Badass Woman spotlights women who not only have a voice but defy the irrelevant preconceptions of gender.
Helena Christensen is no stranger to giving it her all for fashion shoots, but doing so in front of hundreds of people while wearing a swimsuit? Especially a vintage Thierry Mugler metal bikini she first wore in 1991? That required some psyching up.
“We all look more or less the same, and we all have our bodies and body issues, so I thought, ‘Just get with it,’ ” she says later about the internal monologue that played in her head on the day of her InStyle shoot.
VIDEO: Helena Christensen Suits Up
It’s true: We definitely all have bodies and some of us might have issues, but in terms of looking the same? In the immortal words of Maya Rudolph spoofing Donatella Versace on Saturday Night Live, “Get ouuuuut!”
The leggy Peruvian-Danish stunner has been able to carry on her storied 30-plus-year career for a reason. When she strutted through the Financial District, yes, she had to bob and weave to avoid tourists with outstretched arms wielding cell phones, but true New Yorkers, she says, “could give a shit about what anyone looks like. I was just another weirdo strolling downtown on my way to work.”
She chalks up the experience to just another strange day “at the office,” doing a job she’s truly grateful for. “Even though it can be awkward and uncomfortable, it adds something to my life,” she says. “I like what [modeling] adds. I think it’s important to try all kinds of things in our relatively short lives.”
Christensen rode the pop-culture wave to fame in 1991, when she frolicked in the surf in her underwear for Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” video. She laughs when reminded of the Herb Ritts-directed shoot. “That was pretty badass,” she says. “It was an unbelievably demanding 18-hour day, actually. We were in Hawaii running on a beach with sharp rocks and hot lava. My legs were bleeding. Herb called me afterward and said that an area we were filming on had literally fallen into the sea and disappeared a few days later.”
Experiences like that have helped Christensen evolve in other ways too. Aside from speaking six languages fluently, she has also been able to pivot with regularity. A photographer before she jumped to the other side of the lens, she's shown her work at galleries worldwide. In addition, she has worn hats as a co-founder and creative director of Nylon magazine, a shopkeeper of vintage apparel and knickknacks, and a fashion designer. She now helms a creative agency with her friend, designer Camilla Stærk. Under their umbrella organization, Stærk Christensen, they collaborate on everything from jewelry to prefab houses. Christensen also serves as the creative director of Strangelove NYC, a perfumery that carries four scents, soon to be sold on Net-a-Porter. She flits between her homes in Manhattan's West Village and Upstate New York, is a mom to 18-year-old Mingus (with ex Norman Reedus), listens to and sings opera, and is in the process of perfecting her classical piano skills.
All of this makes her an eternally fascinating member of the high-fashion circle. Case in point: Last fall she experienced another explosive Instagram moment after appearing on the Versace runway alongside fellow supers Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Claudia Schiffer, and Carla Bruni in honor of the brand’s 20th anniversary. When Donatella Versace was about to take her bow, a curtain was pulled back to reveal the models posing like statues in shimmering gold gowns. Christensen, having flown in just an hour before, said the experience felt like the good old days, with the added benefit of attracting 30,000 new Instagram followers overnight. “I thought my phone was malfunctioning,” she says. “It was so much bigger than I had imagined. Afterward the other girls from the show were just standing there with tears in their eyes and hugging us. It became very emotional. I hope that Gianni [Versace] felt that energy coming from earth. He definitely would have.”
Despite all her successes, Christensen insists she doesn't set goals. Instead, she dives in with her whole heart. No experience is too big or too small as long as you’re doing it with compassion: “At the end of the day, confidence is just about moving through life gracefully and being respectful of yourself and others, to whatever degree you can do that,” she says. “Try your best. Just make that effort. Be fricking cool. It’s really not that hard.”
So as a woman of the world, whom does she look up to? “My girlfriends are pretty badass. Mothers are badass,” she says. Then she thinks for a moment. “It’s actually a funny thing, but most of them have really great asses. So maybe they’re good-ass. Good-ass women.”
Photographed by Matthew Sprout. Fashion editor: Julie Pelipas. Hair: Harry Josh. Makeup: Hung Vanngo. Manicure: Honey.
For more stories like this, pick up the August issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download July 6.