Hannelore Knuts
Photo by Inez & Vinoodh

Hannelore Knuts: “This was only the introduction”

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Short Profile

Name: Hannelore Knuts
DOB: 4 November 1977
Place of birth: Hasselt, Limburg, Belgium
Occupation: Model

Ms. Knuts, a few years ago you curated Ultramegalore, a retrospective exhibition based entirely around you and your career in the modeling industry. Does that make you a narcissist?

There’s nothing wrong with narcissism as long as it’s within some boundaries. It’s a good drive. Narcissism is a sort of self-respect. But Ultramegalore, that’s just my sense of humor! It’s a nickname I’ve had since the beginning. The thinking was, “Let’s make it as narcissistic as possible!” (Laughs) I was actually a bit concerned about that. But I am only Ultramegalore because of all the hard work of the photographers, stylists, make-up artists, and creatives that I’ve worked with.

Is fashion an inherently narcissistic industry?

The industry is totally driven by narcissism. There’s a lot of ego-tripping, a lot of power games. There’s a lot of nasty stuff in the business. But I think you need an ego. Being an artist, you put yourself naked in front of everybody – what you do, you do it with your heart and soul, and it’s a very personal thing – so you do need a strong ego to be able to have guts. Fortunately, the real talent have their egos too, but they don’t have that nasty ego. They know their talents and they don’t need to yell or be in your face.

“Just because I’m naked that doesn’t mean you have to perceive me as a sex object.”

Like you said, your job requires you to get naked, figuratively and literally. Is that difficult for you?

I still kind of grapple with that, actually. I pose naked quite often, and in order to do that you have to be strong. But after ten years in the modeling industry, I can say that my body is nice enough to show – if I can’t do it, who else can? You just have to embrace the beauty of it. It’s not sexual to me in those instances. For example, the poster for my exhibition was a picture of me, full frontal naked, shot by Inez and Vinoodh. And it was all over the city, all over the country! In the city, we made flags that were hanging on the street lights, at bus stops – it was everywhere! (Laughs) That was something else. But that wasn’t sexual to me, it just made sense for the exhibition. The naked canvas.

In our interview with Yohji Yamamoto he said that the more a woman hides her sexuality, the more it emerges from the very essence of her existence. Do you agree?

I totally understand what Yohji is saying. I agree – just because I’m naked that doesn’t mean you have to perceive me as a sex object. And being naked isn’t the only way to be sexy. I feel the sexiest when I’m toned down. When I’m naked I’m just strong. It’s not about sex. I hope that every woman finds that power to do it in that way. We’re more than tits and ass! We really do not need tits and ass to be feminine.

As one of the most iconic androgynous models, you are definitely proving that.

If I can be part of changing something, to raise curiosity, and to challenge the way people think of femininity, I’d love to be part of that. I’m always happy that my look matches how I feel. If I looked like a beach model, I don’t think I would be doing it. I’m happy that the things that get offered to me really fit my personality.

So, it’s not frustrating to be constantly typecast as the tomboy?

Well… I remember once at the height of my career Edward Enninful was styling a show I was walking in. There were all these beautiful gowns and, again, I was in the boring tuxedo! (Laughs) Fuck! I want to dress up, too! Why can’t I be the girl? And Edward said, “Hannelore, take it as a compliment that you always get the boring pieces, because your face and your persona livens it up.” I can live with that. (Laughs)

Do you think androgyny has a different meaning today than it did ten or fifteen years ago when you were first starting out?

Maybe. I think now it’s become one of those trends. To me, I didn’t see myself as androgynous. I see myself as a girl. But I feel more comfortable wearing pants because then I can be a girl. When I was a teenager, I would always put on a big sweater to go outside because I was afraid… I didn’t want to be a sexual object! I feel more sexy with short hair and a tuxedo – and then heels and red lips! That’s a woman.

Blurred gender roles, especially in fashion, are becoming more and more accepted.

Which I think is a good thing! It has grown. We’re still not there yet. For example, the gay community is getting more acknowledged and being perceived as “normal,” which is great, but it’s still weird that we have to label it. The fact that we’re still labeling them actually points it out! “You’re different – I accept you, but you’re different.” It’s still a “new thing.” After a while you won’t need to label them anymore, they’ll just be Harry or Andrej, whether they’re a boy or a girl doesn’t matter. They’re pretty or fun or they’re intellectual or, you know, smart and that’s why we like them.

“Do I know myself? Yeah, I do. So, let’s add something new that we don’t know yet.”

As a model, is it difficult to get past the more superficial aspects of fashion?

I’ve always seen myself as the canvas. I am the medium to solidify the ideas that the people I’m working with have. But I don’t want to see it that passive either. I’m not just a muse. I also bring something to the table, even if it’s my crooked face sometimes! (Laughs) I spark the engine. I’m the catalyst for the stylist and the photographer and the make-up artist. That was the whole idea for Ultramegalore.

So are they your muses?

Ha! Yeah, maybe it is so! Everybody in that exhibition has been a muse to me because they inspired me and helped me develop and grow and take it to another level.

Do you feel like you have a pretty good idea of who you are at this point in your career?

I thought I did and then I became a mom! Ohhh, that’s a whole other chapter! But I just hope that when I’m on my deathbed that I will be happy where I am. It’s a never-ending quest and I enjoy that. I’m going on this whole new chapter in my life. I started my own creative talent management business with Wayne Sterling. We have our contact list of all these creative people and we want to put them together and create content. I can only do that because I feel more confident. When I was discovered, I was really just dropped into the fashion world! Now, afterwards, looking back on it, I almost see it as if the universe planned that. This was only the introduction. Do I know myself? Yeah, I do. So, let’s add something new that we don’t know yet.