Russell James has known Kendall Jenner since she was 17 — and says she’s been through a lot to prove herself as a model.
The photographer shot Jenner for the summer issue of L’Officiel, and opens up to the outlet about her journey to supermodel status.
“I’ve seen her put under intense pressure, I’ve seen her criticized like, ‘Oh, you’re a model because you’re a famous person,'” he says. “It’s actually the opposite. Her fame was one of the greatest things she’s had to overcome.”
“She got all of her castings as a completely anonymous person. She just went as ‘K’ or ‘Kenny’ with no makeup. She basically got picked to do shows by big designers who didn’t know they were hiring ‘Kendall Jenner,'” he explains.
James recalls being introduced to a young Jenner by her mother, Kris, who reached out to him for guidance after her daughter expressed interest in modeling seriously.
“I had never seen [“Keeping Up With the Kardashians”] so I had nothing to compare her to. She said, ‘I want to be a model,’ and I said, ‘Well, I want to be an astronaut, what credentials do you have to be a model?'” he remembers. “I didn’t mean it in a negative way, I just wanted to see what she thought. She said ‘Well, do you think I could model?’ and I said ‘Well, genetically, I think you absolutely could. You look absolutely fantastic, but there’s a lot more to it than that. You could do all the right things and still not be accepted as a model. It’s a very difficult industry; I advise you to be very careful about it. You are also in a very unique position where you already have a brand; whether you care to acknowledge it. It’s a lot harder to rebrand than it is to brand,'”
“So, what was my first impression of Kendall? She clearly had a true passion to be a model,” he continues. “She just said to me, ‘This is my dream.'”
The iconic photographer also defends Jenner’s classification as a supermodel, having watched her build her “it factor” into a career.
“To be a complete cliché, I do think the ‘it factor’ is everything. I also think it’s a gut call you have to make,” he shares. “For me, when I first met Kendall, that quality hit.”
“It can be their features, because they’re just the most absolutely beautiful person in that category of person, or sometimes they’re unlike any person you’ve ever seen before. In this industry, I often hear a girl say, ‘You could be the next Cindy Crawford.’ No, there’s already been a Cindy. The amazing thing about every supermodel is that there is no one to compare them to. I can’t tell you who’s the likes of Kendall,” he explains.
See more on Jenner in the video below.
More From ET: