During a break in Germany earlier this winter, Heidi Klum—one of the world’s statuesque, quintessential supermodels—was napping. And we can’t blame her: She’s been busy. She had just arrived in Munich to meet the many aspiring belles for the casting of Germany’s Next Top Model, an offshoot of the American reality-TV series. The ones chosen would soon be challenged (by Klum herself) to bring their A-game for a chance to become a fashion star, guided by an archetypal figure whose 20-year career has made her a household name.

But it’s not like she meticulously planned her reign on the runways. In 1992, a friend convinced her to send some photos of herself to a modeling contest in Germany. She was chosen out of 30,000 candidates and snagged a $300,000 contract with Worldwide Metropolitan Model Agency. A year later, she arrived in Miami like so many others at the time: young, ambitious, staying at the no-frills Beach Plaza hotel on Collins Avenue, and posing for test shoots with up-and-coming photographers. Eventually New York called, and the rest is history.

In addition to gracing the covers of nearly every major beauty or fashion magazine—including six times in Ocean Drive—and appearing in countless commercial campaigns such as American Express, Givenchy, H&M, and Volkswagen, Klum has hosted the popular Project Runway series (the 11th season premieres this month). And of course we can’t forget her decade-plus gig as a Victoria’s Secret Angel (the first German model to hold that title). Presently, she just released a new line of activewear, Heidi Klum for New Balance; a fragrance called Surprise; and Truly Scrumptious by Heidi Klum, an assortment of apparel, bedding, furniture, and accessories for children, sold exclusively through Babies“R”Us.

Now, at 39, the mother of four looks better than ever. We caught up with her to discuss her early days in Miami, her long-standing bond with renowned British photographer Rankin (who shot these photos for us), and her indefatigable sense of adventure.

OCEAN DRIVE: You’ve been on the cover of Ocean Drive six times. Do you recall your first encounter with the magazine?
I remember going to your first office on Ocean Drive itself. It was just two small little rooms with magazines all over the hallway. It’s obviously come so far now after 20 years, but I was really proud to do an Ocean Drive cover. That was the magazine to be in.

Like Ocean Drive, this year marks just over two decades of your career. What are your most memorable moments?
Definitely my work with Victoria’s Secret and being a VS Angel for 13 years—that was huge for me, especially in America. Also, my cover of Sports Illustrated. I mean, 59 million readers! And my cover of French Vogue, which is one of the hardest covers to get. I was lucky to have been able to mix high (sometimes risqué) fashion with more mainstream clients.

Did you do any crazy shoots?
I was up for anything, like riding a horse if I didn’t know how to, being underwater with dolphins (and I’m not the best swimmer), or in the ocean with sharks and fish guts—without a cage—for a “Shark Week” special on the Discovery Channel.

What’s necessary for a productive relationship between a photographer and a model?
Photographers do have to direct to bring a certain feeling out of you, especially when you’re young and new. They need to make you comfortable and explain what they want, even if it’s as simple as, “Move this arm or this foot,” or joking to make you laugh (instead of just telling you to smile). They need to extract the right emotions so that it becomes real. Later, when you’re more experienced, you can just push a button within yourself and make those emotions come alive [on your own], so it’s almost like acting.

You’ve worked a lot with Rankin. Why has that been such a fruitful relationship?
What I’ve always loved about him is that he makes everything fun. He’d always push me to do crazier, weirder shoots, or to do nudes because he’d love the lighting with my body. I trusted him, and that made me pose better.

How do you feel about posing nude?
When you have a good body, photographers will often be like, “Yeah, let’s take this off, and why don’t we lose this too,” and you can quickly end up not wearing much clothing. You have to be careful and strong at saying no, especially when you’re younger and on your own. Not everyone is cool and has your best interest [at heart]. But Rankin has always made sure, when some of my shoots would be more on the naked side, that they wouldn’t look raunchy. They were sexy, yes, but very classy.

Speaking of sexy—your legs were insured for more than $2 million when you appeared in that campaign for Braun.
Ha! Yes, the company wanted to do that. In London, I had to go to an insurance firm, and this person just checked out my legs. On one knee, I have a scar from when I fell and had to get stitches, so they made that leg less expensive than the other. But I went with it. And obviously, it’s all very flattering.

This issue’s cover was actually shot by Rankin. How did that go?
I liked it because it was very natural—not much makeup, and my hair’s simple, just parted in the middle and straight down. It was less about the clothes and more about getting a purer picture of me.

The 11th season of Project Runway launches this month. What have you learned from that experience?
I really saw how much work goes into it [fashion]—from the amount of passion to the attention to detail, all the way down to the color of the buttons on a shirt. And of course I’ve loved working with Michael Kors. It never gets old.

You’ve also designed jewelry, sportswear, baby gear, and furniture. What challenges have you faced?
Designing was never that challenging because I love coming up with new concepts and pushing the limits instead of keeping to the basics, even with my line for Babies“R”Us. The harder part is finding the right partners who will see eye-to- eye with what I like. I’ve had partners who weren’t on the same page, maybe because I was a bit too fashion-forward. But I’ve always been into designing, and it’s something I’ve wanted to do even before I started modeling. I’d hit up M&J Trimming, one of my favorite shops in New York, and admire the colorful ribbons and rhinestones, and bedazzle the bejesus out of my clothes.

What has your career taught you?
How to get along with so many different characters, for sure. I’ve learned to not be scared. When you’re young and pretty, you can’t be vulnerable. Not that I’d hurt anyone to get to the top, but you have to bring your hustle and watch your back. But it’s also important to find time for your personal life—you can’t lose sight of that.

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