Kiara Kabukuru

By Walter Greene
Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News

Model Kiara Kabukuru. a ninety’s super-model with a Vogue cover, a Cover Girl contract and numerous editorial spreads under her belt is back on the scene shooting for several top photographers and receiving the nod from fashion industry heavyweights including: Tom Ford, Gisele Bundchen and appearing in Carine Roitfield’s new magazine. Now 37 years-old, Kiara was discovered in Los Angeles,  when she was 17 years-old. She’d re-located from war torn Uganda with her family to Los Angeles when she was 6 years-old. The petite, chocolate beauty brought her talents as a correspondent on the red carpet for the CFDA Awards last month at Lincoln Center. She’s back in New York from living in South Carolina where she mentors at risk children with `Building Dreams Foundation.’ Kiara recently told “For me, to be able to help other people the way people helped me, it just makes sense.”

Her comeback has brought her to top photographers Mario Testino and Steven Meisel, the best in the business, both of whom she’s photographed with in the past. She went back to Uganda to start a documentary about her family history a few years ago. “I interviewed all of my grandparents and found out my maternal grandmother wore hides and here I am in New York wearing clothes. Its really a span of these different worlds. As a child I remember bodies and pools of blood and hiding and being protected, but being that young, you don’t understand everything.” noted the model. When she started modeling she was considered too short, standing at 5’7″ tall. “It was pre-Kate Moss,” recalled Kiara. “People would say `You’re really small – maybe television – maybe commercials’ I came to New York and booked a Levis campaign with Albert Watson, a top photographer. I was sent to go-sees (castings) with Calvin Klein, Donna Karan and Ralph Lauren, they had a great reaction to me and then I got booked for this huge Clinique job with Mario Testino.”

Kiara remembered those glory days when money was flowing. “I remember we were flying back and forth on the Concorde just to make jobs on time because we were that busy. I mean there was a time obviously when I was making all the rounds and I finally got my big break through Tom Ford doing his charity show in London, I met Tom backstage at his show and he really embraced me, he is such a warm person. When it hit, it was massive. I was working with everybody and shooting the cover of American Vogue. It was pretty amazing. The season I was in Milan and did not book any shows, then Tom booked me exclusively for Gucci and that was huge, because you know, you’re special.”

Then tragedy struck, Kiara’s world came tumbling down in 2000 when she was hit by a truck and dragged along the street while riding her bicycle on 14th Street and 9th Avenue in Manhattan. “I was coming from Chelsea Market and had that accident that messed up my face and knocked out my teeth.” Her beautiful face that made her a top model was mangled. They had to re-construct her face and teeth, needless to say, it was very traumatic. “I had moved back to LA and in 2002 I got the Cover Girl contract for five years. It was amazing, I think they were the best people I could have worked with in the state I was in, because I was  studying acting and had a lot of insecurities about my teeth, I was still going through all these reconstructions and I was having dreams where my teeth would fall out on the set. So I was a bit of a spaz with all that was going on.”

Now, Kiara says she’s extremely grateful and sees the modeling industry as totally different form the glorious 90s. “It’s a much bigger business, it’s a lot more serious.” She added, the difference is reflected in areas like backstage when now there is food for the models. She noted that back in her day there was vodka and champagne. What’s next on her agenda? “What I’ve realized is that I love expressing myself in every way; with my clothes with my acting, with my writing. I’m starting to write a book about my childhood, and my family’s story. And I’ll be speaking at Generation Cure, which is the younger part of AmFAR. There’s a lot of anguish and trauma in the world. I think that when things like this happen you can either become a victim and get destroyed or you can say `OK. So what can I do with this that’s going to make the world a better place?”

On her journey back on the fashion pages, Kiara again credits Tom Ford who planted the seed, she also got a request from Steven Meisel to see her polaroids. Kiara bumped into Tom Bart from IMG Model Management who suggested that she looked so amazing, she should do Tom Ford. “Also, Gisele who’s one of my best friends said `Whats the deal? You should do this.’ Then she started telling all these people like Carine Rothfield about me. There was all this encouragement, and I was like, I’m owning this, I’m healing and resolving the self esteem issues from the trauma of my childhood and coming into all of it. I decided that I was going to give this 110%.” The results include appearances in Vogue Italia’s Black Book and work with Tom Ford, Chanel, Dior and Gucci.