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Golden Girl

Schiffer in full blonde bombshell mode, captured by von Unwerth.

In the great supermodel canon, blonde bombshell could only mean one name—Claudia Schiffer. This month, Rizzoli will release the first monograph on the German beauty who continues to cut a striking silhouette wherever she is captured. The London-based mother of three—and the original Guess Jeans girl—takes a pause to speak about transformative beauty, motherhood and the sage advice of Karl Lagerfeld.

Considering you had an abundance of material for this amazing book, what was the process you used to select images?
It was really tough to edit. You’re right that there were so many images to choose from. Along with my team, I personally chose every single image featured from the past 30 years by making lots of Pinterest moodboards and then editing down the number of images we included. There was only one image that I really wanted to include that didn’t make it, which was a Versace ad with Sylvester Stallone from 1995.

Why did you choose Ellen von Unwerth to write your foreword?
Ellen was the first person who I worked on a major shoot with and she really made the first major impact on my career so it makes sense that she should be the first voice in the book. She was a model before she became a photographer, so she knew how to get the most out of me. The shoots we did together were very quirky; you couldn’t just flip past them in a magazine, so they got us both noticed. That’s where Paul Marciano from Guess saw us and the rest is history.

Karl Lagerfeld's Spring 1992 Chanel campaign featuring Schiffer.

You’ve described yourself as an ugly duckling. When did you start to embrace your beauty?
I don’t think that anyone ever wakes up and thinks, ‘I’m so beautiful,’ but over time I became more comfortable in my own skin and came to terms with the fact that people looking at me is a part of my job. When you think about the ‘ugly duckling’ it sounds so cliché, but that is actually a very accurate description. I was much taller than all of the other girls, really skinny, knocked knees—I didn’t know that as a model these are all traits that wouldn’t hold you back, but at school it’s not what makes you one of the popular girls. Despite all this, I still made the most of the opportunities that came my way, and I feel very thankful for having been able to do that.

What were some of the struggles you faced as a model in the beginning of your career?
My shyness was probably the biggest hurdle I had to overcome. I was the model who would sit with the other models in the photo studio and think, ‘I hope they’re not going to choose me today.’ I didn’t enjoy the feeling of being the center of attention.

Schiffer shows off her beach bod for photographer Herb Ritts.

What was the best piece of advice you were given as a young model?
The first time I walked in a Chanel runway show, Karl Lagerfeld told me to just be myself. It was great advice that I have always tried to remember when feeling unsure.

Who was your favorite photographer to work with and why?
Every time someone asks me my favorite photographer or image, I feel like I’m avoiding the question, but it really is impossible to choose. There have been so many great photographers with incredibly different aesthetics who I’ve had the pleasure of working with and learning from.

Schiffer photographed by Ellen von Unwerth for Vogue Italia, 1994.

What was one of your favorite fashion campaigns and why?

There have been so many, from the ‘90s up to the present day, that I have loved that it would be impossible to choose one. I’ve always been very selective about the work I accepted, so whether it’s a Guess or Chanel campaign from the ‘90s, or a more recent one with Dolce & Gabbana or Balmain, I chose it because I love working with the team and believe in the product.

How were you able to stay away from having a tumultuous career?
I worked every day and was always jumping on a plane somewhere else. That has its good and bad sides, but I never had time for doing anything too crazy.

A behind-the-scenes moment captured by von Unwerth.

How would you sum up your experience of modeling in the early ‘90s? What were some of your greatest memories?
Working on this book has really helped me recall amazing moments and experiences. It surprised me how many small details I remembered about each shoot we worked on—especially the teams involved. It was a great period of my life.

How do you think the modeling industry has changed in the last 30 years?
Social media has certainly changed the landscape, in that girls have more of an opportunity to take control—not only of the public’s perception of them but also of their own visibility. In the ‘90s, a great agent would make sure you were being considered for key jobs, but now you can almost act as your own agent by sharing photographs and videos of yourself every day. There was a lot of camaraderie 30 years ago, which I don’t know if there is now because the field is probably a lot bigger, but I think many of the changes are positive.


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