Tasha Tilberg for Models.com

One of the defining faces of the 90s and into the oughts, Tasha Tilberg has been immortalized in ink on innumerable pages, her septum-pierced glower unmistakable on any number of newsstands. Ever since the Canadian model, 14 at discovery, walked her unexampled edge through fashion’s doors, she’s hooked photographers like Paolo RoversiCraig McDeanTom Munro and others to make some of the most frequented references. Tilberg now lives in idyllic British Columbia where she and her wife, Laura, are raising their two six-year-olds Bowie and Gray away from any fashion capital, demonstrating her icon repute. Always in demand and back in front of the lens, like her McDean-shot Acne campaign, Tasha is part of the 90s model reboot who are again setting standards for career peaks. Here she is wearing all Calvin Klein on the heels of Raf Simons’ departure from the brand. Read Models.com’s interview with her below.

Photographer : Joshua Jordan

Stylist : Sarah Gore Reeves
Hair : Keith Carpenter
Make up : Ayami Nishimura

Model: Tasha Tilberg
All clothing credits: Calvin Klein
Interview and text : Steven Yatsko

Are you currently in British Columbia?
I am in Sayulita, Mexico having a little sun time with my kids.

I want to hear more about your normal day to day life when you are in British Columbia. Do you have a routine?
Well, usually if it’s school time, the morning is getting the kids breakfast and their lunches packed up and chores before I walk them to school.

How old are Bowie and Gray?
They’re six years old. They’re going to be seven in March.

What kind of things are they into?
My daughter, Gray, she’s super into cooking. She has a really good palette and if you’re making something in the house like a sauce or anything that requires flavor we’ll ask her because she has a really good palette. She’ll be like, “It needs salt,” or, “It needs more lime,” or anything like that. She’s really good with salsas, tomato sauce or soups.

Who does she get that from?
Probably Laura, I like cooking, too, but I’m more of a peasant cooking kind of person. I’ll just make a rustic stew or something. I’m not a refined chef. Laura’s into technique, she’s into plating, she will give a nice presentation. I’m putting it in a bowl.

What kinds of things are Bowie into then?
Bowie is into … he’s extremely creative, he’s a brilliant artist, I think he draws really well for his age. He will draw anything. He’s very much into bugs.

Oh, bugs.
Yeah, he’s into bugs, he’s into lizards, he tries to catch any lizard we come across here. He has no fear of insects.

How did you wind up landlocked in British Columbia? I also read somewhere that you had a home before that not so far off that you put a lot of time into, but then you ended up going with the one you are currently in…
Yeah. I have a house in Los Angeles, as well, but the house where we currently are: I had been on a road trip with my mom. We lived in Ontario, I had a big farm and I was born on the west coast and I wanted to go back west. I had this longing to go back to the ocean. One year, me and my mom were on that road trip and we went across the country and somebody suggested we should check out this island called Savary and we were down in Victoria and so my mom and I decided to go up there. I totally fell in love with the town and I went kayaking one day and the instructor was like, “Hey there’s this amazing property you should check out.” So I went and I checked it out and I fell in love with it. It was this very rustic, off the grid place. It was right on the ocean, perched on a cliff over the ocean.

This previous house sounds amazing.
It was amazing. It was 18 acres, totally, like I said, off-grid in the middle of the woods, on the edge of the ocean and yeah, I spent 10, 12 years with that place. We gutted it, we fixed it up, built beautiful gardens and fixed up a little old cabin that was there on the beach.

Bowie and Gray weren’t yet in the picture…
They were not yet in the picture. I spent a lot of time traveling. I lived in Europe, I lived in New York, I was in Los Angeles during this time and my mom was the primary resident there.

“I could be in the garden all day and not talk to anybody…”

Jumping around is in your blood at this point.
Yes, it is. You know what’s funny, I actually get itchy feet. I get a two-year max. I grew up moving every two years and basically I get: “Hey, where can I go now? I should just move here. Let’s move to Paris. Why not?”

You’ve got two lives: you’ve got your traveling life for work and then you’ve got your home life. Is there any place that for you personally has the best of everything?
That’s a hard one. They’re both really great. I like both so much and I love being home. I love sinking in and having my daily routine of getting in my garden every day and I doing my stuff. You get really into that and sometimes it’s hard to peel yourself away and get on the road again and travel and work, but it’s also awesome to be able to experience both worlds.

I do want to know more about the farming and everything because on your property you guys are really going for it right? You’re growing stuff.
We are, that’s right. I have a market garden but because I’ve been working so much we’re not actually selling this year. In later years, I’m still developing it, I will be able to do it, but I have to really be there more.

What would you sell?
Just vegetables: cucumbers, kale, tomatoes, depending on the season lettuces, potatoes, beans, peas and heirloom carrots. The usual vegetables.

Is it challenging?
For sure. I think it’s a real learning process. I think you have to basically learn as you go. You read lots of books, you talk to your friends and neighbors who also garden. There’s always a different pest or something that comes up and you have to learn to do deal with it, especially when you grow organically.

Do you travel with Bowie and Gray at all? Do you bring them with you when you go to say, New York?
I have occasionally, not too often. When they were younger it was easier, but they’re in school now so that has its own challenges. I think when they get older they’ll really love it. The children are very interesting, they’re really present and they’re really in their own moment.

Probably helps growing up on your property, a little bit removed.
That too, yeah. I’m so proud of my kids. My daughter will come out and help me harvest carrots for instance or anything, kale, and it’s fun because I know she knows how to. We planted the seeds together, she helps me water or weed or helps with the harvest. It’s a nice ritual, it’s a nice grounding to have it, I think. For both of them, she’s actually a lot more helpful. My son is kind of like, “Nah, I’m okay.”

He’s out looking for bugs, which is important too.
He’s looking for bugs, he’s inventing some kind of tool to make a job easier, that’s his thing. He likes to invent stuff and that’s okay, we give him space to do that. My daughter’s like me, she likes to do hard, manual work.

What about Laura? What is she up to?
Right now she helps with different things. The year before she helped develop this community coffee shop in the new library in town and it’s a nonprofit coffee shop. She helped design it and develop the business. It’s to benefit the community resource center which benefits all sorts of groups within the town. She’s really into community-minded things and she volunteered this past summer at the local music festival. She’ll probably do that again this year as she’s really into music. She’s always been in the music industry so that’s a place she feels really comfortable.

Who has acclimated better?
It was a bit more my dream if you will or my project. It took her a while to acclimate, especially coming from Los Angeles. I could be in the garden all day and not talk to anybody but she needs to go to town and see people.

Since you’ve spent a lot of time in two different worlds like we said, how do failures and successes in the fashion industry stack up against ones that you would deal with in your home life or your personal endeavors?
I think for me it’s more like just growing up. Things that stress you out when you’re a teenager or a young adult kind of just get some perspective as you grow older and especially after having kids. I always wanted kids and I think after having kids it allowed me to just relax a little bit. Taking the pressure off just myself. Now I put the pressure on them. It’s like you want to be there for everybody, you want to do things for your family, you want to make your mother proud kind of thing. Now I’m just like, all right, well I’m a mom and that’s okay. I don’t feel stressed about certain things anymore, as much. I think that’s the thing, it’s not about yourself anymore, you take it anyway from yourself. It’s not just ego-driven, it’s more about somebody else. Watching your kid discover something is awesome, it’s really the best thing, it makes you really feel excited and proud and makes things worth it.

Yeah, I’m sure it adds a whole new perspective. Probably a richer one as well.
Absolutely.

You started modeling at a very early age, 14. That’s can be pretty normal for a lot of people, but now there’s the new discussion about putting limitations on age for when girls can start in the modeling industry in order to create a safer working environment or curb potential issues that would come up. In your own case, I wanted to know what you think you would have gained from that and vice versa––what you would have lost if you had started your career later?
It’s a really good question. I mean, I was kind of, let’s say I was on a bad track in school, I was not a good student, I probably had some learning disabilities or challenges. I was not interested in school, I was having a hard time and I think my mom also saw that I was getting into drinking and smoking and stuff. I think my mom saw this as an opportunity to maybe get out in the world and have some other kind of normalcy. High school sometimes can be really challenging socially. I think for me it was a really positive thing in some respects because I was able to be more of an adult and treated like an adult in some ways, as an individual out of my social peer group.

You felt empowered by that…
I felt empowered in a way, yeah for sure. That was great in a way of empowerment in some ways. On the other hand, I felt like I lost some kind of social normalcy. Education wise, I always had the regret of not finishing school, for instance. All the bad things that I was drawn to were intensified. I moved to New York at 15 by myself and I was making money and although there was a chaperone, chaperones don’t watch you 24 hours a day, they’re not there to follow you around. So all the things I was drawn to were intensified when I was on my own. I was alone to deal with it, it was just me. It was good in a way because I didn’t have all these other kids and the social stuff to navigate, but then there you are, you’re the same person, you’re bringing your same problems with you into the big city with bigger issues, bigger problems.

You’re still going to deal with them but it’s going to be in a different way now.
Yeah, you bring you with you.

Your mom was supportive of you going out and doing this?
Yeah, I mean she wanted to let me do what I wanted to some extent. She was a little bit, maybe, not nervous, but she didn’t know much about it. It’s not a world that she was interested in or knew about at all. I didn’t grow up with fashion magazines around my house. Never, never. There would be literature magazines, not fashion.

You basically were guided by this outward force.
I started testing in Toronto. My sister suggested I try modeling for a summer job and it continued and I started getting more and more jobs. My agent was like, “Come to New York.” It was really great at first, for sure.

1996, 1997 seems like when there was a bunch of work that really set off your career, your W magazine cover, Italian Vogue and your Cover Girl contract. What was life like then for you during all that?
I was super busy and a lot of those jobs were fantastic, I met so many amazing, creative people and a lot of it was super memorable. I had these great creative moments with people. We had a lot of long, long hours back then, in our creative shoots especially. It felt really interesting and cool and you’re really making something interesting. I didn’t do very much commercial work back then, I was really into doing creative editorial stuff and I felt too shy to…I don’t know, I was just too young to understand to have a balance also with commercial work and creative work.

“I had to feel real. I couldn’t fake a smile if I didn’t feel it. I couldn’t be in that mood.”

Whatever felt cool and right…
Yeah, I had to feel real. I couldn’t fake a smile if I didn’t feel it. I couldn’t be in that mood. I was a bit on the depressed side as a teenager, too, and I was kind of moody. I had to be authentically moody.

Now you’ve been on many, many shoots and also since 1996 so much has changed technology-wise and other things. What has changed over that time?
A lot of it is similar or the same I think. I think the iPhone and digital, in general, has changed. There used to just be Polaroids and film and the age of the digital camera changed from people looking at you or doing other things to looking at the screen and even you looking at the screen to see if the shot is good. That exchange has changed, not necessarily for the worse, sometimes it makes it a lot quicker. I think days are considerably shorter for creative stuff. That’s a positive change I think.

Do you think that time is often overly romanticized or do you think it, in fact, really was great?
I think it was pretty great on some levels. I think each individual has their own memory or perspective of that time. I think there was great creativity, but I think there’s still great creativity. I think there’s an edge of commercialism and there’s a difference in the way people are buying stuff as well.

Yeah, everyone is just trying to adapt.
Nobody knows what they’re doing.

Do you have any favorite images of yourself?
I think some of the early stuff I did with Paolo Roversi. I really enjoyed it, I really liked the character building and his process of large format film was amazing. Working with gold leaf on film and stuff or on Polaroid and just the makeup and hair felt very creative and beautiful. People are still doing really amazing stuff and I think right now is an interesting time and there’s a lot of amazing young photographers who are again interested in film and really building characters or bursting out of any kind of format.

Yeah, I think the social media and the internet has in a lot of ways saturated the creative field so people now are reacting to it with experimenting with how they can be different.
That’s right. But now you have too much, how do you …

…How do you define yourself differently when there’s everything?
Everything. It’s the same as the music industry right? How do you create a new sound when everything’s been done, right? It’s a challenge, it’s a challenge.

At what point in your career did modeling feel like a permanent part of yourself? Did you accept that you would want to be doing it for such a long time at some point?
I have not yet accepted it. I think I always thought that I was going to be stopping and doing something else and I always had goals of having a farm or having a family and stuff and I never, ever thought time would go so fast or that I would be continuing it after what, 25 years? I didn’t really think of it. I always thought of it like, “Oh, I’ll do this for two years or five years,” or … you know. I was really into music, so I really thought I would just change and go into music primarily. Here I am and it’s kind of funny because now I’m actually enjoying it more and feeling much more positive about the whole industry and working again.

That’s great.
It’s interesting, I don’t know why that happens but…

Does it have anything to do with your home life and being more rooted?
I think certainly having a really strong base and having my family in a nice safe, secure environment where they’re able to learn and grow has helped and it certainly. When I went back to work recently, the kids were in kindergarten and I finally felt, since they were born, free to work again. I felt like I didn’t need to just be home every day with them, even though they’ve been complaining that I’m gone so much, but I felt like I could since they were at school all day.

Before you said, when you were a moody teenager, the act of authenticity or just feeling something was interesting was what attracted you to projects, but what about now? When you are choosing to do or not to do a project, do you have any criteria that are motivating you?
I think I have some criteria regarding each project. I’m not moody anymore, I mean I can be moody, but I don’t have any problem smiling which I did have before for instance. I’m a much lighter person than I was when I was a teenager for instance. I have no problem accepting that I’m doing a job that I’m getting paid for or not. Editorial you don’t get paid for, but if it’s a commercial job I’m content to know that I’m helping support my family. Whereas when I was a teen … yeah. I supported my family also back then but in a different way. Now I have my children to support so for me it’s somehow different and I’m more accepting of it and it feels okay and I feel happy about it. I feel glad and grateful to have jobs still.

I think it’s natural in creative fields for you to go on to a project and want to challenge people. That’s not necessarily a negative thing, I think that can lead to some really interesting stuff but yeah, picking and choosing the times to do that.
Yeah, you make other people happy and that’s a great thing. You know what it is, you know the parameters of the job.

I’m going to end on one question that goes back to our beginning a little bit. I’m just curious what rituals that you have now that make you the happiest?
I think something that’s made me a more balanced person has been just exercising more. I find if I go through times where I don’t get to have a really good exercise regime, it just doesn’t work for me. I need to have physical work whether it’s on my farm, whether it’s at the gym or something. My body needs it because I didn’t have any of that when I was a teen and I think that would have impacted me differently as well.

Why weren’t you exercising?
When I was a young girl, I thought it was self-indulgent to go to a spa or go to a gym or something and I didn’t feel like I deserved it. I would never go to a gym, I felt like, well, I would rather give my money to somebody, somebody else than take that money and spend it on myself. It just weird and I didn’t feel good about it. Now I have no issues and I will do what I feel I need. If I have to spend money at a gym I feel like I know the importance of looking after yourself, your health as well. Neglecting yourself and your own well being is not going to help anybody. I think that’s been impactful for me, looking after myself in a positive way has been probably more impactful than anything else I’ve done.

You said every two years you get itchy feet, what’s the clock at now?
We’re at two years so let’s see, I’ve been talking about moving to France or Spain or Australia.

Would it be long term or just for a little bit?
I would be super into going short term, like a year, anywhere. I would love to give my kids experiences in another place. I would like to give them a global experience and experience other countries, other languages. My kids are in a French immersion school and I would like them to be fluent in multiple languages if possible. Our home base is pretty wonderful, but we’ll see. I’m open to changing it up because I feel like it’s pretty rewarding especially at an impressionable age.

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