Inside Claudia Schiffer’s New Exhibition of 90s Fashion Photography

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Teller_Young Pink Kate, London
Juergen Teller, Young Pink Kate, London 1998© Juergen Teller, All Rights Reserved

The supermodel turns curator for Captivate!, a new exhibition examining the decade that changed fashion forever

It all began with an invitation from Felix Krämer, general director of the Kunstpalast museum in Düsseldorf, Germany. The message was addressed to a definitive figure of 1990s fashion, and one of the most photographed faces in the world. “Claudia Schiffer is the expert,” says Krämer of the supermodel, who has curated a new exhibition at the Kunstpalast. “She had total freedom. The result is her perspective on fashion photography in the 90s.”

Opening tomorrow, Captivate! stands out as a well-archived time capsule, featuring all the people that defined the decade: from photographers such as Ellen von Unwerth, Corinne Day and Juergen Teller, to the supermodels, designers, stylists and editors whose legacies are largely rooted in that era.

“Since the beginning of my career, I have collected fashion images and worked and learned from true masters – Helmut Newton, Richard Avedon, and Peter Lindbergh – and my personal collection forms the basis of the exhibition,” Claudia Schiffer tells AnOther. “There were literally thousands of images to choose from. I [also] wanted to show the numerous formats of fashion photography in the pre-digital age – from fine art prints to Polaroids, contact sheets, fashion magazines, to campaigns and model cards.”

From the moment she first stepped in front of the camera, Schiffer – who coincidentally was discovered at a nightclub in Düsseldorf – was a sponge for information, absorbing all that was going on around her. The supermodel’s unique perspective allowed her to not only establish trends from those ten influential years, but to provide an insider’s take on the 90s pop cultural zeitgeist.

Schiffer recalls a specific story when photographer Richard Avedon shot a now-iconic advertisement: “On set for the Versace campaigns, Avedon would bring in a choreographer who would teach us how to move. His practice was also to shoot alongside a mirror turned towards 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.”

It was also an era where first names like Claudia, Naomi, Cindy, Linda and Christy became a part of the vernacular. These supermodels banded together and captured attention even beyond the realm of the fashion world, becoming the original, pre-internet influencers. They were everywhere: in talk shows, in films, and in music videos. They even appeared in their own MTV-produced documentary, House of Style, which featured behind-the-scenes footage with supermodels, make-up artists, photographers and designers. “Today, the idea that a personality or individual can transcend the brands they work with is accepted, but back then it was very new,” remembers Schiffer.

And although Captivate! offers a chance for visitors to jump into the world of 90s nostalgia, Schiffer acknowledges the timing and context of its run with today’s reality. “The impact of the pandemic has severely affected the economic health of the arts and culture sector across the globe,” she says, finally. “My primary hope is that Captivate! – both the exhibition and the accompanying catalogue – attract a wide audience to the Kunstpalast and boost a love of fashion and photography.”

Captivate! at the Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf from 15 September 2021 to 9 January 2022.