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Claudia Schiffer, A Model Life

Supermodel Claudia Schiffer skillfully manages a career that proves that classic beauty will always be in fashion.
Mervyn Rothstein
From the Print Edition:
Claudia Schiffer, Jul/Aug 97

(continued from page 1)

Now, of course, Claudia Schiffer is recognized everywhere she goes—by the media, the paparrazzi and her many fans, all of whom constantly seek her out, taking photographs, asking for interviews and autographs. At times, she admits, it can be a little much.

"When I'm working, I consider it part of my work," she says. "If I'm attending a public event, or even if I'm on the street going to work, it's not a problem for me. But on vacation it has bothered me a lot. I understand logically that people have a need to see a celebrity, to know what's going on in their lives. But after a while it became so bad it was affecting the rest of my family, too."

Her family vacations on Majorca, where they owned a house. "There was no big wall," she says. "There was the house and the pool and the view and a little wall. And we had 20 photographers out on the wall every day. So I would stay inside all day. I didn't want to go out until the evening, when they would be gone. Then my sister and my mother started to do the same thing. We felt awkward going out in bikinis with everybody watching, or sunbathing topless on a boat, which in Europe everybody does. We couldn't do it. It was very uncomfortable being watched all the time. So we sold the house, and we're building a new one with a wall around it so we can have our private family life. I feel I have the right to take a vacation. There are many advantages of being well known, but that's the major disadvantage."

Claudia Schiffer portrait.
Schiffer refuses to pose nude, and many paparrazzi have gone to great lengths to catch her topless. A group of photographers, she says, once rented a boat and masqueraded as a vacationing family, then suddenly turned with their cameras and caught her relaxing far out at sea. Another photographer cut a hole in a tent at a fashion show in New York to benefit AIDS research and took shots of her changing costumes. Even the store on Majorca where she has photos developed, she says, made copies of shots a friend took of her topless in the Bahamas eight years ago, kept them and recently sold them. She says she has been talking with her lawyers about keeping the photos from being circulated more widely.

Another area in which she insists on some semblance of privacy is her personal life. She and the magician David Copperfield have been engaged for more than three years. He reportedly gave her a five-carat engagement ring, but so far there have been no wedding bells. She will talk about their relationship, but only a little. "I don't want to talk about my private life too much," she says. There are as yet, she says, "no official plans for marriage," but they are still very close. "We're just really great friends," she says. "We share a lot of things—hobbies, passions, interests. We have a lot of fun together." And yes, he does share with her the secrets of his astounding prestidigitations. "I'm there when he invents something, when he rehearses it, so naturally I know," she says.

Schiffer has many hobbies she enjoys pursuing in the little spare time she has, with or without Copperfield. She enjoys contemporary art and collects paintings and drawings she has found in her travels, particularly the (former Soviet) Georgian painter Kako, who creates figurative art. She enjoys skiing and playing tennis, and likes to curl up with a good book at night. One of her favorite relaxations is painting—watercolors or acrylics of animals and people.

But what this woman of beauty considers one of the most beautiful things in life, she says, is singing; not her own, but that of others. "I have a real passion for singing," she says, "especially Broadway musicals. The dancing, the acting, it all makes the performers beautiful. I saw the revival of Chicago last week and thought the dancers and singers were marvelous."

And she really appreciates good cigars. "I love the smell of a good cigar, the elegance, the feel. I enjoy the camaraderie of being with people smoking cigars, the friendship, the good feeling, the laughter." She most often experiences cigars with her fashion friends, among them Steven Florio, the president of Conde-Nast Publications. "I like being part of the mood, the excitement of the occasion," she says.

For five hours on the day of her Cigar Aficionado photo shoot, clad first in a light blue Armani dress, then a navy Ralph Lauren halter dress, and surrounded by a garland of hydrangeas, she puffed away contentedly at a passel of the finest Cubans—Cohiba Robustos and Siglo IVs, Montecristos No. 1 and 2. The elegance of the cigars seemed a perfect accompaniment to the grace of her slender hands; the smile on her face enhanced her pervasive sensuality, and the aromatic smoke drifting gently overhead added just a touch of mystery to her magical beauty. One look made it clear that handmade Havanas and haute couture go well together.

One hobby Schiffer most emphatically does not have is collecting, or wearing, jewelry. "I'm not a jewelry person," she says—an unexpected declaration from one who travels in a world where gold and diamonds are de rigueur. A glance reveals that she practices what she preaches—she is wearing a wristwatch with a plain black band, and a small jeweled crucifix on a thin gold chain around her neck. "I think it's because my mother has never been a jewelry person," she says. "I don't have holes in my ears, so I couldn't even wear earrings. It bothers me when I have a lot of things on. It's not me. I'm more simple and practical. Jewelry doesn't reflect my personality."

What her personality does reflect is the desire to continue to branch out from modeling. "In the beginning, modeling was very exciting. It fulfilled me. It was very satisfying, because everything was new, and you have all these dreams and goals, and you're hoping to achieve them. I wanted to be on certain covers, work with certain photographers and designers. And that's what happened. I fulfilled them. But now that I'm a little older, I think to myself that I've done this. Now I want to be more involved, more creative, make more decisions myself, come up with my own ideas and have them carried out."

She has appeared on television in Europe, hosting the French Fashion Awards and the World Music Awards in Monaco. She has completed her first major movie, a drama called The Blackout, directed by Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant, The Funeral). Scheduled for release this year, the movie costars Matthew Modine and Dennis Hopper. "I loved it," she says. "I didn't want to leave. We all became friends, we became a team, and I enjoyed acting so much. Ferrara is so great with actors. He takes the time to help you, to explain, to allow you to come up with your own ideas. He is so open to them."

She would like to return to the screen, but only with the right script and the right role. "I don't want the main role," she says. "I want to start first with small things, to get my feet wet, to see what I can do. I'm just a beginner."

Last year, the House of Chanel ended its relationship with Schiffer and replaced her with the very skinny British model Stella Tennant—after Tennant removed rings in her nose and navel. Some in the fashion press, which is, by definition, trendy and fickle, began saying that perhaps the era of Claudia was over, that the public was getting tired of her, that she was not as much in demand on the runways of Paris and New York, that she was really more a look than a model.

Such talk, Schiffer says, does not surprise or trouble her. "It would concern me if it was true," she says. "But it's not. I work as much as I've always worked. I make the same amount of money. I see my schedule in front of me and I know how busy it is. I still have my contracts, and if I lose one I get another. What I think is happening is simply that the more well known you get, the more you are criticized, the more people try to bring you down. I see it all the time with other celebrities, so why shouldn't it happen to me, too?"

Eventually, though, she says, the era of Claudia will be over. Last year she said that because she was financially secure, she no longer had to think about what she would be doing when she was 30 or 35. But she has thought about what she would like to be involved in a decade from now—and it is unlikely to include modeling.

"In 10 years, I think I will probably not model anymore," she declares. "Lauren Hutton and Christie Brinkley are great examples of those who fight the image of successful models only being there for a certain period of time, but I think that what they do is not for me. I would still need to be active. I can't sit still for long periods. I need always to be doing something. So I'd love to develop book or television projects, or make a movie. And I'd like to be involved in a charity to which I can give a lot of time. Because I'll have a lot of time."

She has always been a fan of Audrey Hepburn, she says. "I really admire her very much. And I love that when she didn't do that many movies anymore, because she was older and didn't get enough good roles, she gave all that time to Unicef. I'd love when I'm older to have her grace and charisma. Which is not something you can have when you're young, because it's the experience of life that gives it to you. But that's what I'd like for my future."

Another goal is being more comfortable with herself. "I've never liked myself too much," she says. "I've always thought I was too shy, too reserved, that I should be more open, more this, more that. But I've learned to say to myself that I am the way I am, and the more I am myself the better I'll be. Of course you want to work to be a good person, but first you have to learn to accept yourself."

Mervyn Rothstein is an editor at The New York Times and a frequent contributor to Cigar Aficionado.

Women of CA gallery


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