Yep, she's really Finnish -- a model of Scandinavian design who comes to you by way of Helsinki, Rome and Rapid City, South Dakota. Confusing? Her hair color changes as often as the weather in her homeland, her address changes almost as often and her accent is a concatenation of Finn lilt and South Dakota drawl. "Yep," says Kata Kârkkâinen (say cotta car-kynen; that's as close as you'll get without yodeling), "it is a little confusing. I guess I'm a combination of things, Finnish and American. Is that good or bad?" In this case, all to the good -- the collision of hemispheres has brought forth a confusing, intriguing combination of the best of East and West. Kata, the lissome emerald-eyed only child of two attorneys, grew up "spoiled and happy" in Helsinki, where she became, at the age of 15, the finest-looking bowling champion in history. "My dad loved to bowl, and he used to take me along when I was little," she explains. "I got pretty good and even won the national championship for girls under 18. Daddy was very proud of that." Shortly thereafter, a bit weary of snow and solitude -- "Finland was too quiet for me" -- Kata joined an exchange program, jetted to remotest Rapid City and gave her high school classmates a crash course in Eurostyle.
Stevens High School is still reeling. "They found me pretty wild," Kata says of the teachers and schoolmates she bowled over at Stevens High. "I dressed punk. I dyed my hair blonde -- or red and black -- or wore it in a Mohawk. I wore wigs, and sometimes a tuxedo, to school." To top it off, this Finnish ambassador of punk went out for the bowling team and trounced all the guys. She was promptly bounced from the squad. "They said it was a boys' team." Kata has warm memories of her Dakota days. She treasures her Stevens diploma and now confuses Finn friends with her favorite American expression: "Yep!"
"People in the U.S. are extroverts. I like that. Finnish people are shy, not as wild. That is not always bad -- American men, I think, can be a little too aggressive. All they want is to get into your pants! Finnish men have better manners. They can wait, you know, a couple of weeks," Kata says, laughing. Not that she minds a little American lust directed her way -- it's just that Eurostyle is different. "I don't go crazy over how many muscles a guy has or how hairy his chest is. I kind of like skinny, feminine guys. One of my boyfriends in Finland used to wear make-up. We'd go out and some people thought we were sisters. It was kind of embarrassing, but kind of interesting, too."
Don't abandon hope, American guys: The more she sees of American chests, Kata says, the better she likes them. Vacationing in Italy last year, Kata caught the eye of a fashion photographer. Next thing she knew, she was in the Italian edition of Playboy. Now she's back in the States as Miss December. Next up: a fashion shoot in Paris. Will she sit still long enough for American males to prove that they want more from her -- or at least others things as well -- than entree into her pants? That answer, Kata says with a smile, is yep.
---- Photography by Stephen Wayda, Byron Newman
To travel around the world and experience exciting new things.
Amusement parks, animals, first snow, rock music, spicy food.
Stuck-up people, dishonesty, racism, long cold winters.
Prince, The Cure, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Hanoi Rocks.
FAVORITE MOVIE STARS
Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep, Marilyn Monroe.
THE THING I LIKE MOST ABOUT AMERICAN MEN
They have nice cars and they take you out to fancy restaurants.
FAVORITE WAY TO RELAX
Go to my parents' summer cottage with my cats.