On the morning of Thursday November 19th, 20-year-old Korean supermodel Daul Kim reached out to an old friend via instant messenger. She was depressed, she wrote, according to a transcript of the chat seen by The Daily Beast. She and her boyfriend had just had another brutal physical fight. She’d punched him in the face; he’d yanked her hair. But she was afraid to leave him, afraid to suffer the agony of being apart. The last time they separated, she hadn’t been able to eat, dropping from 112 to 99 lbs. Her friend begged her to leave town, book a job, call her mother. No, she said. She’d miss her dog. She ended the conversation abruptly, saying she was going off to clean the house.
"Mad depressed and overworked, the more I gain, the more lonely it is," Kim wrote on her private blog on October 30. "I know I’m like a ghost."
A few hours later, Kim was found by her boyfriend, hanged in her luxurious apartment in Paris’ 10th arrondissement. She’d said she felt trapped and mentioned thoughts of suicide in the IM conversation with her friend, a transcript of which was shown to the Beast. The French authorities say they believe the death is a suicide but are still investigating. The 5’10 stunner had just shot a Chanel handbag campaign, and Karl Lagerfeld was calling her his new muse. Alessandra Bertoldini, her agent at Next Models in Paris, said Kim’s mother was flying to Paris to see her daughter that Friday. Next’s Web site posted a headshot of Kim with the eulogy: “Rest in Peace/Smile down on us/We will never forget you.”
Kim's death shocked the fashion world and the nation of South Korea last week. She had just broken through to the uppermost echelon of top models, had just dyed her hair platinum, and was finally booking the biggest jobs. News spread swiftly last Friday, inspiring tearful tributes in most major newspapers and some soul-searching in the fashion business. Kim's family closed her blog to anyone but registered users this week and voiced concerns, echoed around the blogosphere, that her death may not have been suicide. Suspicions center around reports of Kim's allegedly abusive relationship with her boyfriend and concerns over the swiftness with which French authorities declared the death a suicide.
There were signs of trouble in the young model’s life for some time. Despite a meteoric rise, posing for red-hot designers like Dries Van Noten, Alexander McQueen and Maison Martin Margiela, Kim used her widely followed blog, iliketoforkmyself.com, to express desperate and dark emotions. The macabre title of her blog—one of the first photo posts is Kim with a fork in her head—had nothing to do with self-harm the model claimed. “I’m definitely not depressed,” she wrote. “And I don’t want to kill myself. I don’t want to die.”
Kim complained constantly of insomnia, exhaustion, missing her mother and the overwhelming pressures of being an in-demand model. Her often-rambling, stream-of-consciousness blogging is a roller coaster of mood swings. One of the first entries on iliketoforkmyself.com announced: “My life as Daul was so sad and lonely. Join me in my solitude in another world.” But later she added: “KIDDING. I’m fine. Just tired.” The mood of her entries stayed dark.
August 22: “I need to learn how to stop destroying myself and be nice to myself.”
September 25: “I wore high high heels and short short skirts to hide my depression.”
October 26: “So many times I almost jumped but didn’t.”
October 30: “Mad depressed and overworked, the more I gain, the more lonely it is. I know I’m like a ghost.”
November 15: “Oh but how lonely it is. Then and now.”
And finally, on November 18, Kim’s last post: “Say hi to forever.” She then posted a video for the song “I Go Deep” by British musician Jim Rivers.
Mixed in with the pain and anguish of a lost 20-year-old girl coping with the extreme pressures of being a big-bucks beauty-for-hire, were also cute comments about her love for gerbils, Tolstoy and her desire to make movies and paint. In public, right up until she took her own life, Kim played the part of the hard-working, party-loving mannequin perfectly. In mid-October, during Korean Fashion Week in her hometown of Seoul (which she rarely returned to), Kim DJ-ed a party for the British Fashion magazine Dazed and Confused at the hip store Daily Projects. Fashion writer Yale Breslin spent time with Kim in Seoul, where some regard her as the Korean Kate Moss. “Her sincere and nonchalant attitude struck a chord with me,” he says. “She felt at home, smiling and posing for pictures in a quirky way. She definitely didn’t take herself too seriously. The entire week I saw her, she was surrounded by friends. The model persona came down.”
At 15, Kim left school in Seoul. She was discovered at 17 by Vogue Korea and began modeling in Asia. She signed with Next Models agency in Paris where she became an it-girl almost overnight.
Photographer JD Ferguson first met Kim backstage at the Chanel show in Paris in 2007, the year that she made her big splash in the fashion world. “Daul was a quirky, intelligent girl with a great sense of humor and a real zest for life,” Ferguson says. “She was intelligent and passionate about what she believed in. She was a real thinker. I remember after meeting her in Paris, we shared a fun night out on the town back in [New York]. We danced all night and talked about cute boys, her homeland, fashion and music and of all things, whether the two of us should start our own blogs. The next month, we both did.”
“Daul was the face of Korea on a worldwide scale, and when someone represents Korea on that level, there is pressure,” says Joy Yoon, Kim’s friend and a fellow Korean. “Though Daul had an extremely bright future ahead of her, I don’t think she could cut loose from her background and the pressures of it. The loneliness she must have felt must have been suffocating. Did her agencies really have her best interests at heart? I know she wanted stability and somewhat of a normal life and even complained about it. Isn’t that a sign? A cry for help?”
Some close to her say Kim took Adderall to keep up with a hyper-demanding schedule of travel, shoots and public appearances. Often, Kim’s agents could not reach her on her cell phone. She would hole up in her apartment, often staying in bed and sleeping for days on end. “I’m so sad she’s gone,” says Ferguson. “She was an amazing spirit and it breaks my heart to think she was in so much pain.”
Peter Davis is the editor at large of Paper. His articles on style and celebrities have been published in Vanity Fair, The New York Times and The New York Observer.