Kaia Gerber’s Dad Was a Model, Too

0
84

PARIS — Maybe the gods were jealous.

A storm drenched the courtyard of the Hotel de Sully, a 17th-century mansion in the Marias district, just as Cindy Crawford; her 16-year-old daughter, Kaia Gerber; and 18-year-old son, Presley Gerber, took the stage at a Paris fashion week party in September.

As the new brand ambassadors for Omega, the family was as perfectly sculpted as the allegorical figures of the four seasons, carved into the building’s facade. But there was some confusion when, after it was Ms. Gerber’s turn to speak (“Omega always takes such great care of our family,” she said), the M.C. tried to wrap up the presentation prematurely.

“There’s a fourth member of the Gerber family,” said Ms. Gerber, who had emerged as one of the world’s most in-demand celebrity models, ever since she made her runway debut in New York a few weeks earlier.

Oh, right.

Standing alongside, but almost lost amid their sheer wattage, was the family’s 55-year-old patriarch, Rande Gerber. Tall, fair-complexioned and background-handsome (think Kevin Costner in “The Bodyguard”), he exuded the patience of a man who was used to being overlooked.

Mr. Gerber, a former model, took the mic and, with the modesty of a supporting player, thanked Omega for employing his family. “Because now I can retire,” he said, to polite chuckles. “They’re all working.”

Photo

The family at a party for Omega in Paris. Credit Kamil Zihnioglu/Associated Press

In fact he may have been one of the richest men at the party.

Casamigos, a tequila brand that he created with the actor George Clooney and the developer Michael Meldman, was acquired last June by Diageo, the multinational beverage giant, for $700 million to $1 billion. The deal was a new high in Mr. Gerber’s successful career as a night-life entrepreneur, which began in the 1990s with a string of hip bars, with the Morgans Hotel Group, that defined an era.

Continue reading the main story

Now, more than 25 years later, this slacker-perfectionist not only finds himself a part-billionaire, but he also enjoys newfound cultural currency as the husband and father in a genetically blessed family of supermodels who can be seen everywhere these days, including a Pepsi commercial to be aired during the Super Bowl (starring his wife and son), the current cover of French Vogue (daughter), the global advertising campaign for Calvin Klein Jeans (daughter and son) and, of course, Omega watches (entire family).

“He comes off as very laid-back and he is, but he’s also constantly thinking, and he notices ev-ery-thing,” said Ms. Crawford, 51. “He always has his finger on the pulse of what the next cool thing is going to be.”

’80s Model to Mogul

Not that you can tell from his California drawl, but Mr. Gerber was born in Queens and grew up on the South Shore of Long Island.

Scouted by Ford Models on the streets of Manhattan when he was 16, he alternated between classes at the University of Arizona, where he studied television production, and flying internationally for shoots with quintessential ’80s brands like Sassoon and Benetton.

Photo

Ms. Crawford and Mr. Gerber in 1997. Credit Albert Ortega/Getty Images

In those vintage modeling shots, Mr. Gerber epitomized the male beauty ideals of the era: a blow-dried beefcake, lounging on the range in double denim, or sweatlessly working out in scoop-cut tank tops.

His life-changing break came after college, after he had retired from modeling and was brokering commercial real estate in Manhattan as an agent for Edward S. Gordon in the early 1990s. One of his clients, the hotelier Ian Schrager, asked him to find a bar tenant for the Paramount Hotel in Times Square, which would become one of the prototypes of the designer boutique hotel.

After passing on several options, Mr. Schrager proposed an unusual idea. “One day he said to me, ‘Why don’t you just do it yourself?’” Mr. Gerber said.

The Whiskey opened in 1991 and was an instant hit, drawing celebrities and offering a sophisticated alternative to the throbbing mega-clubs of the time, with its Philippe Starck design, high-priced cocktails, mood lighting and ambient music.

“Rande had a graciousness about him, and he was graceful as a person,” Mr. Schrager said. “He was a bright, articulate guy, sociable, likable. And, running a bar — it’s not rocket science. I thought he could do it.”

Continue reading the main story

Mr. Gerber replicated the formula (which he described as “candlelit; the right incense burning, the right music playing”) for a string of Mr. Schrager’s other hotels, including the Morgans Hotel on Madison Avenue and the Mondrian in Los Angeles.

His hospitality company, the Gerber Group, which he operated in partnership with his brothers, Scott and Kenny, would open 37 bars and restaurants in 17 cities, including a network of Whiskey spinoffs with W Hotels, as well as a mini-chain of cafes inside Emporio Armani stores.

The sleek aesthetic of low-slung sofas, clever design and mellow electronica music would soon become a ’90s cultural cliché, replicated by many budget imitators with “Wayne’s World” thrift-store couches and fire-hazard candelabra right out of “The Phantom of the Opera.”

Also on fire during this period: Mr. Gerber and Ms. Crawford. The pair met in 1991 at the wedding of Michael Gruber, Ms. Crawford’s agent at the time and a childhood friend of Mr. Gerber’s. “She was dating Richard,” Mr. Gerber said, referring to Richard Gere, Ms. Crawford’s former husband.

They stayed in touch over the phone, and reconnected in Los Angeles in 1995, a few months after Ms. Crawford and Mr. Gere got divorced. “They split up and we connected,” Mr. Gerber said. The couple married in 1998.

Photo

A delivery truck for Casamigos. It was started by Mr. Gerber and George Clooney, and was recently sold in a deal worth up to $1 billion. Credit George Rose/Getty Images

Also in their social orbit was Mr. Clooney, who patronized Mr. Gerber’s bars and was also a client of Mr. Gruber’s. Mr. Clooney and Mr. Gerber would go on to build neighboring beach houses in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

That’s also how the tequila got started, at least according to the official Casamigos story: It was a fluke created by two buddies who enjoyed drinking tequila in their “house of friends.” (Mr. Meldman, the third partner, developed the houses.)

“We made it to drink at our houses and give to our friends, and that was the only reason we were doing it,” Mr. Clooney said by phone from Los Angeles. “We went through 700 different variations. So that’s a lot of very fun taste testing that went on over a three-year period.”

But their real talent lay not so much in tequila making as it did in viral marketing and not-so-subtle celebrity branding. The tequila was unveiled in 2013 with a funny online video featuring Ms. Crawford sharing a bed with Mr. Clooney that got lots of free airtime. Somehow, Casamigos’s agave-shaped logo also found its way into countless paparazzi shots of Mr. Clooney and Ms. Crawford going to the chiropractor or running errands, as if by serendipity.

Slowly, their “hobby” took off, and paid off handsomely when Diageo decided it wanted in. The deal to buy Casamigos included $700 million in cash, plus up to another $300 million depending on sales.

Continue reading the main story

Mr. Gerber plans to funnel some of those riches into a start-up incubator, based in of the Malibu celebrity hang pad that serves as his office.

He rattled off some of the pitches he has received in his new role as a venture capitalist: “different app ideas, a coffee company, a milk delivery company.”

“There’s a lot of good ideas, some crazy ideas, and some that are not so good,” he said.

“He’s a model for ‘hard work pays off,’” Mr. Schrager said of his former protégé. “He was a kid from Queens, and he went on to marry a beautiful woman and have a beautiful family and great success. And it’s always nice when a nice guy does good.”

First Family of Supermodels

In the Gerber household, Sunday night home-cooked pizza is a family tradition, as is jumping into the pool whenever one of the brood comes home from a far-flung assignment.

But such homey get-togethers are becoming harder to organize, now that each member of the family has their own work schedule and jealously protective team of publicists, stylists, managers and other gatekeepers, whose job is to control and monetize their very lucrative time.

Photo

Kaia and Presley Gerber at Paper magazine’s “Beautiful People” party in New York in the fall. Credit Rebecca Smeyne for The New York Times

That value shot up considerably last September, when Ms. Gerber made her runway debut at the Calvin Klein show, “instantly becoming,” in the words of Vogue, “the model of the moment.” She has since walked in shows for top international houses including Chanel (most recently for Wednesday’s couture collection), Fendi and Burberry; appeared on the February cover of Vogue Paris; announced a design collaboration with Karl Lagerfeld; and starred in ad campaigns for Versace and Marc Jacobs Beauty, among others.

While the media’s reaction to Ms. Gerber’s debut was frenzied (“Cindy Crawford’s mini-me” was a popular response), her preternaturally centered parents were unfazed by the celebri-bomb going off in their midst.

“I think we both wish they could have been a little older, but the world is different now, and Kaia wanted to do it,” Ms. Crawford said. “When she was 13 we said to her, ‘mmm, when you’re 16.’ And then, all of a sudden. …”

Presley Gerber, while not a superstar on his sister’s level (567,000 Instagram followers versus her 2.8 million), has nonetheless booked a string of campaigns, including Dolce & Gabbana, Calvin Klein Jeans and Pepsi.

“Those kids have every reason in the world to be screwed up,” said Mr. Clooney, who has known them since birth. “They’re beautiful kids and they were born into fame and wealth. But Cindy and Rande were very aware of raising kids in Malibu, and how that can go horribly wrong. So they’ve been really hands-on parents.”

Ms. Crawford said that the name Kaia was inspired by a character in the 1988 fantasy film “Willow,” while Mr. Gerber said she was named for “Kaya,” the title track of a 1978 Bob Marley album (and slang for marijuana).

They did agree that the name Presley can be traced to a long-ago dinner with the Hollywood music producer David Foster, who was then married to Elvis Presley’s ex-girlfriend, Linda Thompson. Mr. Gerber recalled him asking, “Can you imagine being me, having to follow Presley?” For whatever reason, the name stuck.

When all four are together, fueled by the children’s Tigger-ish, teenage energy, the family comes across as a writhing puppy pile of mutual affection.

“He’s like the coolest person in the world,” Ms. Gerber said about her father. Her sophisticated all-black evening wear at the Omega party — stilettos, crystal-embroidered tulle skirt and low-cut, lacy top — was at odds with her 16-year-old hyperactivity, which fizzed out of her like a shaken-up soda bottle.

“He knows how to throw a party, which, I don’t even have friends who know how to throw a party this good,” she said.

Her brother said, “He’s a perfectionist and an all-around happy guy. He’s like my best friend.”

The Gerbers can sound a little corny, and that’s because they are. Nothing confounds a celebrity profile like a happy family. They are four golden figures that, even viewed up close, seem to be constantly dissolving into a Malibu sunset.

“When I meet people from my past, they’re not really shocked where my life has taken me,” Mr. Gerber said, clinking his Casamigos and ice, flanked by his wife and equally symmetrical daughter.

“Most people just figured I would have been successful,” he said, and shrugged.

Continue reading the main story

Fashion’s New ‘It’ Kids

UNBUTTONED

Fashion’s Latest Obsession: Chips Off the Celebrity Block

The Inside Story of Donatella Versace’s Homage to Gianni: Classic Prints and Your Favorite ’90s Supermodels

Fashion’s New ‘It’ Kids

UNBUTTONED

Fashion’s Latest Obsession: Chips Off the Celebrity Block

The Inside Story of Donatella Versace’s Homage to Gianni: Classic Prints and Your Favorite ’90s Supermodels

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here