Saturday 26th December

| BY 10 Magazine

Hannelore Knuts: Right Place, Right Time

Hannelore Knuts is laughing down the phone. The model, aka Ultramegalore, who is known (according to her New York Magazine profile) for her androgynous look and her breasts, and whose face has graced many a magazine cover, is telling me how she is thinking she needs to go back to a more 1980s image. Shoulder pads. Apparently, her seven-month son, Angelo, has just decided that her collarbone is his newest chew toy. As she puts it, “He’s got two little teeth, so that’s quite interesting in your collarbone.”

NATALIE DEMBINSKA: “So, I wanted to ask you, where does the nickname Ultramegalore come from?”

HANNELORE KNUTS: “Oh, that’s a long time ago.”

ND: “I know.”

HK: “When the internet emerged and people needed an email all of a sudden, I was with a friend and he was like, ‘You need email, blah, blah, blah’, and we had to come up with a name and I didn’t want to use my own name and we were laughing that a lot of people always mispronounce my name and one of the best ones I thought was Analogue.”

ND: “Analogue is quite good.”

HK: “Yeah, it’s good, but then… I don’t know why we didn’t choose that… but then he said, ‘Megalore, that’s a good name!’ And we tried and that already existed. So I was like, ‘Wow, okay, so I guess I’m Ultramegalore then!’ And that’s where it started and that’s how it stayed, because you know, we totally saw the sense of humour in it and it kind of works. We used it for my exhibition, but also as a model they turn you into so many different things and sometimes you feel like superwoman, although sometimes I also feel like a little girl, but you know, they go hand in hand.”

ND: “It kind of makes you sound a bit like… it’s like a superhero name.”

HK: “Exactly. Not that I feel superhuman, but you know.”

ND: “So how many years have you been modelling now? It must be almost 20.”

HK: “Wait, let me think… I remember turning 21 on a plane to Japan for the Yohji Yamamoto shoot and I think that was my first or my second season so… and I’ll be 38 in November…. so that’s – what? – 16?”

ND: “It’s your sweet sixteenth.”

HK: “Yeah. We need to celebrate.”

ND: “Well, that was my next question – do you have any plans to celebrate your sweet sixteenth?”

HK: “I don’t know. I feel like I’m in transition. I think I’ll always be a model for as long as they ask me and I’m fortunate enough that they still ask me once in a while, but I also feel that I’m moving towards a new chapter, and actually my exhibition a few years ago – I think it was five years – we kind of celebrated it then and that was the big homage to fashion and what they did to me. And now we’re just slowly starting a new chapter, I guess.”

ND: “Was that weird, curating an exhibition devoted entirely to your image?”

HK: “Well, when they asked me, I thought it was weird because I really wanted to do a retrospective about my career, but I was like, ‘I still think I’m young and I’m still working a lot, so I’m not going to do my own retrospective.’ So I asked if I could mix it up with all the things that inspire me and make me what I am and why I was considered interesting for an exhibition, and so it became more of a homage to the people who inspired me or made me look most interesting as my career has grown. And I saw it also as a display of so many different looks. So one room was huge wall of all the pictures of me as a model and the only thing that was the same was my face and everything else was different. So it wasn’t just about me, and luckily the people who saw the exhibition, they got it. They realised that it wasn’t. It was interesting for them to see how much you can do with lipstick and light and clothes.”

ND: “And hair dye.”

HK: “Haha, so yeah, it didn’t feel narcissistic. And it was really fun to have all these amazing contemporary artists that I like and that kept me company, in a way, throughout my travels, because I was always going to museums in every city where I was and it was really beautiful what I saw, and when I wrote to them, they all participated. The most fun part was actually installing the exhibition – whenever all these amazing art pieces came in, I just touched them with one finger.”

ND: “Because they’re not behind a rope, so you can.”

HK: “I actually wasn’t allowed to do that.”

ND: “But nobody would know.”

HK: “Well, there was a security guard and I remember saying, ‘And this is what I’ve always wanted to do’, and I touched a piece of art. And the security guard was like, ‘You’re actually not allowed to do that, even if it’s your piece of art’, but I did it!”

ND: “That’s so rebellious.”

HK: “Exactly. Sorry to all the artists, it’s not out of disrespect. It’s more out of being a… how do you say?”

ND: “Having a need to, because you love it so much you just want to see if it’s real.”

HK: “Exactly.”

ND: “So is that something you want to do more of? Curate things?”

HK: “Yeah! I really, really enjoyed it. So that was really fun, filling a room and mixing art with fashion and I had muses, but I also… because before I was modelling, I was a photography student, so I think, for me, what it’s more about is image making, and an image can be a room or a picture or it can be… ”

ND: “Anything you want it to be.”

HK: “It’s more image making that I would really like to be focusing on, and I hope that’s what I will have the opportunity to do in the most diverse way as possible.”

ND: “You were quite an early adopter of the whole digital thing. I think you were one of the first models who had your own photo diary on the internet. Now, everybody has Instagram and puts up their own pictures, but you were one of the first.”

HK: “Yeah. Did you see”

ND: “Wasn’t it… something?

HK: “That’s the one! I think it was 10 years ago.”

ND: “You were one of the first ones.”

HK: “That’s because, before modelling, I was studying photography and then, all of a sudden, I was flying around the world and I didn’t really make time to shoot any more and I realised that… You know, one of the first things in school that they taught me was, ‘You can look, but we’re gonna teach you how to see.’ Because sometimes you look at something, but you don’t see it, and I thought that was such a wise, one-sentence thing and I realised, when I was on the planes, that I’m not looking any more. Or I’m looking but not seeing. And I wasn’t inspired any more to shoot, because no one was seeing it and I couldn’t curate it or show it to make it official, like, ‘Oh, I’m a photographer’, so I started that little blog just to train my eye again and to give myself my own platform, and I saw it as my digital diary. I really enjoyed doing that, and now, with Instagram, I realised that I was doing that a long time ago already.”

ND: “You were the spearhead.”

HK: “Okay, yeah, I don’t mind you saying that. I’m not going to say it myself. I’m happy it’s still alive, because I haven’t gone back to it and sometimes I wonder whether the internet erases things. But apparently it’s still there.”

ND: “I think it’s still there, it exists somewhere… ”

HK: “With mine I actually had a friend of mine installing it. I just knew how to upload a little picture and write a little comment and that’s all. And now I’m working on my website and it’s taking me so long to do the technical side. I mean, I used to be good at it, but now, with Angelo, my brain is like cheese. I only know how to change a diaper and talk.”

ND: “Do you still take many pictures?”

HK: “Whenever I can. I mean, now and again. I feel like, when I’m saying this, I just hope I don’t become one of those boring moms, but most of the time is focused on Angelo and the pictures I take are about Angelo, so that’s also why I’m not posting that many on Instagram any more, because I feel like I should not bother people with another picture of my… the cutest boy alive. The picture taking is a whole different thing now.”

ND: “I was going to ask you, what’s your favourite thing about modelling?”

HK: “Image making. It’s being part of a picture, taking a picture. Of course also getting into character and all of that, but it’s the end result that drives me.”

ND: “Do you enjoy playing the different characters? Taking on a different role and being someone else for a day?”

HK: “Yeah, I like that, those shoots are always easier for me, when you’re really different from yourself. But then, if it’s a more natural look or it’s more about me, or whatever, then I’m much more focused on my pose and my pose gives a different dimension to the composition of the picture. You know, I’ll look at the Polaroid and say, “Oh, okay, so if I raise my right arm it’s nicer for the clothes or nicer with the lamp that’s on set.’ So then it’s more like a mathematical approach, but when I’m a character, then I really like to go into that character.”

ND: “Do you have any favourite modelling memories?”

HK: “Ohhhh… my favourite modelling memories… I know I had really good ones with Juergen Teller, I also know that Inez and Vinoodh gave me really nice memories just because… ”

ND: “They gave you your first Yohji campaign, didn’t they?”

HK: “Yeah. I didn’t even have a portfolio yet. I did a few tests in Belgium just so that I had at least two pictures to take with me when I did castings in my first season, but I didn’t really do a shoot and then they took me for the Yohji campaign and that became my portfolio. And actually that was a nice memory, because they spoke Dutch and I felt a little lost in this whole world that I was just dropped into, I really was like… ”

ND: “Young.”

HK: “I mean, I wasn’t planning on being a model and, all of a sudden, I just was a model and they were really sweet and they helped me, and then hair and make-up was Eugene Souleiman, and I can still see it and feel how it was. I can see exactly where we were. So that’s a nice memory.”

ND: “And how did you get scouted?”

HK: “Well, I was studying photography in Antwerp and that’s the same school where they have the famous fashion department. And so the students from the fashion department asked me to be in their fashion show. Then, half a year later, one of the students graduated and was working for Veronique Branquinho, who had her first show in Paris, and so I found a Post-it in my mailbox, saying, ‘Hey, I’m working for Veronique Branquinho and she has her show in Paris the day after tomorrow and we need models. Do you want to come by bus to Paris? We’ll give you… ’ I don’t know what it was – like, 50 euros, let’s say.”

ND: “We’ll give you a roof over your head and a free weekend in Paris.”

HK: “So I said, ‘Hell, yeah, let’s do it!’ So there I was in Paris, doing the show and that’s where they would scout, but I wasn’t interested, so I just said thank you very much and went home. Then two weeks later, the Belgian national TV channel called me and they wanted to make a documentary about models and there was a journalist who saw me talking to the scout and that’s how they knew that I had a foot in the door at a Paris agency and that’s why they wanted to make the documentary about me. And I was like, ‘No way. First of all I don’t want to be a model, second of all I don’t want a camera crew following me.’ They wanted to come to my school, to my home, you know, like the whole, ‘Ooh, this normal girl has a chance to become a model in Paris.’”

ND: “And this was before reality TV, before the Kardashians. Now you’d probably say yes.”

HK: “Dammit, yes. I could have made so much money. But yeah, it was pre-reality shows and so the lucrative contract wasn’t there anyway ’cause nobody knew about it then. So I said no and then, two weeks later, they called me again and said, ‘We have other girls in the documentary, but we still need you for the international link in Paris. Would you, please?’ And I said okay. So they were going to arrange the whole trip to Paris – it was meant to be just half a day and they’d film it and then I’d just go back to school and that would be it. Anyway, the agency sees that I’m not interested, and they said, ‘Go to an agency in Belgium and see where that leads you.’ And then on the way home, the film crew asked, ‘Can we film you going to a Belgian agency?’ So, two days later – I’m such a nice girl I didn’t dare say no – I’m in Belgium at an agency and I’m registered, all good, go home. Then a few weeks later, Milan shows start and my agency calls and says, ‘Oh, since you’re registered, we really believe in you and, if you want, you can go to Milan and we really think that you’ll have success.’ And I was doubting the photography – I really loved photography, but I wanted to learn on my own and I wanted to start art history, so I was at the end of my year, thinking, ‘Oh, maybe next year I’m gonna study something else – why not now go to Milan and see what happens?’ So, there I am, and Jil Sander wants me on exclusive and word goes around and then, all of a sudden, I’m doing seven shows a day without doing any castings and I’m on this rollercoaster ride that lasted 10 years.”

ND: “It’s still going.”

HK: “And that’s why I’m a model. It just happened. If I had to do, like, a serious casting thing, then I would have gone home, but it just – I mean, it was work from the beginning.”

ND: “But it all sort of just fell into place?”

HK: “Yeah. I guess that’s just the way it is. But I think that, with most – a few models that do really well, it’s mostly by accident, and I think that makes sense, because you know there are so many girls and, all of a sudden, the industry sees you and boom. By accident you just become the face of the moment.”

ND: “It’s just about being in the right place at the right time?”

HK: “Exactly.”

Text by Natalie Dembinska, taken from Issue 55 of 10 Magazine

Hannelore Knuts is our Fashion Editor-At-Large

Photographer: Maria Ziegelbock
Fashion Editor: Hannelore Knuts
Sittings Editor: Will Johns