Read the legendary story of this icon as told in How to Be a Tastemaker, our latest release with Semaine
From the discos of Düsseldorf to the covers of more magazines than any other model in history: one could be forgiven for wondering what else there is still to be added to the Hollywood-worthy story
Despite being one of the biggest names in the fashion industry, she never harbored any ambitions to be a model. It was in 1987 when a modeling scout saw her dancing to “You Spin Me Round” in a disco in Düsseldorf, that her life changed forever: “I thought it was a joke and suggested my best friend, who was a far better candidate in my opinion.” Needless to say, the transition was a whirlwind—in just a few weeks Claudia found herself in Paris and, as they say, “the rest is history!” From growing up in Rheinberg to appearing on high profile magazine covers… 30 years later, she is able to reflect on how it began: “Guess Jeans was my first campaign and shortly afterward Revlon rang asking me to be the face of its debut perfume for Guess. I remember flying around the U.S. to every major city for signings in department stores that attracted huge crowds and appearing on all the major TV shows from Jay Leno and Oprah to David Letterman. After the campaign tour, I returned to my apartment in New York near Central Park. One morning, sleepy-eyed with bedhead hair, I was in the elevator when a person entered and asked, ‘Are you the Guess girl?’ I knew then my life had changed.”
It’s still hard not to mention the “S” word—the “supermodel” set of the 1990s, Claudia being one of the models for whom the term was coined. Was she aware of just how zeitgeisty that moment in fashion industry history was, and her central role in it? It would have been hard not to, Claudia says of the experience: “It was insane… like being like a rock star.” Albeit a rock star who, at every (runway) show had to hire security specifically to guard her underwear—underwear that would otherwise constantly be stolen by the most frenzied of her admirers. This clearly was modeling on another level: supermodeling.
It was during the 1980s that Claudia first fell in love with fashion, but it was in the 1990s that she began to learn what fashion really was. “There was a movement of change, like music, fashion, and art were starting to converge more than ever.” And while, looking back, one might imagine Claudia’s life was easier to lead in a time when one’s image couldn’t be instantly and exponentially broadcast across various social media channels, in the heyday of the supermodel, fashion news could remain front-page-worthy for weeks at a time. Despite the high-wattage exposure, Claudia says she didn’t “feel the pressure to share everything with everybody; you could still have a private life and create a mystique around you.” Today, while she enjoys sharing fashion moments on her own channel, Claudia misses “the clear line of the public figure versus the private one” that has now been blurred.
In this new world, what advice would the icon offer to the new generation of models starting out? “Take pride in being professional—working hard, being punctual, polite, and disciplined. Do have a good lawyer right from the beginning. Know what you want and where you want to be. Make a long-term plan and never give up! Treat everyone as you would like to be treated and don’t be scared to make mistakes; as long as you learn from them, you will be OK! Also, tell the truth and try to live in the present.” Most importantly, perhaps, given it’s what Claudia most credits her own success to: “Trust your instinct.”
Advice such as this, grounded in the realities of the industry without sacrificing a sense of wide-eyed ambition, further builds a sense of how—beyond that coquettish smile and instantly recognizable wave of blonde hair—Claudia became iconic, and it’s clear from meeting her that the most focused member of the supermodel set still has chapters to add. A keen business mind driven by a quiet tenacity has allowed Claudia to transcend the stardom of her modeling heyday and express herself in new ways beyond the realm of fashion. In recent times, her creative and business pursuits have channeled her roots growing up near the Rhein in the German countryside, drawing inspiration from “nature, clouds, and the animals I grew up with.” These memories influenced her recent interiors collections, in the shape of vases for Vista Alegre and ceramics for Bordallo Pinheiro. There is a recent fashion collection with Être Cécile and she is also the face of Chanel Watches. Meanwhile, she shares a happy family life with her husband, the film director Matthew Vaughn, and her three children. Her love of nature comes to the fore here, too, with her home set amidst the rolling countryside of southeast England, its interior reflective of a keen interest in contemporary art and design. In Claudia’s current life, we see someone who has had the glorious opportunity to travel the world and drink in endless inspiration. She crafts an expansive world that is unmistakably in her own image, yet also feels disarmingly inclusive, precisely because of the truly personal, human elements that can’t help but shine through.
What is Claudia's favorite song or place to visit in the world? All is revealed in How to Be a Tastemaker, out now.