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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

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The rigors of her work schedule and training are a bit like the rigor she brings to her business planning. The fashion writer Michael Gross has called her "the model who doesn't make mistakes." Schiffer doesn't quite agree, but does admit that she has "not made the same mistake twice." She continues: "I can't say I don't make mistakes. I do make them, but I try to think of mistakes—even though my first reaction is, 'Oh, my God'—as an experience I can learn from. I have lists of things where I remind myself I cannot do it this way again."

For her determination and her success, she unhesitatingly credits her upbringing. "The main structure of the way I think, the logic and the organization, comes from my parents," she says. "They are both very strong people. My father is a very successful lawyer. My mother helps my father a lot in his business. And she helps me a lot in my financial business—almost more than my father does. They are both really excellent. I admire their work ethic. They are very straightforward, logical and direct. I think that's what I've learned from them." To her parents she also credits what she calls "a very happy childhood," though it was not without some of the problems of youth.

Claudia Schiffer was born on Aug. 25, 1970, in Rheinberg, Germany, a small town about a half hour outside of Düsseldorf, to Heinz and Gudrun Schiffer, in a very upper-middle-class family that was soon to include two brothers, Stefan and Andreas, and a sister, Ann Carolin. "We had, and have, a real family life," says Schiffer. "Even though my parents are very involved in their work, both of them were always there for us. Especially my mother. She became our hero, because she knew and answered everything. She would help us with our schoolwork, especially if we were having difficulty with a subject. She would sit down with us every afternoon and show us things, explain them to us."

Her parents would help her and her siblings in other ways as well. "They didn't want us to be getting the wrong influences in school or during the afternoons after school, so they made sure we were very much involved in other activities," she says. "I learned to play the piano. I took tennis lessons, aerobics, jazz, tap dancing, swimming classes. I think they helped a lot. Because of them, I don't drink. I don't smoke [cigarettes]. I'm not one of those people who likes to go out every night and dance until 6 in the morning. That's part of what they were trying to do. They wanted to have children they could trust, children who would come home and tell them the truth."

In school, she says, she was "kind of" popular, but not to the degree you would think. "I wasn't a star," she says. "There were other girls who were the stars, who were the ones everybody thought were beautiful, the ones everybody wanted to go out with. I had my friends, but I was never 100 percent part of them, because I was so different."

First of all, she says, she was too tall. And too thin. And too rich.

"Because I was so tall, I was very shy," she says. "When a teacher would ask me a question, I would be very embarrassed because I didn't want anyone to notice me. There was also a lot of jealousy in school because I come from a family that is very well known in the area where I grew up. There are five Schiffer brothers, and each has a successful business in town. We have a big house; my parents didn't have to worry about anything financially, and neither did the other Schiffer families. I wanted to be like everybody else, but my father and mother were both driving Mercedes, and if I came to school in a great outfit people would be very jealous. So because of that I never wanted to be the center of attention. After a while I wouldn't wear new clothes. My mother would always say, 'You're so beautiful, why don't you dress that way?' And I just wanted to be in jeans and tennis shoes.

Claudia Schiffer portrait.
"That's why a lot of people were so surprised when I told them I was going to Paris to be a model. The girls who were the stars would all talk about going to school to become models. And I was the one who became a model. That was when all the disadvantages I thought I had, being so tall and so skinny, turned out to be advantages."

She was near the top of her class in school, excelling in languages—she speaks fluent French and English as well as German—and for a while she thought of becoming a lawyer like her father. "I admire him very much," she says. "I even took Latin in school, because in those days if you wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer you had to learn Latin. I went to his law office and thought about working with him. I went to court with him many times, sat in the last row, and watched him and thought, 'Wow, this is what I'm going to do, too.'"

But one day in October 1987, she and some friends went to a Düsseldorf discotheque to dance. Aline Souliers of the Metropolitan modeling agency saw her, gave her a card and told her she had what it took to become a model. Claudia told her parents. "She met my parents the next day and invited them to come to Paris," Claudia says. They were hesitant, concerned that she complete high school.

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