1970s Supermodel Patti Hansen on Learning to Leap for Richard Avedon’s Lens

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Arthur Elgort, Vogue, November 1975© Condé Nast Archive

As a new book titled Patti Hansen: A Portrait is released, we speak with the model about working with some of the greatest photographers of the 20th century

Patti Hansen speaks to me over the phone from her home in Connecticut: “Hold on one moment,” she says, politely pausing our conversation. “UPS is coming up the driveway right now – I have to go and let them in!” Considering the jet-set life that Hansen has lived, she remains incredibly down to earth. Which of course was her appeal when she first signed to Wilhelmina Models as a teenager in the early 1970s, her strawberry blonde hair and approachable freckle-spattered face imminently gracing the pages of Seventeen and Glamour. “I was just a skinny kid who had finished two years of high school and I had no thoughts about becoming a model,” comments New York-born Hansen. “It all just happened very quickly.”

Today she is known as one of the women who defined the high-octane glamour of the 70s and early 80s fashion glossies alongside Janice Dickinson, Gia Carangi, Iman and Jerry Hall. Like Hall she married a Rolling Stone – Keith Richards – and the pair remain close as ever. As a new book titled Patti Hansen: A Portrait is released, chronicling her career via a wealth of iconic photographs taken by Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Arthur Elgort, Francesco Scavullo and Deborah Turbeville (to name but a few), she shares her memories of learning to leap for the lens.

On being discovered...
“I never dreamed of being a model. I was just a skinny kid who had finished two years of high school and I had no thoughts about it. It all just happened very quickly. I was 16 years old, it was the summer of 1972, and I met the photographer Peter Gurt through mutual friends. It turned out that it was Wilhelmina Models’ fifth anniversary, so he took me to a party celebrating this in New York City. I was told to come back to the agency to meet Wilhelmina herself and after that Peter started taking photographs of me. Then I started working for Glamour magazine right away. My first shoot was very memorable; it was with Rico Puhlmann and we were out in Long Island. I did not have to look in the camera, so he just sort of photographed me running around in a bathing suit. It took a while to get into looking into a camera and having somebody photograph me, but because I was athletic, they just sort of photographed me doing whatever I was doing and it worked.”

On finding a working relationship with Arthur Elgort...
“Of course Arthur Elgort took most of the photographs in Patti Hansen: A Portrait. We really were a pair and one of his iconic photographs became the book’s cover. I think his work is particularly powerful. Arthur has the camera in his back pocket all the time; he’d have five cameras going at once and there is never a moment where he is not switched on and working. He loves women, he loves his camera, he loves his light. He goes for the unexpected shot, and always gets it.”

On Richard Avedon...
“I started working for Vogue in 1975 and my very first shoot with was with Francesco Scavullo – a cover shoot. So I think, if I remember correctly, I probably started working with Avedon in 1976. He was a very elegant and attractive man with a beautiful, big, thick, bushy head of hair. He was very energetic and had a huge camera and that’s how he photographed you. I had to learn how to really work my body in front of Avedon; the models at that time – Lauren Hutton, for example – he would want me to emulate. And they did the most amazing leaps across the page. And I can remember trying, again and again, to leap high in the air! He definitely had a wonderful style. There’s a head shot that Richard took of me with my hair all piled up – that is one of my favourites. I also remember one of the bigger shoots I did with Avedon... It was Janice Dickinson and I wearing all these furs. The clothes were just spectacular!”

On her friendship with make-up artist Sandy Linter...
“Sandy is a forever friend. She always makes you feel beautiful. I work with a lot of different artists and they always want to put their stamp on you, but Sandy just makes you beautiful. One of the biggest sessions we did together was with Arthur Elgort in Washington DC, and I can remember her giving me my first eyebrow! She always gave me the make-up that I felt the best in. And I am so happy that she is still so available; still out there working. She loves what she does. I remember I would be in front of the camera and she would be behind. She would also be like a little director. I’d look at Sandy and she would give me the thumbs up or say ‘look the other way, Patti!’. I just love her.”

On the future...
“So I’ve done the book, I signed with DNA Models earlier this year and we will see what happens with that. I travel with my husband Keith a lot and he is planning on doing another tour with the Stones. I have my family and my homes. My favourite thing to do is go on cooking vacations. We go to these fabulous places and cook and drink wine and relax... I hope that my future has a lot of these in store!”

Patti Hansen: A Portrait by Ivan Shaw is out now, published by Abrams.