Kristen McMenamy is, as they say, having a moment: After a time outside the limelight, the 56-year old catwalk and modeling veteran finally embraced Instagram during the pandemic and is now back at the forefront (among other things, as this profile points out, she opened the Fendace show). It’s wonderful to see a woman with experience in that wild industry still doing wild things on and in a major magazine. She’s still all angles and attitude, with a knowing, experienced gleam in her eye. I just wish the photo itself weren’t missing the texture that comes with that experience. Which is not to say she is shriveled in real life or anything; she’s a decade older than I am, and I have more crinkles than she does. This is not a woman who has risked much sun damage. But neither is she smooth as a teenager. So this cover is two things at once: stunning and striking and absolutely a reminder that there is a REASON models are models — this would hook the hell out of me at a newsstand in the airport, sob, I miss flying — and also kind of a bummer because she’s lived some life that we aren’t getting to celebrate. I understand the magazine business is always going to do what it does to fascinating faces of a certain age, but I can still wish it would be different.

The story is a rambling thing, which seems to be British Vogue’s style (they also tend toward the writer inserting themselves more often than US magazines do). I honestly didn’t quite know what to make of it, and her, and for that reason I think it’s a success. If THAT Jeremy Strong profile — and the bizarre celebrity pearl-clutching that ensued about whether it was sufficiently nice — did anything for me, it was to remind me what a profile should be. For a while now, Hollywood has treated “profile” synonymously with “gushing puff piece.” But you should get to use what you get, whether it’s flattering or not or somewhere in between; that profile did a good job setting an EXTREMELY full table, in a way that I felt was merely presenting several sides’ worth of anecdotes and then letting you decide how you felt about the main course. This is nowhere near as controversial nor illuminating as that piece was, but I’m connecting them because — while this is definitely gushy at times — the profile lets Kristen be herself, and represent herself, even if at times it’s odd or vague or a weird swerve. One minute she’s showing off outfits she bought at a local vintage store, and the next she’s talking about how her husband bought her a huge engagement ring as a flex on Rupert Murdoch, then whether/why she has quit drinking, then the time her husband cut up her credit cards, and oh yeah, she was once a drug mule:

She fixated on becoming a model from an early age, dropping out of college and travelling daily to New York City on go-sees while working nights in a pizzeria. “Where I moonlit as a drug mule,” she says. What? “Yes, I met a girl whose husband was a kingpin in the area. I would pick up a kilo of cocaine in bags and walk them across the parking lot, hand them over, look around and walk back.” On other occasions, she would drive in a borrowed Mercedes to deliver drugs across town. “I never crossed state lines,” she adds, laughing. “But I did earn enough money to buy clothes and pay photographers to do test shots.”

To be clear, that anecdote is… troubling! But it’s inclusion in the profile means that the writer wasn’t trying to shield her from herself. Incorporating her trying to turn the words “drug mule” into something she erroneously thinks is quirky/charming gives the story  an unplanned feel, like she didn’t go into it with a goal or a strategy or a message in mind. She hadn’t painted the picture in advance in her mind, so she happily let the writer do it instead, and that’s (sadly) refreshing these days.

[Photo: Steven Meisel; the January 2022 issue of British Vogue is on newsstands now]