Josie Borain is a fashion world anomaly, from her unlikely path into the fashion world and her striking androgynous looks to her decision to settle down in Cape Town, she is a model mother like no other.
JOSIE grew up in the leafy northern suburbs of Johannesburg and after a frustrating battle with matric she decided to head to the mother city to start a life for herself. “I was terrible at school,” she says, “I failed matric twice and then went to Cape Town to start a career in fashion buying.” She soon discovered that she needed a matric certificate to enter the industry and after a brief, forgettable internship, a friend encouraged her to give modelling a try and it wasn’t long till the Parisian and New York fashion worlds beckoned. Her unusual androgynous looks made Josie one of the most sought after models of her era and she ushered in a brand new direction in the fashion world.
“The modelling industry was very different back then,” Josie notes. “We used to work with designers on a day-to-day basis, we’d be clothes horses for them before they showed their work to the rest of the world. This work, she says, is something models today are far too precious to do, “it’s something they’d see as beneath them.”
Josie took this incredible opportunity to work with designers like Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren up close and personal and learnt much about the industry along the way.
With her good looks and great South African work ethic, it’s not surprising that Calvin Klein quickly contracted Josie after a rumour that Ralph Lauren was planning to do so. Their collaboration brought with it numerous campaigns that catapulted Josie into the fashion industry spotlight. The most famous of these is her run as the face of the brand’s Obsession fragrance. “I still have an old bottle of the perfume from those days,” Josie reminisces, “It’s past its expiry but I still love it.”
After a few years in the industry, a friend suggested she start documenting her life as a model and start photographing her day-to-day experiences. This hobby soon became a career and she is today an accomplished photographer, having published the very successful anthology, Josie, You & Me, in 2003.
Although she still loves to photograph she isn’t always able to do the photography she’d like to. “I’d still love to work,” she says, “but I’m not one of those photographers who enjoys shooting real life situations. I’d like to do more set up and conceptualised work and that requires money.” She is a big fan of legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz, who is known and celebrated for this type of photography. “I love her work as an art director” she says.
About 15 years ago, Josie Borain settled down gently in beautiful Hout Bay where she now lives with her husband, actor Langley Kirkwood, and their three children, Peter-Raven, Willow and Phoenix. Her life now as a stay-at-home mom is in vast contrast to her modelling days and it suits her just perfectly,
“As corny as it sounds, I’m most proud of my children,” she says, “I’m incredibly proud of who they are and the big futures they have ahead of them.”
Despite the change in lifestyle, Josie still has the same wholesome fashion taste that she had back in the 1980s. “The clothes from the ’80s were never really my style, I always found the shoulder pads a little too robotic for my liking,” she admits,
“I have always preferred to keep it pure and classic, I’m a jeans and T-shirt kind of girl and don’t think you need to make a big statement with what you wear, I like brands like Country Road, GAP and Banana Republic.” In case you’re wondering what she smells like, Josie currently wears Calvin Klein Beauty, a delightful floral fragrance with a light woody musk base. Some loyalties, it seems, die hard.
Josie has travelled extensively. “I absolutely loved Costa Rica with its beautiful beaches. I visited the country only 10 years after it opened its borders to the world,” she says “It was such an interesting environment to explore.” Back home it’s clear that she has settled down in her favourite part of the country, “I think Cape Town is pretty damn nice.” She also loves quieter retreats to the bush and towns like Dullstroom.
What’s lovely about Josie is that, despite having lived in and seen some of the most beautiful cities in the world, she will always remain proudly South African. “When I lived in the States and Paris it was interesting but lonely,” she recalls, “Whenever I came home I felt like I could exhale; there is something very calming and gentle about Africa and South Africa.”
With Valentine’s Day around the corner, she admits she could be a little better in the romance department, “I celebrate Valentine’s Day because my husband and I had our first date on the day. I’ll buy him a gift but I’m a bit of a cold fish really.” Her husband is the romantic in this relationship and it’s seems their complementary personalities play a part in keeping them together.
“Relationships are tricky,” she explains. “It’s hard enough living with yourself, let alone with someone else. You need to be honest with each other and hang in there.” Having children together also help. “If there are children involved you’re more likely to work at it,” she says. The best relationship advice Josie ever received was in the ’80s just before her whirlwind marriage to a man she’d been seeing for two weeks, “This old man looked at me and said ‘Never fight in public’,” she says with a giggle.
Having seen and experienced so much, just where does she find inspiration? Looking back, Josie remembers that as a child she was inspired by nautical explorer Jacques Cousteau and this is echoed in her remarkable zest for life and keen sense of adventure. “I have decided to do the Cape Argus Cycle Tour this year and have already started training,” she says, with some trepidation. “I have never ridden a bike in my life, so it’s been fun.”
Today she is inspired by icons who have shaped our world, like Nelson Mandela. Closer to home her brother, independent political analyst Nic Borain, and her relationship with her father, provide her with daily inspiration.
It seems as though Josie Borain has lived a pretty charmed life but it hasn’t been without regrets, “My regrets revolve around bad decisions I’ve made, especially when I was younger,” she says, “One of my biggest regrets is loaning a friend of mine $40000 (about R290000) and trusting that he’d return it.” The said friend took full advantage of the naïve 21-year-old Josie and never returned the money.
Despite her regrets, Borain recognises the value every mistake and triumph have had in her life. “If there was one thing I could do again it would be my life,” she says with a giggle, and I realise that she is no ordinary stay- at-home mom. She’s Josie Borain and she likes it that way.