A native of Kampala, Uganda, Kiara Kabukuru fled the country with her family as a political refugee at the age of six. At age sixteen, Kabukuru was discovered at a local shopping mall in her adopted hometown, Los Angeles, California, by fashion photographer Bill Bodwell; she quickly captured the attention of the industry’s most esteemed photographers and designers, and garnered praise for her consummate professionalism, youthful joie de vivre, and soulful expression.
Kabukuru received her big break courtesy of a Coca-Cola campaign, which led to star turns in advertising promotions for DKNY, Tommy Hilfiger, and Clinique, the latter photographed by Mario Testino. The venerable photographer also captured her for a series of Gucci advertisements during the height of Tom Ford’s reign as the house’s creative director. Additional Kabukuru-led campaigns include Chanel, Calvin Klein, and Dolce & Gabbana, among others.
In 1997, Kabukuru appeared on a groundbreaking cover of Vogue – the ninth model of color to grace an issue in the magazine’s 127-year history. Shortly thereafter, she also appeared on the covers of Vogue Spain, and Germany, in addition to Elle UK, and i-D magazine photographed by Craig McDean. Kabukuru also sat for legendary lensmen Peter Lindbergh, Steven Klein, Ruven Afanador, and Paolo Roversi for various editorial features.
However, in 2000, her red-hot career was suddenly halted after a near-fatal cycling accident in New York City. Kabukuru was set to sign a deal with CoverGirl cosmetics when she was hit by an 18-wheeler and dragged along the city pavement. Kabukuru spent two months in a wheelchair with broken bones and sustained injuries, and required seven reconstructive surgeries over the course of nearly one decade.
In 2008, Kabukuru re-emerged stronger, and more beautiful than ever, and at the advice of her good friend and fellow model Gisele Bündchen, began modeling again. Steven Meisel photographed her for the seminal Black Issue of Vogue Italia, and Pierpaolo Ferrari, and Bruce Weber recently photographed her for CR Fashion Book. Select editorial features include W, and Porter magazine, the print offshoot of luxury e-tailer Net-a-Porter, among others.
Kabukuru had a homecoming of sorts when she appeared in a series of campaigns for CoverGirl, and walked in Tom Ford’s prêt-à-porter collection during the fall of 2013 season. Additional catwalk appearances include Christian Dior, Missoni, Givenchy, and Armani.
Off-duty, Kabukuru is actively involved with Momentum Bike Clubs, an organization dedicated to providing mentoring services to at-risk youth. The group also encourages health and wellness focused activities, and facilitates positive relationship building. As a testament to her commitment to the organization and its young participants, Kabukuru rode a bicycle for the first time since her accident in 2011, and has made several trips to Upstate New York to ride with the club’s youth members, and share her story of resilience and hope.
Additionally, the model citizen recently received a standing ovation from her fashion industry peers when she spoke at the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s (CFDA) pre-fashion week health and wellness summit for new models, alongside Donna Karan, and SELF magazine Editor-in-Chief, Joyce Chang.
In her spare time, Kabukuru is learning sign language. She currently resides in New York City.