.Kate Moss is as British as the Queen, shitty train service, and shirtless men drinking Stella. She’s become such an icon of everything UK that those shops on Oxford Street that somehow manage to stay afloat selling bedazzled New Eras and Big Ben broaches now screen-print her face onto cheap white T-shirts as just another souvenir for tourists visiting London.
Her early tale is well told. The Croydon-born 14-year-old was discovered by Sarah Doukas, founder of Storm Model Management, at JFK Airport in New York City. By the following year, she’d appeared on the cover of a British magazine—a monumental milestone for any model. She rose to fame in the early 90s and became known as the “anti-supermodel” of the decade. She’s appeared on the covers of more than 300 magazines and been the star of ad campaigns for most of the top fashion houses. But you know all that.
Over the years, various old shoots have emerged, but recently Kate’s first ever professional photographs were rediscovered in a drawer and shared with the world. HANNAH EWENS spoke to photographer Owen Scarbiena, who had the career-defining job—unbeknown to him at the time—of taking the shots.
HANNAH EWENS: How did you initially land this gig with Kate?
Owen Scarbiena: I’d been doing photography for fashion shoots and stuff, and I’d done some stuff for Premier, Select, and Storm, so obviously I knew Sarah and Caroline in the agencies—and I was always looking for new girls. At the time, I was working on a new project: white designer blouses and sports knickers that girls used to wear at school many moons ago. It was about that time that Sarah Doukas called me from Storm saying she loved my work—which was very clean, minimalist—and that she had this girl, Kate, who I’d love, and it just so happened to fit in with the type of stuff I was doing because she was very fresh.
What was the shoot like on the day?
Kate didn’t have any preconceived ideas of how a model should stand. She was just her, which I loved. We did the test with her in the designer blouse and sports knickers, and she was brilliant. It was very slightly awkward but natural. I would say something like, “It’s ten to four at the bus stop” and tell her a story, and she would follow it while I was just clicking away. There was a thing we used to do back in school called natural movement, where you had to pretend you were like a tree. And we did that. So that’s how we got those pictures; she wasn’t really posing, but just following the story.
She was very open, friendly, and very confident. Easy to get on with, so the whole thing was a laugh. Very easy to mould. You get some girls who are new and are a bit nervous—she wasn’t. It was like we’d been hanging out for ages. My daughter was there as well, and they got on, so it was just like shooting an old mate.
How did you find these unseen pictures? Did you just have them locked away?
We shot lots of models—some of them had become famous, but [the photos] didn’t get into editorial or a publisher, and then they just got shelved and forgotten about, so I forgot they existed. So when I met my best friend about a year ago, she was telling me about another friend who ran a gallery and whose job it was to find pictures of gorgeous people, and she said, “Haven’t you got pictures of Kate Moss?” They were in my negative drawers, so I hunted through and found them. I didn’t even have contacts done, so I had giant contacts done. There was a big picture done and I saw it and thought, Oh my god, is that Kate? That is gorgeous—because I’d only seen them in 24/36, tiny little negative sizes never blown up. Anyway, my friends loved them and wanted them in the gallery, and that’s how it started.
Thinking back to that photo shoot, did you have any idea she would become as iconic as she now is?
Absolutely not. You’ve got the normal models—Cindy Crawford, for example—who are all gorgeous, but there were other models that were odd, quirky, and incredible, and Kate fit into that bracket. So I didn’t think she would make it because she didn’t fit into that obvious beauty. She’s not six feet tall. She had her own quirky gorgeousness, which isn’t taken up by the masses.
Did you shoot her again over the years?
I didn’t, no. That was it: first and last. I think shortly after that I went to Milan, and while I was away, she got big and then I didn’t see her. I bumped into her in Notting Hill and that was it.
What is it about the photos you particularly like looking back on now?
It’s a period in my life where I felt bombarded by lots of messy images, and I liked to have things that were clean and feminine, and she was just so fresh and personified the look I loved. So when I look back at them, I think, I love that. With all of the shoots, I did the hair, the make-up, and the styling. Not that I was any good at any of the aforementioned; I was just happy to get a lip shine going. I called it guerrilla hair styling: If you have the bare necessities, you can’t muck it up. I didn’t have hair spray, so I just used a bit of water and olive oil on her hair and skin. Hair stylists used to be my biggest fear because they go in and just create this thing that was the opposite of what you wanted.
What I remembered the most about Kate was that I thought she’d be able to work well with anybody. She was just so easy. She was good friends with another good friend of mine, Corinne Day, who also used to take loads of pictures of her.
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