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May 8, 2008

Project Heidi

heidi klum photos

The mighty Heidi Klum

Photo Credit: Ruven Afanador

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Since then, she’s proved herself much more than a pinup, hosting Project Runway for four seasons now, critiquing contestants with Cowellian directness — dismissing their designs as too “Holly Hobby” or “home-sewn” when warranted. Says Klum, it can be just as cringey during the judging as it looks. “We’re in this dark, tiny room, and I have 15 people in front of me who are terrified. It’s not like, ‘Hey, what’s up?’ You can hear a mouse fart in that room.”

In August 2003, five weeks pregnant with daughter Leni, conceived with Italian businessman and soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend Flavio Briatore, Klum was walking through the lobby of the Mercer hotel in New York when she ran into the singer Seal. “I was not looking for anybody,” says Klum, who has a five-year marriage to hairstylist Ric Pipino behind her. “He was just there. He walked in the door, and there he was. He looked good. I was like, Wow.”

Surely she has never wanted for attention from attractive men, I say. What was it about Seal?

Klum looks at me like I’m a little dim. “Well, I mean, have you ever met him? He’s a very big man, very dark, very intriguing — and it’s like a mystery, do you know what I mean? He has these dark eyes, and they’re very intense ... but he is a gentle giant. He is so warm, and he is so well-mannered, so like a gentleman.”

The chemistry was immediate. In December of the following year, Seal proposed to Klum during a snowboarding trip, atop a glacier in the Canadian Rockies. “He took me by helicopter,” she says. “He had an igloo built there, and they’d brought up everything: a bed with sheets inside the igloo, rose petals everywhere, candles. Very, very romantic!” Her eyes blaze at the memory. “There was food and champagne, and then the helicopter left. It was a little scary, too, because you’re so cut off from the world. No trees, nothing — it was hard-core. But I was ecstatic. I loved it. It was wonderful.” With that, Klum turns toward the mirrored wall behind our booth and checks out her face, quickly dabbing at some imperfection.

Klum and Seal were married in 2005, in a small ceremony on the beach in Mexico. They’ve since had two sons — Henry, almost 3, and Johan, 18 months. Seal brings his patient, fatherly energy to the raising of Leni as well, providing a relaxed contrast to Klum’s gotta-get-it-done mind-set. “I’m a little different in my head than he is,” she says. “He takes his sweet old time. When he explains things to them, he explains them.”

Klum brims with the joy and the challenges of child-rearing. When Seal checked out local preschools, he and Klum agreed the more permissive ones weren’t right for their kids. “I’m all for expressing yourself, but you also have to clean up after yourself,” she explains. “When Johan was attempting his first steps, I kept telling him, ‘Johan, you’re the last one. The others walked when they were 1. Get cracking!’”

Leni, Klum tells me, just had her first haircut — she chose a Dora the Explorer ’do. It’s not hard to imagine that being the daughter of Heidi Klum might someday present challenges, but for now it’s all good. Before a fashion show Klum was working last fall, Leni said, “Mommy, I want to go on the runway with you, but you have to hold my hand.” “So we just walked back and forth a little bit while my mom and dad took pictures of her,” Klum says. Then, as if needing proof it all really happened, Leni scooped up some glitter from the runway and put it in her little-girl purse.

Suddenly, Klum’s eyes start following a tall, coiffed man making his way to a table at the back of the Polo Lounge. “Look! There is David Hasselhoff!” Sure enough. I start to giggle.
“Well,” she whispers, “he was huge in Germany.”

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