Claudia Schiffer on model life in 1993

Read an interview with the late John Casablancas's German supermodel protege

Fashion Q+A
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Portrait of Claudia Schiffer Photo courtesy of Corbis

Taken from the August issue of Dazed & Confused

At the turn of the 90s, a gang of models including Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington and Naomi Campbell stormed the fashion industry and kicked off the decade of the supermodel – a time when models became celebrities on a movie-star level. At the centre of that world was Claudia Schiffer, picked by Karl Lagerfeld to be the face of Chanel. She proceeded to work with some of the world’s most visionary photographers; her many iconic moments included Richard Avedon capturing her pulling down the waist of a metallic miniskirt for a 1994 Gianni Versace campaign and starring in Arthur Elgort’s fun-filled tribute to La Dolce Vita for Valentino. Here we speak to Schiffer about the evolution of the supermodel, her love of insects and the drama of the runway.

Models walked in a more theatrical manner on the catwalk in the early 90s. Did you enjoy that performance-like aspect of your work?

Definitely. The shows had a great energy and atmosphere. My first show was for Chanel and they had never had a print model on the runway before. There was always a lot of drama on the runway, which I loved.

Did it come naturally?

Karl Lagerfeld said to me, ‘Don’t think about it, just walk out like you always walk.’

What goes through your head when you’re out on the runway?

Enjoying the music and atmosphere and hoping to not fall while wearing crazily high heels.

What’s the most extreme catwalk show you have ever done?

The most fun at the time were the Versace shows. Fashion shows had never been done like that before. Gianni was really the first designer to put on a ‘show’ where the models and music were as important as the clothes, if not more important. It felt more like a concert than a fashion show – hundreds of paparazzi and people screaming your name. I also remember the fashion shows
for Valentino where we had to walk down the Spanish Steps in Rome... In heels it was a little challenging!

How would you sum up the spirit of the early 90s?

Fun. Camaraderie mixed in with major competition.

When were you scouted?

I was discovered at 17 by a Paris agent in a disco in Düsseldorf. I thought they were making a mistake and would find out I was the wrong girl and send me home once I arrived in Paris.

As a teenager, what one thing had the biggest impression on you? 

The 80s style in music and film – Footloose, Olivia Newton-John and The Cure.

Were you ever a bit of a rebel?

I used to secretly meet boys with my best friend until my mother followed us one day, but
I wouldn’t say I was a rebel. I was a well-behaved teenager.

Do you collect anything?

Tortoises and art.

What’s your favourite and most exotic piece? 

A gold-painted tortoise and the butterflies in the Damien Hirst paintings.

What are some of your greatest memories from 1993?

Working with Richard Avedon, Gianni Versace, Francesco Scavullo, Herb Ritts, Steven Meisel, Patrick Demarchelier, Arthur Elgort and Mario Testino and so many other great photographers and designers, just being in the middle of it all. Sadly, some of them have since passed away.

What else was happening in your life during that time?

Mainly work. I loved what I was doing and took no time off.
I only started to balance my work and personal life once I met my husband and we started a family.

What advice would you give a younger version of yourself?
Get a great lawyer from the beginning. I was lucky – my father was one.

Who was your favourite 90s icon?

I didn’t have one, but I always admired Naomi. She had the best body I had ever seen.
What was your favourite movie from the early 90s?
The Bodyguard.

Growing up in Germany, what access did you have to the style press?

At the time my only exposure to fashion was through reading all of my mother’s fashion magazines.

Was she very interested in fashion?

She was, but always kept to a very classic style, mostly dressing in black-and-white Dior when she
went out.

What fuelled your decision to become a model? Was there anyone in the industry who inspired you?

I knew nothing about modelling and I wasn’t even aware it was a real job at the time. Initially I planned to go to Paris for a year to model, and more importantly to learn French, before going to study.

You appeared in Chanel’s AW93 campaign, photographed by Karl Lagerfeld. Do you remember working on that campaign?

We were on location in Amalfi and it felt like we were on holiday.

What do you like about working with Karl?

His pictures are great and I very much enjoy spending time with him. He’s like a walking encyclopedia – he can laugh and talk with you about anything.

Do you speak to each other in German?

Yes, we speak German, but also English and French, depending on who is with us.

Do you think the role of supermodel has changed over the last 20 years?

The industry has grown a lot. There are more jobs, but fashion changes much faster now. The longevity of a new model’s career can be very short.

It seems that today, models are given more of a voice – especially through social media – rather than just being the image of a brand. Do you agree?

It’s not just models – everyone in the world has more of a voice if they choose to.

How Do you think the industry has changed?

It’s much faster moving, it’s gotten a lot bigger, there are so many more collections and fashion in general is far more accessible, but ultimately the nuts and bolts and overall good and bad remain the same.

What is your earliest fashion memory?

Working with Ellen von Unwerth on the streets of Paris for my first reportage shoot and interview. The story led to many Guess Jeans campaigns. Ellen was so different, so fun and spontaneous – I wanted to work with her every day.

Which have been your favourite campaigns?

I would say the Versace campaign with Richard Avedon, the Valentino campaign with Arthur Elgort, Ellen von Unwerth’s Guess campaign, the Chanel campaign by Karl Lagerfeld, the Yves Saint Laurent campaign by Inez Van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin and Dolce & Gabbana with Steven Klein.

What would surprise people to know about you?

I love taxidermy and insects.

Did you dream last night?

Yes, about my father.

If you could turn back time would you do anything differently?

Nothing.

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