We tend to see the same handful of models (Karlie, Coco, Cara) land the big campaigns and the plum TV and hosting gigs. How refreshing then, to see a new face score a coveted on-air spot at none other than fashion’s Oscars, the CFDA Awards. Model Kiara Kabukuru has been announced as the host of Monday’s red carpet for Style.com, the only site airing the event.
Of course, Kabukuru is not a new face at all. In the ’90s, the Ugandan-born LA-raised model starred in campaigns for Chanel, Gucci, and Calvin Klein. She walked every major show, landed a cover of American Vogue and a page in the Pirelli calendar. Then, in 2000, after scoring a Covergirl contract, Kabukuru was hit by an 18-wheeler while bike riding in New York City. This after escaping Uganda at age six as a political refugee. The accident was devastating. Kabukuru recently opened up to W about it: She broke her ribs, pelvis, sacrum, and pubic bone; her skin had been ripped off; and her jaw, teeth and gums had to be reconstructed over the course of many surgeries. Last February, over a decade after she’d left the runways and the fashion world in general to recover from her accident, Kabukuru showed up on Tom Ford’s runway. And on Monday, she’ll be chatting with all the designers she used to work for all those years ago as the host of the CFDA Awards for Style.com.
Style.com’s Tim Blanks usually handles hosting duties for the online style bible, but since he’s receiving the Eugenia Sheppard media award, he’s out for the count. “We thought Tim should enjoy his moment in the spotlight,” Style.com editor in chief Dirk Standen said. “We really wanted someone who had both style and substance and the moment we met Kiara we felt she had both those things. She’s been through quite a bit of adversity and we found that very inspiring.”
For her part, Kabukuru is thrilled at the opportunity and says all the therapy she did to recover from the accident gave her the confidence to return to the spotlight. “I guess through this whole healing process I got my confidence back like, ‘No, I’m gonna go for it, and this is the time to do it’” Kabukuru told us over the phone yesterday.
“It’s going to be very fun to ask these designers questions that I might not ordinarily ask them when I was working with them,” Kabukuru told us. “I’m not like a regular host, you know, I’ve been into these houses, worked with these people, done campaigns with them and know quite a bit about them on a personal level as well so it’ll be more like socializing at a party than a serious red carpet.”
She has fond memories of Ralph Lauren, one of the first designers she ever met. “I remember just how sweet and warm and lovely he always was and how well taken care of you were–you walked in there and it was like you were a guest at his home,” she said.
Tom Ford has a special place in her heart, too. “Tom Ford was one of the first people to give me a break,” she recalled. “He had booked me exclusively for Gucci in ’96 and it was just amazing.” Ford was working with Carine Roitfeld at the time, and Kabukuru recently shot an editorial for CR Fashion Book. “It sort of felt like coming home,” Kabukuru said of working with Roitfeld and Ford again.
Returning to the fashion industry after a 10 year break gives Kabukuru a unique perspective on the industry. “I remember there were these shows where there would literally be vodka and champagne [backstage] with no glasses and no food and there were just straws,” she said. “Now there’s food and catering–it just seems a lot more supportive and responsible.”
It’s also just bigger. “Before it kind of seemed like a fun little niche,” Kabukuru said. “There were fewer designers, fewer magazines, fewer models, fewer agents–everything was smaller. I think with the advent of the Internet there’s more access to people and fashion became more interesting to more people.”
Standen agrees. It’s one of the reasons that the CFDA Awards, once a total insider-y industry event, has become of interest to a broader audience. “Fashion is entertainment on a par with movies and music now,” Standen said.
And speaking of music and movies–look out for Kabukuru there too. (She started modeling after she passed up an acting gig on Saved By the Bell: The Next Generation–true story!) “I love the collaboration of fashion and film and fashion and music,” she said. “For me it’s all art and creation and expression and any time that I can do that I’m really happy.”
Be sure to head over to Style.com Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. to check out Kabukuru and the awards.