Teen Vogue – First, for the record: There is nothing wrong with Kendall Jenner’s eyebrows. In their natural state they’re perfect, as dark and straight and well suited to her face as the thick head of almost-black hair that she (along with her four raven-haired sisters) inherited from her mother, Kris Jenner. But that hasn’t stopped a series of makeup artists—under the direction of various designers, stylists, and magazine editors—from repeatedly dyeing them so blonde they’re practically transparent. “I actually had them bleached today,” she says on the evening of her Teen Vogue interview, which takes place over cheeseburgers at Cafe Cluny in New York City. “This is the sixth time since February! I might have to start saying no at some point, because I’m getting worried they’re going to fall out!”
Such is the life of a working model. Ever since the 18-year-old made her fashion week debut in February, walking in Marc Jacobs’s fall 2014 show (with, yes, bleached brows) and starring in a first-of-its-kind Instagram portfolio for vogue.com, Kendall has become one of fashion’s most in-demand new talents. She’s also one of its most high-profile—although, of course, her fame predates her runway success: As a member of the Kardashian-Jenner clan, Kendall has been in the public eye for the better part of a decade.
Her celebrity has been a boon to her in general, but it’s unlikely to have helped much in her transition to the serious high-fashion gigs that, she says, have long been her dream. Fame is useful to a model when modeling is the thing she’s famous for—just ask Gisele Bündchen, whom Kendall says she’s idolized since childhood—but for an aspirant, like Kendall was until very recently, it isn’t necessarily an asset. (This somewhat explains why 20-plus cycles of America’s Next Top Model have yielded precisely zero top models.)
A lesser-known designer might be afraid, for example, that someone like Kendall could steal her show; even an established name might worry that sending her down the runway amid a parade of relatively anonymous faces would lead to her pulling focus. As Kendall explains, “People didn’t want to take a chance on me, I think because I was sort of known. They were a little bit on the fence about it. Some people might think that what I’ve done before made it easier for me to get jobs, but it was actually a disadvantage. I had to work even harder.”
But there was no discouraging this California girl. “As a kid,” she says, “I always looked up to supermodels, thinking about how amazing they are. I always wanted to be in photos.” Accordingly, she signed her first contract when she was 14. “It was mostly little things, but they were fun,” Kendall says. “I wanted to get started, but I was young, and I wanted to do young things.” In retrospect, she realized, “I had to grow into myself. I couldn’t really go out there as a 15-year-old. I mean, I know that some girls do, but I couldn’t. I’d grown up in the spotlight, and I needed to be a kid for a minute.”
To that end, Kendall focused most of her energy on more typical teen pursuits, like cheerleading, snowboarding, and horseback riding. (She had three horses, she reports. Jumper competitions “were my big thing for a while.”) It was only when she turned 17 that she decided to kick her career into high gear. “I was like, ‘All right, I’m going to start taking this seriously.'” She switched agencies and began plotting a strategy that involved being very selective about potential gigs. “I felt like I should pick specific designers that I wanted to go for so I could make a good first impression—or more like a fifth impression,” Kendall says, laughing. “But it’s my first impression on this world.”
To read the rest of Kendall’s cover interview, pick up our September issue on newsstands August 19. And to have Teen Vogue delivered every month, subscribe here!