Karolina Kurkova is intimidatingly beautiful: her hair the perfect buttery blonde, her features so symmetrical it’s like her face was designed in a computer program. You’d be forgiven for assuming she resides in another world altogether—on a totally different and more glamorous plane from the rest of us. So, it’s all the more disarming when our phone call startrs and Kurkova is talking to me like we’ve known each other for years. Let me get this straight—she’s impossibly beautiful, and she could make friends with a potted plant? No fair.
With one look at her face, anyone could understand how Kurkova rocketed to supermodel stardom at the turn of the millennium. But it’s this easy familiarity of hers that explains the effortlessness with which she’s moved beyond modeling: from her kitchen prowess to her role as co-founder of the health-oriented family brand Gryph & Ivy Rose, Kurkova has established herself in recent years as a burgeoning voice in the world of holistic wellness. It turns out that her facility with inside-out nourishment goes all the way back to her childhood, when she spent her weekends playing and gardening on her grandparents’ farm in the Czech Republic. Now, living in Miami with her husband and two sons, Kurkova has learned how to take the lessons of healthy rural living back to the city, and (lucky us) she’s eager to share them, and then some. Read on to discover the origin story of Gryph & IvyRose, the face mask she can’t live without, and her secret-weapon dance move.
BYRDIE: So, to start off, I’d love to hear a little bit about how your holistic health journey began.
Karolina Kurkova: The whole introduction to wellness and farm-to-table living really comes from my upbringing. I grew up in the Czech Republic. I grew up in the city, but my grandparents lived in the countryside and had a house and had a lot of land. So, as a child, my brother and I would go there on the weekends, and we would swim in lakes and climb the trees and help around the garden and harvest seeds. My grandmother made everything from scratch; it was very old school—like, she made her own bread and butter, everything was homemade and handmade, and in the summer, we would harvest to get ready for the winter, and we would make homemade bagels and homemade jam. And when we were feeling sick, like if we had a sore throat or something, my grandmother would always go to the garden and take a plant or flower or herbs or something and she would make a tea out of it—or some sort of, like, cough syrup with an onion and honey that she would let sit for 24 hours.
And then, coming into the fashion business, I learned very early on that to sustain energy and stamina really comes a lot from how you take care of yourself, what you put inside your body. It’s very simple: what you put in is what you’re gonna get out. It’s like the car—I always say, you know, you put bad gas and oil into the car, the car’s not going to perform well. The body is the same way. That doesn’t mean that we cannot splurge and enjoy, but we have to be mindful that what we put in is going to really affect us.
You put bad gas and oil into the car, the car’s not going to perform well. The body is the same way.
It sounds like you were looking at wellness holistically long before it was trendy.
KK: Yeah. Not even trendy—it was also before it was more available, unless you did it at home or you were in the East Village or maybe California. I was a vegan for like 8 years, and I was a raw foodist, and it was really hard when I would travel, like going to Paris, which is all about croissants and baguettes and butter. Now I definitely feel like I have a more balanced diet. I definitely love my fats, I’m not a big grain eater, I love my vegetables, I love good protein.
Living in a city like Miami and having a really busy schedule, how do you maintain that focus on whole foods and keeping things natural?
KK: I think you have to know what’s important to you. And I have this great, healthy connection to food that I enjoy, but sometimes I have to be realistic. Like, sometimes I’m busy, or I’ve been traveling, or I’m tired, and I really don’t wat to spend three hours prepping for a meal. But sometimes I do have that desire or energy, where I want to have all my friends come over—like, tonight we’re actually having friends coming over and everybody in the family will get involved and we’ll make different dishes and it’s going to be yummy and tasty. But, also, I think we’re in a time where even if you’re not a good cook, or you live in a big city, but you wanna have that experience sometimes, then you can have meal boxes delivered that tell you exactly how to do it, which I think is so awesome. I think it’s a good time for people who want to be healthy, because we’re in a time where things are more accessible more than ever.
Outside of food, what are some other ways you like to engage in self-care?
KK: I’ve always been into sports and working out. I mean, I was a professional gymnast until I was 13, and then I played basketball, and then I got into modeling, so it’s always been very much a part of my whole life. Having a father who was a professional basketball player, I feel like sports were very much a part of my household, and that’s something I really love. I love having a great workout or a dance lesson, Pilates, whatever sort of physical exercise that just kind of gets me out of my head or out of the phone or out of work or just out of the house. It’s a time for you, where you just have to focus on what you’re doing and listen to your music. What also gives me a lot of energy is spending time with my kids, but when we’re being goofy and silly—you know, having moments where we’re just letting go and having fun and laughing and dancing. We do a lot of—I call it the freakazoid dance, where we all just have crazy, freakazoid dance moves to any freaky crazy song that we all pick, and we all have to get into it. It’s something that the kids absolutely love.
Like a big crazy dance party. Just let it out!
KK: Exactly. Actually, that’s a good idea for tonight, we’ll all have a freakazoid dance party after dinner! And our friends will have to get involved. They’re gonna love it. You know, we come into the world as babies and kids, and we’re silly, and we’re free, and then we become adults and we get like, “Oh, I don’t wanna do that, I’m too shy, too scared,” and it’s good to have moments where you just don’t think about all those things and you’re just letting loose.
I’d love to talk about Gryph & IvyRose. I’d love to hear you talk about the brand a little bit and what went into it.
KK: Orion Nevel, one of our partners, is an herbalist and has had his herbal shop in Miami for 25 years, and his father Dan is a Chinese acupuncturist and Chinese medicine doctor. They work next to each other, so you go see the father, and he does cupping and acupuncture, and they also have a functional doctor, they have a body alignment person, and then depending on the diagnosis, you’ll go next door to the herb shop and Orion literally on the spot makes the herbal formulation for you to take care of whatever’s going on. So, I would go there with basically take my whole family for acupuncture, cupping, and body alignment. And then our third partner, Rachel, gave birth to identical twins prematurely at 28 weeks. And she’s from the Midwest—she’s not someone who’s tried all of these alternative holistic things, but then she met Orion and Dan. She went for a little acupressure for the girls, and Orion gave them a little herbal formulation, and within weeks she saw huge improvements in their sleep and digestion. So, she felt, “Oh my god, this is amazing! Why don’t we create products that are modern and approachable for all modern parents out there and their children?" So that’s really where Gryph & IvyRose started.
We got together and we created this kind of wholesome wellness regimen for children that is actually used by a lot of adults, and that’s how we started to segue into even adult products. Like our chocolate heart probiotics—we started making them for children, but it was so popular with the adults that we said, okay, we’re going to make it for adults. Now it's actually one of our best sellers. We want to create these little rituals for children, for parents, and for the family as a whole. Like, “Okay, let’s have our chocolate hearts!”
I can see how that makes it easier to talk about healthy habits as a family.
Yeah. We really wanted to focus on really the wholesome well-being of the kids, inside out, so that’s why we have the bath and body, the probiotics, the herbal supplements. And then we are also getting more into creating products for adults, too, that they can all kind of share or that work both ways. We do have a new product called Seal The Deal, which is a simple, handmade, very rich balm. We use licorice, turmeric, chamomile, and we let them steep in sesame oil for 30 days, then we cold press it, then we take the extract and whip it into organic beeswax. A lot of our customers asked us to create a product that can alleviate skin conditions like dryness and eczema, both for their kids and for themselves, and this is very moisturizing, very healing. So, with Gryph, we focus on what is really needed.
What’s your skincare and beauty routine like?
KK: Let me go to my bathroom and have a look! For me, skincare is very important, because with makeup, you can cover a lot, but I want to make sure that my foundation is already beautiful, so I think really having your routine down and understanding your skin is very important. I’m very into exfoliation and cleansing, and then I try to regularly do a steam or do some sort of mask. I love the May Lindstrom Skin Honey Mud mask for purification and cleansing. It’s kind of like a detox, but at the same time it’s very moisturizing, which is good because most purifying, detoxing masks can leave you drier. I love Skinceuticals Phloretin CF and C E Ferulic. Those are like vitamins, so I like using them to clear my skin, then I put my moisturizer. I’ve been also really loving and enjoying this Korean brand called Sulwhasoo. They use this ginseng concentration which is really good for anti-aging and lines but also very moisturizing.
What do you like about Sulwhasoo?
KK: What is really beautiful about this brand and about most Asian brands is it’s like a ritual for the skin. There are steps, right? They have their cleansing water, then there’s the serum, there’s the cream…there’s this sense of these steps and rituals for skin, which is really beautiful. Then, around the eyes, I love the Eye Doctor cream from Cosmedix because it almost acts like a highlighter. It’s a kind of translucent color, so it gives you a highlight even if you don’t wear concealer, and if you put a concealer over it, it’s so beautiful because it really gives you a nice dewy kind of look and freshness around the eye. Then I like using Augustinus Bader cream, and then for sunscreen, I like the Barbara Sturm Sun Drops. Sheet masks are another thing that I absolutely love when I’m traveling.
Oh, I love sheet masks!
KK: Actually, Sulwhasoo has a mask that I love—it’s a ginseng mask and it’s absolutely beautiful and amazing. I really like the Black Diamond mask from 111Skin—it’s from London. There are so many more on the market I want to try that I haven’t tried!
It sounds like skincare is something that you indulge in to feel like you’re treating yourself well.
KK: Absolutely. Whether it’s skincare or body, like going to get a nice massage or body alignment—for me, I take that over going on a shopping spree. It’s like I’m taking care of my temple, and I’m giving myself that rest or that power to keep going and to be my best. We live in a very fast-paced world, right? On top of that—if you have kids and a husband, you’re already taking care of others, so it’s nice to have that minute to take care of you. I try to make sure I do something each day for me that makes me feel good, because then it translates to everything else you do.