.” Remembering her dad (who was an economics professor at Indiana University), Katie recalls him being, “adventurous and outside the box, as well… riding horses, camping and skiing [all that] was encouraged by my dad.” After the passing of her father, when Katie was age 12, Rynthia recalls, “I realized it was she and I against the rest of the world. I told her, ‘I’m mom, but I’m basically your coach’.”
Training has always been a part of Katie’s life; she attended the prestigious Holton Arms School in Maryland, and later went on to become a graduate of Boston University, and one of her biggest preparations was for running in last year’s ING Miami Half Marathon, in support of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington and Wolf Trap Children’s Theater-in-the-Woods. In a personal statement issued to the public (on January 27th, 2008), via her website, Katie addressed her supporters: “The marathon was part of a personal wellness goal for me, but it was also done to set the tone for the kind of intensity the Rost Foundation is committed to bringing to community work in 2008, and beyond. We will continue to support community organizations that give young people opportunities to thrive and be creative.” In her statement she further went on to thank friends Robert Reffkin (who ran the marathon with her), fellow supermodel Petra Nemcova (a 2004 tsunami survivor), whom Katie says, “touched my heart years ago with her passion for helping others…” and of course she thanked her mom (forever her life coach), “who was smiling big at mile 10, holding a sign that [read] ‘GO Katie Rost!’”
Today, Katie’s body looks as if it’s still suspended in perfect running shape, and having thought about the possibility of not finishing last year’s race, she mentions that she “…had a moment at mile 9 [hitting the wall] where I thought I was going to die. I had just broke up with my ex-boyfriend and I wanted to break his time of 2:20… and I did…” she smiles wittingly, “I finished at 2:08!” When I asked Katie if she felt like –at times– she was either running away from something or running towards something, her answer was bold, she says, “Now, I’m running mostly towards things. I deal with things more now… I visualize and run towards a goal, both physically and spiritually.”
Learning how to endure has been an important lesson for Katie, she has lived and worked overseas as a fashion model; her mom even recalls her first learning how to master the metro system in London, while doing a semester abroad for BU. “I never wanted her to be good, I wanted her to be effective, to understand the difference between right and wrong… most important, to know how to survive and fight.” Katie is signed to Click Model Management in New York, whom she says, “…has been a great agency for me… the idea of putting people before money is ingrained in every single person working there.” In the early part of her career, she worked “very organically,” doing showroom work for fashion houses such as Lanvin, Guy Laroche, John Galliano and Christian Dior. Describing her encounters with these fashion giants, Katie says, “I was such a sponge and I felt like Alice in Wonderland. There are such incredible characters in fashion and I love to soak up that intense, frenetic, creative energy. All of my encounters have been cool.”
In May of 2008, Abercrombie & Fitch cast Katie as a spokes model for their Gilly Hicks Sydney fashion collection; legendary fashion photographer Bruce Weber photographed the huge advertising campaign. When she found out she was picked for the job, Katie says she was “overjoyed. I had worked my butt off, literally, at the gym to get into top shape for that campaign. Bruce Weber is not a big fan of clothing, so I knew I was going to have to be feeling as confident and secure as physically and psychologically possible, going into that shoot. It was incredible to be chosen and a great experience in general!”
(Katie Rost for Gilly Hicks Sydney. Photograph by Bruce Weber)
Moreover, when you think of someone like Katie Rost having the ability to steadily get work in such a competitive and challenging field (and still manage to wear a smile through it all), one can’t help but wonder why there’s such a large number of other brown-skinned girls in the same industry, who aren’t as lucky. Just two years ago, Bethann Hardison (along with an army of socially conscious fashionistas), spearheaded a campaign to force equality and urge industry executives to take a closer look at the discriminating, racial divides that do exist within the fashion and modeling worlds.
Without the past, barrier-breaking careers of Black models such as Beverly Johnson, Gail O’Neal, Lana Ogilvie, et al., opportunities for girls like Naomi Campbell, Liya Kebede and Katie Rost, may not exist today. In reaction to the onset of media being focused on the lack of Black models in the fashion industry, Katie says, “ There is a hunger for Black models in the market place. I don’t have the data to prove it, but I can feel it… I loved the Italian Vogue ‘Black Issue’ so very much. Steven Meisel shot my friend Ubah, a Click model, for it.” She goes on to explain that she “…thought it was really telling that it sold out and had to be re-print. I also thought it was very telling that to have an entire issue using Black models as a novelty… to me, that means something is clearly off in the high fashion ideals for beauty.”
Moreover, the likelihood that most Black models will be able to transition from being just a pretty face to star status, is slim to none. Icons such as Iman and Tyra Banks, have been able to turn their names into household fixtures, creating and selling their own brand of beauty ideals; Iman makes numerous guest appearances across the globe, promoting her cosmetic lines, while Tyra goes above and beyond, producing the hit reality TV show America’s Next Top Model, as well as her own daytime talk show. Katie remarks, “I’m very inspired by Tyra. I think what she’s been able to create is mind blowing.” But they aren’t the only models cum creative genius; Katie too, has a game plan. She states, “I’m not a mogul just yet! But, I will be [and so can everyone else].”
Yes Katie, we can… and we have already begun to see those changes being made in and out of the fashion world. Such people as the aforementioned Mrs. Hardison have applied that mantra, and it was originally echoed by one of the most compelling and inspiring presidential candidates in U.S. history. As our conversation transitioned from fashion to politics, I asked Katie what her thoughts were on President Barack Obama and his mission for change (being that she’s had first-hand experience with Capitol Hill, having worked as a Page for Senator Sarbanes), she says, “He represents how I want the world to look [because] we’re all a big mix of everything and it’s beautiful. I am so excited for our country… we need to bring more integrity to the government, and I think he will do a great job doing that.”
Applying the philosophy of hope and change to her own daily routine, it’s easy to see why Katie is so forward thinking and has been able to hurdle some of life’s adversities, she reminds us that we are all running our own race in life, with God cheering us on from the sidelines. Yet, being around Katie, you would never get the impression that she’s the religious type, not even adding the fact that she’s Jewish. “Growing up, people did give me a double glance… on top of already being bi-racial, I was Jewish too,” she quips (laughing out loud). Her family attended synagogues and holy events throughout her life, but Katie doesn’t trumpet religious dogma, she says, “I just believe in God and pray,” and we concur that a lot of her prayers have been answered. We sampled her new line of beauty and skincare products, which are inspired by nature, and the brand (BODY by Katie Rost), seems to have been a divine idea in and of itself. “The most important thing to me is to be creative and follow that inner yearning that needs to manifest something in the world,” she says.
Though it may not be easy for most people to achieve their dreams, Katie believes that “…if you plant good seeds, you will eventually see the rewards, acclaim and the results from your actions. If you plant good seeds and believe, your dreams will come true.”
A few jolts of coffee later, and after hours of positioning Katie in some demanding poses, our long-awaited encounter draws to a close. We found that in contrast to the picture-perfect media version of Katie, the real-life version is patient, aglow and refreshing… she’s made peace with her past and looks forward to the future, she says, “I wake up everyday and put one foot in front of the other and move in the direction of my dreams…” we believe that special something is called faith.