Heavy is the head that wears the Swarovski-encrusted crown—but Leni Klum sounds anything but weighed down. The bubbly 17-year-old is recounting the details of her first-ever runway walk, at Dolce & Gabbana’s Alta Moda show—which took place in the hard-to-top setting that is Venice’s St. Mark’s Square. Not only was it the first fashion show to ever be set in that iconic location, it was a tribute to the city in every way: The 100 looks included pieces inspired by the patterns of Murano glass, Carnival masks, and the floor of St. Mark’s Basilica; a coat embellished with glittering local scenes, and a ball gown whose skirt was decorated with gondolas (also the transportation of choice for the models).
“I honestly wasn’t that nervous. I sort of just winged it,” Klum says of her turn in a bright blue minidress, a regal necklace and earrings, and that aforementioned crown. “I was scared it was going to fall off, so they ended up sewing it to my hair,” she says, adding that the designers personally adjusted it pre-show.
Alta Moda, the house’s answer to couture, is always a swank, globe-trotting affair, having been held in locations from New York City’s Metropolitan Opera House to Florence’s Villa Bardini. Now Klum, the daughter of supermodel Heidi, is one of those helping bring the world of custom-made, carefully crafted fashion to a Gen Z audience—including, surely, many of her one million Instagram followers. “It is beautiful to see how young people are interested in fashion at its greatest expression,” say designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana. “We tend to think that they love an easier and contemporary style, but it is fascinating to watch them wearing a beautiful custom-made suit or dress for the first time and smile with joy.” Knowing that their clients’ daughters and sons have been clamoring for their parents’ Alta Moda and Alta Sartoria pieces, the two cast the offspring of Sean Combs, Christian Bale, and Monica Bellucci along with Klum in the show, calling their inclusion “a way to make couture feel fresh and relevant for the youngest” among us. (And speaking of things beloved by Gen Z, the three-day event culminated in the announcement of the house’s first-ever NFTs.)
- BEAUTY TIP: Warm up your winter beauty routine with Dolce & Gabbana’s Dolce Shine ($76), a floral scent inspired by springtime in Italy.
Klum says she’d been interested in following in her mom’s stiletto-shoed footsteps ever since she was a young girl hanging out on photo shoots with her, playing with makeup. At age 12, she expressed her desire to model, but, she says, “My mom wouldn’t let me”—not until she was older. A few years ago, on the set of Germany’s Next Topmodel, for which Heidi serves as host (and one of the judges), Leni observed a challenge wherein models jumped off a building wearing harnesses, then posed in mid-air. “I was like, ‘Mom, I want to jump off the tower, too, and take a photo.’” And so she did, in a white-knuckle preview of her future modeling career.
The catwalk isn’t the high school senior’s only extracurricular, though. Klum is an avid dancer who once trained with Abby Lee Miller of Dance Moms fame, an experience she credits for her lack of runway stage fright. A budding environmentalist, she has started a project with Plant-for-the-Planet called Klum Forest to plant trees in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. And she’s interested in design: She hopes to attend fashion or art school in New York, and has already created a line for the German e-commerce site About You—which opened Berlin Fashion Week, with Klum and her friends modeling. (They all practiced their runway walks together in their hotel room.) Amid all the commotion, she admits, she has missed some classes. But, considering the reason, “It’s been worth passing up.”
Hair by Guido Palau for Dolce & Gabbana; makeup by Pat McGrath for Dolce & Gabbana
This article appears in the December/January 2021 issue of ELLE.