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May 8, 2008

Project Heidi

She’s got curves, kids, and a massive career. How Heidi Klum beat the supermodel cliché.

heidi klum photos

The mighty Heidi Klum

Photo Credit: Ruven Afanador

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Hate to sound so seen-it-all, but let’s face it — supermodels can disappoint in the flesh. Mostly because there’s so little of it on them. The scorchingly thin figure that makes clothes look elegant can seriously underwhelm without the curvature the camera adds. So as I wait for Heidi Klum in the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel, I’m braced for a letdown.

It never comes. Even across the dining room, Klum is mesmerizingly lovely: tight jeans tucked into boots; a black leather jacket over a striped cashmere top that makes her look like the world’s sexiest gondolier; blonde hair that spills out of a knit beret. All that’s missing is that leonine spark familiar from photos and TV appearances. This Heidi looks almost ... cuddly.

Klum orders some hot tea and hovers over it, her face looking as crisp as a Macoun apple. Unbelievably, this is how she looks in morning-after mode. She was out until 3 a.m. last night at a party following the taping of a Victoria’s Secret special that she also hosted. Already this morning, she has fed her kids, inhaled some leftover goulash that her mother had made, driven her eldest child, 4-year-old Leni, to preschool, and conferenced with Leni’s teacher. Meet the Sane Supermodel, for whom the greatest blessings aren’t found in the cordoned-off VIP area but around the family dinner table.

“I always wanted to be a mom,” Klum says in her lightly accented English. “At Thanksgiving, I have my parents there, I have screaming kids, I have a big fat turkey — 18 pounds — sitting in the middle; legs are being ripped off that thing, you know what I mean? There’s life in the house. I don’t want to be wondering about how skinny I am, wondering what I’m going to eat because I don’t want to gain and I want to look hot and young, always and forever.”

PHOTO GALLERY: Go behind the scenes with Heidi Klum

Of course, at 34, Klum looks absurdly hot and young. How, I wonder aloud, is that possible after three kids in four years?

“I always think, Look at how people were before they were pregnant,” Klum says. “If you were a toned, healthy, energetic person, most likely you will be like that again.” Cold comfort to the untoned and unhealthy, but the straight dope is sort of refreshing. “A lot of people come to me, and they’re like, ‘Will I look like you after I have the baby?’ And I say, ‘Well, how were you before?’ You can’t kid yourself.”

In 1992, Klum won a modeling contest in her native Germany — even though her look wasn’t particularly in vogue at the time. “When I started, Kate Moss was the hottest thing,” she says. “It was not about being proud and upright with the smile glowing — a powerful woman. It was more about being a crushed, crumbled person in the corner, the beaten-down girl looking a little sad and tired.”

Klum was never going to be anyone’s idea of a crushed, crumbled person. To find success in the waif era, she knew she had to be resourceful. “There were still other things out there for people who were normal-looking,” which meant modeling for catalogs — JCPenney, Spiegel, and Newport News. Then, in 1996, Klum got the call to do catalog work for Victoria’s Secret. It didn’t hurt that Klum’s European upbringing left her completely at ease with stripping down for the camera. “I come from a place where we’re not that shy about our bodies,” she notes. Then, in 1998, Klum’s distinctive décolletage made a memorable star turn on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

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