The first thing that Claudia Schiffer writes in her new Rizzoli book, celebrating 30 years in the modeling industry, is that people think she's an "ice queen." The second is that they're not entirely wrong.
But when the supermodel, 47, welcomes me into her suite at New York's Crosby Street Hotel, all dewy smiles and lively gesticulations as she plays with the beauty products laid out in front of her, she is nothing short of warm.
So why the bad rap? Schiffer is cripplingly shy, she explains. It’s hard to imagine the leggy, Bardot-esque blonde—runway legend, muse to Karl Lagerfeld—as anything other than teeming with confidence. But teased for having "duck-like" features as a girl, she spent her teenage years trying to make herself as unnoticeable as possible, and that social anxiety followed her into the fashion industry. "I'd be always in the background, rather quiet, so people would assume, 'Oh, that's because she's arrogant,' " the Rheinberg, Germany, native says of the '90s fashion world, which crowned her and a handful of her most successful peers the original supermodels. That coyness would disappear in front of the cameras, where “I learned I can be a completely different person," she explains, resulting in iconic images like the Guess ads that catapulted Schiffer to global fame and the Ellen von Unworth editorials that made her fashion's favorite bombshell.
Now, Schiffer is happiest when tucked away at home in London with husband Matthew Vaughn and their three kids. But she made a valiant return for Versace's Spring 2018 runway show, which, in an epic tribute to the late Gianni Versace, reunited the '90s supers—Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Carla Bruni, and Helena Christensen—for a sparkling, gold-clad strut that stole Milan Fashion Week. Schiffer is also kicking off 30 years in the business with a new makeup line and a capsule collection for Aquazzura. Here, she spills her secrets about what went on behind the scenes at Versace, age-defying beauty, and the one makeup "rule" she'll always tell you to break.
Do you remember what you were thinking during your first-ever shoot?
Yes! I was still going to [high] school. They said, “Can she please come in for a day to Paris?” and I was still at the stage when I thought, 'They don’t know me. They’re probably making a mistake and as soon as they see me, they’re going to go, ‘Yeah, sorry!’ ' And that’s why I never told anyone in school I was going to Paris to model. I just said I was sick! When I finished with school [and moved to Paris as a model], I made up another small lie, because modeling wasn’t really a well-known thing like it is today. I thought they might misunderstand. It was sort of like, “As in nudity?" So I said I’m going to work for Chanel in Paris. And, weirdly, that’s exactly what happened afterwards. Thank God it did! It took a good year until I got my first cover, and then I thought, 'OK, maybe I could actually take this seriously.'
In the book, you write that your shyness has given you a reputation as an “ice queen”—and that that’s not an unfair description. How so?
Well, if you imagine, on photo shoots, there's a lot of people, and because I'm shy, I wouldn't be the one participating in the conversation. People would assume, "She's an ice queen” or “she doesn't want to hang out with us." I think people misunderstood me, and then when I would open up and say, "Actually, I'm really shy.” They'd be like, "Oh, yeah. That makes so much sense." Unless, of course, I was on the photo shoot stage—I'm not me anymore. I'm someone different, and I can be outrageous and very chatty and bubbly. But as soon as we're me again, I would step out of that.
Have you overcome your shyness?
No, I'm still that shy. You wouldn't notice it because I now know how to deal with it. But that inner feeling of feeling really good and comfortable and happy is only when I'm with a small crowd. The moment you put me into a big party, inside, I'm thinking, 'Ah!'
Any tips for others with social anxiety?
You know what's really good is that visualization of, "OK, I'm gonna jump into the cold water." You know when you want to go swimming, and it's quite cold? “You're gonna jump in that ice cold water, and you're just gonna survive.”
VIDEO: Cindy Crawford and the Original Supermodels Shut Down the Versace Show
You were teased for your appearance as a teen. How did that affect your confidence?
It did, a lot. I was sitting back after class, trying for no one to notice me. It was not the worst thing someone could say about you, but I was completely aware that my bum stuck out more than other people's bums. I'm much taller, I'm much skinnier, and I thought back then that was a negative. So when someone discovered me, I suddenly realized: These things can be positives. You probably would have 20 years of therapy in exchange for this one night when someone goes, "Hey, you could be a model." [laughs] From that point on, I thought, ‘You know what? I am who I am, and there's nothing I can change about it.’ That helped me gain an inner confidence because being a model, people whisper behind your back; when you're in with a photographer, you know there's someone pointing out everything that's wrong with you because no one is perfect. But I gained that inner confidence, thinking, ‘I am who I am. I can’t change it. You like it, you don't like it.’ I had this weird combination—I was shy but also [had] strength inside.
As a mother, how do you teach your kids that lesson?
It's so much easier today because the whole world at the moment is about: You can be whoever you are. Anything is possible. It doesn't matter what size you are or what's “wrong” with you. You can point out, ‘Look at this one. She succeeded with this.’ So it's an easy one to say, ‘What's so great is that this is you, and no one is like you.’
What’s one beauty rule you always break?
Sleeping in my makeup. It actually does look really good. I don't take my makeup off around my eyes and just keep some of the leftover. That smudgy, sexy eye? It’s crazy. You know, I heard for the first time about it back in the days, in the '90s, working with Ellen von Unwerth, a German photographer, for Guess Jeans. We were in Morocco with makeup artist Laurie Starrett. He used to always say that. "Can you please sleep in your makeup because the next day it's so much better.” He said, "You're only allowed to take the eyelashes off, but you have to keep all the black." Crazy, but he was right.
You said you view makeup as a suit of armor. What makeup trick gives you instant confidence?
Foundation because on top of being shy, I used to blush, and, annoyingly, everyone knew, "She has some emotion going on there!" I used to always say at fashion shows, "Not enough, more!" Otherwise, I’d say a mascara that's really thick and got luxurious volume. And even if you have no time for any makeup, an eyelash curler just gives you an instant [boost].
What’s the one beauty product you never leave home without?
Illuminator. If you want to look like you're really awake and fresh, even though you're really sleeping, it's a good one to always have with you. And lip balm.
Versace's Spring 2018 was a showstopping supermodel reunion. How did that come together?
It was the anniversary of the death of Gianni Versace, so Donatella called us all up: “Could you please help me make that something really special?” And I'm like, “Yeah of course. What do you need us to do?” And she said “Look, the most important part is don't tell anyone. So can you all stay in different hotels when you arrive in Milan?” I wasn't allowed to tell anyone what I was doing. It was meant to be a really big surprise. And then, yeah, we just all arrived. We had a few fittings beforehand. I had one in London. She recreated the dresses that he had done for the '90s in a new version, sort of. And it was really special, we all had our own little dressing rooms like in the '90s, so no one could see us. It was really amazing.
So the rest of the models in the show didn't even know the '90s supermodels were joining them?
No, they did not know! They only realized when they were coming out for rehearsals, and then suddenly people were like, “What's going on here?”
Who of the original supers do you stay in touch with most often?
Most often probably Eva Herzigová and Nadia Auermann, Helena Christensen. And then of course there is Cindy and Christy and Naomi. But it's not like seeing each other every day because everyone is very busy and almost all have also family lives. When we see each other, we might do something after work. But it doesn't matter how much time passes—it feels like it was just yesterday again. Like you would experience at a high school reunion, you know? That type of feeling.
Today’s “It” models seem to operate as girl squads, at least on Instagram. Was that the case back then?
I knew there was a massive amount of competition and at the same time this camaraderie. You'd call each other saying, “Oh, I'm booked for this thing—are you? Because if you're not going, I'm not going.” Or, “I wouldn't work with him again.” We would be helping each other at the same time as we're constantly competing about who's going to get the best position, the best exit, the best dress. We'd arrive at a Versace show, and there'd be Oribe, the hairdresser, and Laura Mercier doing the makeup, and they all had their team around them, which were more junior, so we'd arrive extra early and put your name down. “How do I get there? Oh no, Cindy's got that place already!” At the same time, we're also friends and we're going out afterwards for dinner, or we are helping each other and making sure we're protected.
So is there a '90s supermodel text chain now? Do you all chat?
Yes, we now do actually have that.
Who are your style icons?
I love all the '60 pictures of Jane Birkin or, going into the '70s, Lauren Hutton, where they look like they're so effortless. Really, they changed their outfits 10 thousand times in front of the mirror, probably [laughs]. They just look so cool. I always look back at that, so many Pinterest boards.
Are you a big Pinterest-er?
Yeah, obsessed! A glass of red wine and Pinterest.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received from someone in fashion?
Probably Karl Lagerfield. At the early stages, he asked me could I do his fashion show, and I said, “No, I don’t think I could do that—I would die.” Back then, [there] was a difference between fashion shoot models and the models that do runway. When you do runway, those girls knew exactly how to stop and pose, and there were particular [moves]. When I arrived, there were only girls with brown hair, à la Coco Chanel style. I was the first one that went down weirdly. And I had blonde hair, I was more curvaceous, there was a big change going on there. And he said, “Just forget about that. Walk like you walk down the street. Whatever you want to do, whenever you want to turn, you can do whatever you want. Just be who you are."
Which shoot do you reminisce about most often?
All the shoots I did with Ellen von Unwerth. She used to be a model before becoming a photographer so she understands how to speak to models. But she is like a child inside, and me too. When I’m made up, I become a child again, sort of unprohibited, doing silly things. When she takes pictures, she becomes like a 5-year-old. [laughs] She has all these crazy, fun ideas. That led into Guess, and that was a turning point for people to know who I was. There was an amazing shoot in Rome with Arthur Elgort [for Valentino]. We reenacted the film La Dolce Vita, and I was Anita Ekberg. Thousands of people were following us everywhere, singing football songs with my name in it, even when I was having dinner with Valentino and [his partner] Giancarlo [Giammetti] upstairs. He’d open the balcony, and they’d all be standing there. Really amazing moment. And all the photo shoots with Karl Lagerfield, because he is someone who has an enormous amount of energy, so literally at 3 o’ clock in the morning he’s still taking pictures.