Discovered in a German nightclub at the age of 17, Schiffer’s rate of progress into the heart of the fashion industry was astounding. Charming Karl Lagerfeld during her first time in Paris, Claudia was modelling for Chanel Haute Couture by the time she was 20.
Born in Rheinberg, Germany, on August 25th 1970, Claudia Schiffer grew fast – by age 16 Claudia was already 5’ 11”. Her height meant that for the shy teenager, blending into the background was not an option.
This innate ability to stand out in a crowd changed Claudia’s life in 1987 when she was discovered by Metropolitan Agency boss Michel Levaton. That same year, Claudia abandoned her plans to become a lawyer, and flew to Paris to pursue modelling.
In 1989, Claudia was propelled to stardom by becoming the face of Guess? Jeans. Her look, quite different from that of Crawford, Evangelista and Campbell, was widely feted in the press. Dubbed the ‘new Bardot’, after film icon Brigitte Bardot, the impact on Claudia’s career was nothing short of incendiary.
Catapulted to the top, Schiffer began working with the biggest names in fashion. In August and November 1990 she fronted the cover of American Vogue, having already scored the cover of Italian Vogue in March. Photographed by Steven Meisel, Claudia’s high-fashion credits rapidly began to build. By 1995, she had posed for over 100 magazine covers from across the world. In 1992, she was the American Vogue cover girl four times, landing the spot in April, May, June and September. Claudia did campaigns with Chanel and Escada, also representing Chloe, Dolce & Gabbana and Valentino.
To list every one of Claudia’s credits would be an exhaustive process. After Kate Moss, Claudia was one of the most sought-after faces of the Nineties. Making cameo appearances in cult films like ‘Wayne’s World’ cemented her as a celebrity too. Like her predecessor Cindy Crawford, Claudia’s looks appealed to both men and women, and Claudia was determined to make the best of it.
The ‘supermodel’ phenomenon reached new heights when Claudia teamed up with friends Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington and Elle McPherson to launch the opening of the ‘Fashion Cafe’ in 1996. A restaurant built around the concept of fashion, the venture did not connect with the public, and the cafe closed in 1998.
The era of commanding $10,000 a day (at least) was coming to an end. With new quirky girls like Kristen McMenamy enthralling the industry, the notion of ‘supermodel’ seemed out of step with popular culture. High-octane glamour didn’t translate to a generation of teenagers wedded to their flannel shirts. Some did well out of the Grunge era, but as models like Kate Moss rocketed; Schiffer found her career momentum beginning to slow.
In these quieter years, Claudia’s personal life blossomed, marrying film producer and director Matthew Vaughn, becoming a mother to son Caspar in 2003 and daughter Clementine in 2004.
Claudia’s professional career, with just a few campaigns here and there, seemed to be on the downturn. But as her children became ready to go to school, Claudia began to do the school-run with them in Notting Hill. Naturally the presence of a supermodel standing outside the school gates would attract some attention, but Claudia’s relaxed and stylish approach to school-run dressing sparked media frenzy.
Claudia’s ability to wear classic shapes and pair them with newer trends had magazine editors clamouring to run how-to guides for their readers who wanted a piece of the Schiffer style for themselves. A new style icon was born.
In 2007, Claudia’s career sparked back to life. Renewed interest in her led to seriously prestigious campaigns. In autumn 2007, she appeared in the Salvatore Ferragamo campaign after landing the cover of French Vogue in August.
Claudia’s return to high fashion was made official in 2008 when Karl Lagerfeld named her the new face of Chanel, 18 years after she had first walked in his couture show. As comebacks go, this was truly extraordinary.
The offers of work continued to flood in as Claudia joined fellow Nineties icons Naomi Campbell and Stephanie Seymour for the Louis Vuitton ad campaign. June and July 2008 saw back-to-back covers of Spanish and German Vogue, and in May, Schiffer attended the Costume Institute Gala in New York. Her plus-one was fashion legend Valentino. 2009 followed suit with editorials for French and Italian Vogue, and Claudia at the end of the year became the face of YSL.
This return to the spotlight was more than fashion allowing its former ‘Bardot’ one last curtain call. Claudia’s return to modelling is in part down to her perseverance, but more significantly, it can be attributed to the renaissance of the blonde.
The revival of blue-eyed blondes in the modelling industry is a response to advertisers’ demand for wholesome, reassuring faces. Even with projects that are ostensibly high fashion, many models who find themselves in this bracket are seldom out of work.
Social commentators have prescribed this shift down to simple economics: advertisers want a time-tested formula to sell their product. The last thing anybody wants to do in a recession is take unnecessary risks and getting a blue-eyed blonde model to represent your brand is the safest bet of all.
In this climate, the buzz surrounding new girls Dorith Mous and Hannah Holman is not unexpected. Models like Schiffer, Raquel Zimmermann, Lily Donaldson and Toni Garn are all scooping the major ad campaigns including Chanel, Fendi, Prada, Marc Jacobs and Versace. If fashion’s big guns all want blue-eyed blondes, this is more than mere coincidence.
Everyone, regardless of where they stand in terms of personal likes or dislikes, responds favourably to blondes. It is the thrill of the exotic: in a society increasingly dominated by brunettes, blonde represents something beyond the ordinary and everyday. That kind of association is what has big brands clamouring for Schiffer. With her already-established celebrity status, Schiffer is well-placed to revive any flagging brand. A good model equals great buzz, but a great model like Schiffer? Her degree of influence is immeasurable, because she brings together the best of fashion and celebrity.
It is no accident that Claudia’s return to the epicentre of high-fashion has been so celebrated. Whatever she is selling, Schiffer has favourably altered the bottom line of any product she represents. Advertisers want models with wide-ranging appeal, and no-one meets that brief better than Claudia.
Claudia’s second wind is more than a passing nostalgia for 90’s supermodels; she embodies a type of perennial beauty like Christy Turlington. Claudia’s strength is that she doesn’t belong to a particular decade or trend, which is why she can slot so easily into current campaigns for Chanel and YSL without missing a beat. Not being tied to a particular look, Schiffer has blended in by standing out.
A true fashion veteran, Claudia Schiffer has made longevity an art form. Her return to high fashion is about more than just good timing. If Schiffer was an average model, her career would have fizzled out years ago. But her doe-eyed sex appeal paired with an ability to be authentic and credible has proved an irresistible combination. Luck has certainly played its part in Claudia’s career, but it is hard work that has kept her on the radar.
Not afraid to take lower-prestige campaigns during the quieter periods of her career, Schiffer’s resolve to stay on the fashion map indicates someone with backbone. Out of all the supermodels who have recently returned to favour Claudia’s comeback feels a little more permanent, because she has every intention of sticking around. With Schiffer, there are no Plan B’s, no clothing range or lifestyle brand. There is only Plan A.
With an astonishing back catalogue of work, Claudia Schiffer is probably the most misunderstood of fashion personalities. She was the sex-kitten of the Nineties, the girl who nearly married a magician and now the poster-girl for stylish mums everywhere. But her latest reincarnation is perhaps truest to the woman herself. The uber-groomed blonde basking in the spotlight in the latest Ferragamo advert – that is the real Claudia. There is a real tenacity to Schiffer that is liable to be overlooked, but beneath the clichés and misinterpretation, there is a model of surprising depth and versatility.
If you remain unconvinced that Schiffer’s career is anything other than being in the right place at the right time, consider this. Schiffer holds the world record for the most magazine covers in modelling history. Recent estimation puts the count at over 700 covers. This is not success by chance, but by design.
Twenty years on from her discovery, Schiffer’s standard as one of the most recognisable models in the world remains quietly, but firmly, assured.