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Claudia Schiffer walks the runway during the Chanel Haute Couture show as part of Paris Fashion Week Spring/Summer 1990-1991 in January, 1990 in Paris, FrancePhoto by Victor VIRGILE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

50 Questions with Claudia Schiffer (on Her 50th Birthday)

The supermodel on her long-lasting career, working with iconic photographers and turning 50

Lead ImageClaudia Schiffer walks the runway during the Chanel Haute Couture show as part of Paris Fashion Week Spring/Summer 1990-1991 in January, 1990 in Paris, FrancePhoto by Victor VIRGILE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

How does one stay cool when tasked to ask supermodel Claudia Schiffer 50 questions on the eve of her 50th Birthday? (The answer: it’s impossible.) Over the course of the last three decades, the otherworldly blonde holds the record as the model who’s appeared on the most magazine covers. Not to mention catapulting Guess and numerous other designers and labels to creative and commercial success. All the while, she remains polite, professional and punctual – just as she was when she started her career in her late teens. Schiffer initially had ambitions to become a lawyer in her native Germany and even worked in her father’s firm, but her future shifted its course when, in 1987, Michel Levaton (head of Metropolitan Model Agency) discovered a 17-year-old Schiffer dancing at a disco in Düsseldorf.

From that fateful evening, the timid teen transformed into a fashion mega-force: her past working relationships with icons like Ellen von Unwerth, Richard Avedon, Karl Lagerfeld, Herb Ritts, Helmut Newton, and Gianni Versace – to name a few – add to her mythic supermodel status. Also on her CV? Appearances in films like Love Actually as well as eponymous fashion design projects. To this day, Schiffer continues not only to model as the current face of Chanel’s J12 campaign, but also she collaborates on an interior design collection and style projects with established labels.

On the occasion of her 50th birthday, Schiffer recently answered AnOther’s 50 questions about her life and career, revealing details like dancing – unknowingly – next to Prince in Los Angeles and meeting Karl Lagerfeld for the very first time.

1. How are you doing today?

Calm and happy. 

2. How does it feel to be turning 50?

Age should be celebrated and revered. There’s a reason we have cakes and parties on our birthdays. I feel the same way about getting older each year. I am happy to be turning 50 and have never felt more confident. I don’t try to look or feel younger – I embrace [the] now.

3. How have you been celebrating? What do you have planned?

I’ll be celebrating with close friends and family. I’m also excited that brands like Balmain, Dolce & Gabbana, Isabel Marant and Versace, as well as Bamford, Barbie, Frame Denim and Lucie Kaas have decided to release limited-edition and one-off pieces in celebration of my birthday, launching this September and October. From a taste and style perspective to a shared ethos on embracing age, health and well-being, these are all special to me. Select items and sales will go towards a number of charities from UNICEF, for whom I’m a UK Ambassador, to Heads Together and Humanitas Ricerca.

4. Do you have any birthday rituals or traditions?

Having all your favourite food, drinks, surprise birthday cake, sweets, balloons and decorations. I’m lucky my birthday is during the summer holiday so there’s a party with friends and family. 

5. Who is the coolest person you know over 50?

Carole Bamford who founded Daylesford and its philosophy of healthy and natural living.

6. What was your very first modeling gig?

With Ellen von Unwerth in Paris when I was 17. She was starting, I was starting: having fun, being silly, just mucking around next to the Centre Pompidou in Paris in my own clothes. Cut to Paul Marciano, who saw the pictures and wanted us for the Guess Jeans ad campaign. Then numerous trips around Europe and the US: from Nashville, Tennessee to Mykonos, Greece for the many Guess campaigns, which were heavily featured in all the magazines. 

There is a particular black and white photo which became the most well-known because shortly after, Revlon rang and wanted this to be their first-ever fragrance campaign for Guess. I remember flying around the US to every major city for signings in department stores with massive crowds, only to be interrupted when a duck flew into one of the engines of Ron Perelman’s private plane which caused a fire and an emergency landing. 

We paused, but only for a moment, then the tour continued to all major TV shows from Jay Leno to David Letterman. When I came home afterwards, I remember getting up the next morning sleepy eyed into my elevator in uptown NYC near Central Park, when a person entered and said for the first time, “Are you the Guess girl?”

7. When was the first time you saw your face on an ad/cover of a magazine while you were walking on a street?

My very first cover: it was for French Elle, shot by Gilles Bensimon. I was living in Paris and it stared out at me at every kiosk.

8. Favourite photographer you’ve worked with in your career?

The list is too long! The shoots with Ellen for Guess were huge amounts of fun. My first cover for Vogue with Herb Ritts was pivotal. My supermodel group cover for US Vogue’s 100th anniversary issue, photographed by Patrick Demarchelier, was amazing and took my career to the next level. The Karl Lagerfeld campaigns for Chanel, the Richard Avedon campaigns for Versace and the Arthur Elgort campaigns for Valentino and many more. 

It’s impossible to choose a favourite: Shooting in Rome with Arthur Elgort for Valentino, re-enacting La Dolce Vita was incredible. Life imitated art as we were chased through the streets by a huge following of paparazzi and TV crews. In the evening, dining on the most delicious Italian feast, I watched from Giancarlo Giammetti’s balcony with Valentino Garavani a crowd of people that had formed below singing my name.

I’ll also never forget meeting Karl for the first time when I was 18 at a fitting in his studio in Paris on Rue Cambon. He had seen my UK Vogue cover by Herb Ritts and asked that I come in. Before I knew it, I was being fitted for his new collection and then the next day I found myself driving to Deauville to shoot my first Chanel campaign, photographed by Karl. I remember us bonding over the fact that we were the only two people full of energy at 3am in the morning. In his case, he was always full of energy; I was just full of adrenaline and loving every second of working with him.

9. The photographer who changed your career?

Ellen von Unwerth. It often felt like two friends. That’s your perfect shoot: where the chemistry between photographer and model happens. You can be as silly and naughty as you want because there’s trust.

Also Herb Ritts because it was my UK Vogue cover shot by him. Herb was part of a handful of photographers who just never got it wrong. Whether it was natural lighting or in a studio, his pictures didn’t need retouching. He had an eye for beauty. We worked together so many times during my career on covers, campaigns and TV commercials.

I remember a shoot in Malibu for GQ in 1990. I’d never been before and I was looking forward to it. Quite a few of the images in the shoot – especially the most famous ones – were taken in the ocean opposite Herb’s home. It was freezing! I was so cold, but that energy made for some really powerful photographs. I remember going out dancing in Los Angeles that evening and suddenly realising I was dancing next to Prince!

10. The designer who changed your career?

Karl was my magic dust; he transformed me from a shy German girl into a supermodel. He taught me about fashion, style and survival in the fashion business. What Warhol was to art, he was to fashion. I will be eternally grateful to him.

11. A few things you miss about living in your birthplace of Germany?

I love my life in England but I do miss my favourite German food and sweets and traditions like St Martin, Christmas markets and Karneval.

12. Favourite German words or phrases?

I recall shooting the Autumn/Winter 1993 Chanel campaign with Karl in Munich. I’d been working Chanel for over five years by then and on that particular trip we were both happy to be back in our home country. I remember us playing around with old fashioned sayings then, like “Morgenstund hat Gold im Mund”. Its literal translation is, “The morning hour has gold in its mouth,” and it’s one of the ways Germans stress the importance of getting up early to get a head start on the day.

13.What’s your favourite city in the world?

I feel at home in London. This is where I fell in love with my husband and had my kids. I love restaurants like Nobu, Locanda Locatelli, Cecconi’s and La Petite Maison, as well as museums, art shows and plays. It’s one of the most beautiful cities.

14. The moment you realised you were a bonafide member of the 90s supermodels?

When the other girls and I were on the cover of every magazine and in every campaign. The 80s were when I fell in love with fashion and the 90s were when I learned what fashion really was. There was a movement of change as music, fashion and art were starting to converge more than ever. This was before digital, when fashion news could last for weeks on the front page. We lived and breathed it. We developed unprecedented control over our careers. Although we could be competitive, there was a lot of camaraderie between us too. We looked out for each other and we weren’t afraid to speak up.

15. Are you still in touch with the original supermodel gang?

Yes, there is a special bond between us all. We lived and breathed a unique time in fashion. We all live in different places, but as soon as we see each other it’s like a school reunion – as if no time has passed.

16. If you hadn’t modelled, what would you be doing now?

I’d be a vet. I have always loved animals: growing up I had a dog called Sultan, a budgie called Puckie and a mouse called Nikima.

17. Rookie mistake you made at the beginning of your career?

Turning down a Hermès bag being named after me and forgetting to cut off the washing instructions on a semi-transparent Versace dress I wore to a Venice film festival.

18. Favourite moment backstage during a runway show?

It was insane, like being like a rock star. You couldn’t get to your car unless a path was carved for you. People would cut holes into the fashion tents and try and take pictures of us. We had security at every fashion show to the extent that security was employed to guard my underwear. When I was out on the runway I’d come back and my underwear would constantly be gone!

19. What is your most special runway moment?

My very first show was for Karl and Chanel. Then there were Gianni’s [Versace] shows, which were like rock concerts. He made fashion a pop culture phenomenon. We’d walk to an amazing Prince track with hundreds of photographers lining the catwalk, only to see him sitting there on the front row. He made his runway into a live show with choreography, great lighting effects and timings similar to a theatre experience. Valentino shows were like stepping into a cutting-edge, fairy tale world.

20. Hardest part about being a model?

Being away from your friends and family for long periods of time.

“The 80s were when I fell in love with fashion and the 90s were when I learned what fashion really was. There was a movement of change as music, fashion and art were starting to converge more than ever” – Claudia Schiffer

21. Best part about being a model with a sustainable career?

Being able to pick and choose my projects with partners that I admire. I’m also enjoying roles where I am designing or curating collections.

22. How do you cope with fame?

I surround myself with friends and family who are more interested in who I am than what I do.
23. Your life motto?

Follow your instinct.

24. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Karl Lagerfeld taught me about fashion and longevity in fashion. He made me understand confidence and being yourself. For him to be supporting me, for him to be saying, “You are the one,” that makes for an amazing seal of approval when you are young and just finding your feet.

25. Great tip for looking your best in photos?

Try to relax.

26. Favourite holiday destination?

Hotel Schloss Elmau in the German Bavarian Alps. Seychelles’ north island for a romantic getaway with my husband and boat trips to the Amalfi coast in Italy with my family.
27. Tell me about the special items being released for your birthday.

The limited-edition or one-off pieces include a stunning woven silk and crystal encrusted gown re-issued from the Spring/Summer 2016 Balmain campaign that I shot with Olivier [Rousteing], handmade in electric blue. A collection curated by Domenico and Stefano of special pieces from the Dolce & Gabbana Devotion collection, including a handbag that they have personally signed and customised. 

I’ve also collaborated with Isabel Marant on a capsule collection of archive pieces and with Versace on my personal edit of must-have pieces from their new Autumn/Winter collection, available to buy online. Frame Denim is re-issuing two of my favourite styles with a cloud design on the back-leather patch inspired by my nickname and love of nature.

Bamford has curated five of my must-have beauty routine products into a bespoke ‘Claudia’ wash bag. There will also be a wooden Kokeshi Claudia doll by Danish brand Lucie Kaas to join the ranks of fashion luminaries such as Karl Lagerfeld and Anna Wintour, as well as a partnership with Barbie that I’ll be able to talk more about soon! Select items and sales will go towards a number of charities.

28. Your most prized fashion possession?

A hand-painted Chanel bag that Karl gifted me, a Chanel Oscar dress made out of an umbrella fabric, Chanel tortoise earrings, a Versace metallic mini skirt from one of Gianni’s 90s collections, my bespoke Valentino wedding dress designed by Valentino Garavani, an Azzedine Alaïa dress “My heart belongs to daddy”, a Dolce and Gabbana flower dress and my Yves Saint Laurent necklace. The list is long!

They’re all from my archive wardrobe which I’ve kept over the past 30 years. I draw on it for inspiration for my design collaborations and I still wear old favourites. I’m the kind of person that finds it difficult to part with things. I’m also aware of the lifecycle of clothes and the incredible number of things we needlessly throw away.

29. Your idea of a perfect moment in the life of Claudia Schiffer?

With my family on a boat, in gorgeous weather, drinking cold rosé and watching the sunset.

30. What do you think is a common misperception about you?

In the past that I was cold or aloof, when in actual fact I was just shy.

31. What’s your beauty mantra?

It’s a subjective thing: it’s important to know that and not be influenced by others on what beauty is.

32. Who influenced your career when you were starting out?

I tried to follow my own path. I admired all the 60s and 70s stars from Brigitte Bardot, Charlotte Rampling, Jane Birkin, Lauren Hutton and Iman.

33. Your style guru?

60s and 70s style icons: Jane Birkin, Lauren Hutton, Sylvie Vartan and also Iman.

34. Ultimate tip for good skin?

I have a busy schedule so my morning and evening skincare routines are two of the few times in a day that I have to myself. It’s important to take time for yourself for your mental health and well-being, but also the key to having good skin and slowing the signs of ageing. I’ve been rigorous about cleansing and using natural skincare products that nourish and fortify your skin, which is why as I turn 50 my skin feels better than ever.

35. Music that always gets you dancing?

Nena’s 99 Luftballons. David Bowie, George Michael and of course Elton John, whose film Rocketman my husband produced recently.

36. Last book or film that inspired you?

The Back to the Future series and German author Erich Kästner makes me feel nostalgic.

37. Current projects in the works? 

I’m the face of the Chanel’s J12 watch campaign. I have a collaboration with a French-inspired fashion brand called Être Cécile, inspired by 60s and 70s style icons like Sylvie Vartan and Jane Birkin and is in stores from early September. I love that everyday cool, French-girl aesthetic, so it’s been a natural partnership.

I also have a glassware and ceramics collaboration with the heritage Portuguese brands Vista Alegre and Bordallo Pinheiro, which just launched globally and is inspired by my love of nature like butterflies and clouds. Next year, I’m curating an exhibition on 90s photography at the Kunstpalast Museum in Düsseldorf, Germany in March 2021, which will include a host of incredible photographers from Helmut Newton to Herb Ritts.

38. How do you stay physically and mentally healthy?

When I started to have kids, I tried to be as healthy as possible and by doing so I feel my best today in my body and in myself overall. I work out by doing something different every day from tennis or a yoga class, to a 15-minutes abs class online or walking on the treadmill for an hour while watching a movie. I use Bamford: organic, natural skincare products. I love epsom salt baths, meditating using the Calm app and lighting up candles like Baies by Diptyque. I also tend to read a novel before going to sleep.

39. Last emoji you used?


40. The websites you visit often?

I’m really interested in art, design and interiors. I’ve collected glassware, ceramics and porcelain for years as well as contemporary art and mid-century vintage furniture. Our home is a mix of 50s, 60s and 70s pieces from Scandinavian style to Bauhaus German and I love sourcing pieces online at websites like 1stdibs, Pamono, Vinteriors and The Modern Warehouse.

“Karl was my magic dust; he transformed me from a shy German girl into a supermodel. He taught me about fashion, style and survival in the fashion business. What Warhol was to art, he was to fashion” – Claudia Schiffer

41. Last person you texted?

My sister. 

42. Your go-to outfit that always makes you feel good?

Jeans, a blouse and sweater, cowboy boots and my favourite gold jewellery.

43. If you could give teenage Claudia Schiffer advice before she embarks on her enormous career, what would it be?

Enjoy every year: with experience comes confidence. Learn from your mistakes and constantly grow. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. No one is perfect, everyone is different, learn to love your imperfections as they make you who you are. Just concentrate on being happy and healthy and the rest will follow.

Also, stay tenacious and intuitive – trust your instincts. Take pride in being professional: working hard, being punctual, polite and disciplined. Know what you want and where you want to be. Make a long-term plan and never give up.

44. How do you drink your coffee and/or tea?

Decaf organic coffee with fresh almond milk made at home with dates and vanilla.

45. How would you describe your style during your teenage years versus your style now?

Stone wash high-waisted jeans from Chipie, oversized sweatshirts from Fiorucci, blue eye shadow and lots of hairspray. Now I’d describe my personal style as instinctive. My everyday “uniform” tends to be denim coupled with cashmere jumpers and blouses with great accessories. I love outfits that feel effortless, but that can take me from the school run to meetings and onto dinner with friends.

46. Can you tell me about the cat on your Instagram feed?

That’s my Scottish fold cat, Smartie, named in acknowledgement of my sweet tooth! She is not extroverted, unlike her canine brothers, Rollo and Flash, who love nothing more than chasing rabbits and a tummy tickle. Smartie prefers her own company, preferably relaxing undisturbed in my daughter’s bedroom or having a cuddle with me.

47. Your most admirable quality?

I don’t know about admirable, but the qualities that have made me successful are probably that I’m tenacious, intuitive – I do follow my instincts.

48. What do you feel you could improve about yourself?

Lots of things, for example my cooking and lack of driver’s licence.

49. What or whom are you most proud of?

My children: they see the world for what it should be, they have no prejudice and just a desire to make the planet a better place to live.

50. What are you going to do after this interview?

Make my ten-year-old some pancakes which is the only dish I can make successfully.