In 1987, Claudia Schiffer was dancing with some family friends in a nightclub in her hometown in Düsseldorf, Germany, when an agent approached the 17-year-old about becoming a model. A few months later, test shots in hand, she headed to Paris and into the exciting, glamorous world of fashion. She nabbed her first cover, for French ELLE, in 1989.
“It was an extraordinary period,” Schiffer told The Post about being one of the world’s top supermodels. “There was an incredible merging of … fashion, music, art and entertainment that made the era dynamic, exciting. The impossible became possible.”
Schiffer shot to international fame during the 1990s, appearing in a series of sexy and playful ads for Guess jeans, shot by her friend Ellen von Unwerth.
“I remember flying around the US to every major city for signings in department stores,” Schiffer recalled of her first campaign tour for Guess perfume in 1990. “I returned to my apartment in New York near Central Park, and one morning, sleepy-eyed with bed-head hair, I was in the elevator when a person entered and asked, ‘Are you the Guess girl?’ I knew then my life had changed forever.”
Now, Schiffer has shared some of her most famous shoots — plus behind-the- scenes ephemera — in a new exhibit at the Kunstpalast museum in Düsseldorf. “Captivate! Fashion Photography from the 1990s,” up through Jan. 9, 2022, is the model’s curatorial debut, featuring hundreds of pictures that illustrate the heady 1990s fashion scene through Schiffer’s eyes. A book based on the exhibit, edited by Schiffer and also called “Captivate!” [Prestel], will be available in the US on Jan. 25, 2022.
“It took a lot of patience — I mean, there were literally thousands of images to choose from,” said Schiffer. “What made it? What didn’t? I always asked myself, ‘Is this quintessentially ‘90s?’”
“The 1990s was a watershed period that upturned ideals of beauty and fashion,” she added. “[There was] a huge shift in fashion moving away from the head-to-toe perfectionist glamour of the 1980s, towards a naturalism and minimalism. There was more freedom and individual expression. … I wanted ‘Captivate!’ to capture [that].”
Here, Schiffer tells the stories behind some of these captivating images.
1989: Guess Jeans ad, shot by Ellen von Unwerth
“I met Ellen in Paris, aged 17. We were both starting out and got on like a house on fire, just mucking around next to the Centre Pompidou [while I wore] my own clothes. Not long after, the Guess team saw the pictures and wanted us for the 1989 ad campaign.
We shot [the bicycle photo] with in Pisa, Italy, one glorious summer day. … Ellen really encouraged me to move around and express myself freely rather than hold a pose. Everything was very spontaneous, and I found myself balancing barefoot on the back of a bicycle, riding through the streets in a black swimsuit, as if off to a distant beach.
Those are the best shoots: You can be as silly and naughty as you want, because there’s trust.”
1990: Chanel campaign, shot by Karl Lagerfeld
“[Chanel designer] Karl Lagerfeld came into my life when I was just 18. He had seen my first UK Vogue cover … and asked to see me. I entered his studio on the Rue Cambon [in Paris] full of nerves but, within hours I was being fitted for his new collection. We spoke in German and no one around us could understand, which he loved. There was an immediate sense of complicity, and I loved his sharp humor.
The next day, I was driving with the crew to Deauville to shoot my first Chanel campaign. I remember us bonding over the fact that we were the only two people full of energy at 3 in the morning.
The beach resort is part of Coco Chanel’s history, so it felt special to don her signature boater and easy tailoring and pose in front of ‘paparazzi.’
Lagerfeld loved his work. He often said he dreamed collections and he would wake up to sketch in the middle of the night. As a photographer as well, he was prolific and excelled at fashion portraiture. He was incredibly generous when taking photos, sharing his knowledge and his enthusiasm was infectious. What was remarkable is that he was always open to my input.
Karl taught me so much about fashion, culture, photography and he also advised me to remain true to myself and trust my instincts — those wise words remain with me. … What Warhol was to art, he was to fashion.”
1994: Versace post-runway, shot by Michel Comte
Kirsty Hume (clockwise from left), Nadja Auermann, Nadège du Bospertus, Claudia Schiffer, Carla Bruni, Christy Turlington, Shalom Harlow, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista and Brandi Quinones
“[This was] a high-energy, classic 1990s Versace moment. We went straight from the catwalk to shoot for Italian Vogue in Versace’s palazzo and on to a party together in the same aqua-toned dresses.
Group compositions are complex, and the skill is in directing everyone to work together. Michel Comte made it look spontaneous but there were numerous variations made over many hours before he arrived at the perfect shot. We shot this directly after the Versace show and from the moment of walking the runway right through to the end of the shoot, there was such great adrenaline, and that euphoric feeling stayed with us all throughout the shoot.
“It was a dream working with Gianni, Donatella and the Versace family. They were all so welcoming and Gianni had such a big heart and so much warmth. He turned his runway into a live show with choreography, great lighting effects and theatrical staging. I remember walking in one of his shows to a Prince track only to see Prince himself sitting in the front row … the atmosphere was electric.”
1993: US Vogue shoot, shot by Herb Ritts
“This group image of [clockwise from top left] Helena Christensen, Stephanie Seymour, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell and myself is quintessential 1990s. It was from a US Vogue cover shoot by photographer Herb Ritts, who was a master at capturing natural moments and the camaraderie between us all.
I recall Helena [Christensen] and I discussing different types of licorice on the set. Denmark [where Helena is from] makes the best and fresh, and I remember asking her to bring some for me next time she went home.”
1994: “Captivate! Fashion Photography from the ’90s” book cover, shot by Richard Avedon for Versace
Nadja Auermann (from left), Christy Turlington, Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford and Stephanie Seymour
”This Versace campaign, photographed by Richard Avedon, is iconic 1990s in its beauty, dynamism and glamour. … It embodies the fun and artistry of the supermodel era. On set, Avedon would bring in a choreographer who would teach us how to move. His practice was also to shoot alongside a mirror turned toward you, so that you could see yourself as he did. In that way you could truly collaborate in the creation of the shot, by getting a good idea of what was working, what wasn’t, and what you could change to make it better.”
“Captivate! Fashion Photography From the ’90s” edited by Claudia Schiffer is published by Prestel in hardback and available from Jan. 25, 2022, $69.95. The exhibition curated by Claudia Schiffer will be at Kunstpalast Düsseldorf through Jan. 9, 2022. For more information, please visit https://www.kunstpalast.de/