Claudia Schiffer reveals what it was like to be a supermodel in the 1990s.

Claudia Schiffer was 17 years old when an agent contacted her in a nightclub in her hometown of Düsseldorf, Germany, while she was dancing with some family friends. She traveled to Paris a few months later, test photos in hand, to enter the exciting, glamorous world of fashion. In 1989, she landed her first cover, for French ELLE.

“It was an unbelievable period,” Schiffer said of her time as one of the world’s top supermodels to The Washington Post. “Amazing fusions of… fashion, music, art, and entertainment made the era lively and thrilling. “The unthinkable became feasible.”

Schiffer rose to international prominence in the 1990s after modeling for Guess jeans in a series of sultry and playful advertising shot by her friend Ellen von Unwerth.

Schiffer recalled her first marketing tour for Guess perfume in 1990, saying, “I remember traveling throughout the US to every big city for signings at department stores.” “I returned to my apartment in Central Park in New York, and I was in the elevator one morning, sleepy-eyed and with bed-head hair, when a person entered and asked, ‘Are you the Guess girl?’ “I knew then that my life would never be the same.”

Schiffer poses next to an image of her younger self taken for a 90's Guess campaign.

In a new display at the Kunstpalast museum in Düsseldorf, Schiffer has shared some of her most renowned shoots, as well as behind-the-scenes memorabilia. The model’s curatorial debut, “Captivate! Fashion Photography from the 1990s,” is on view through Jan. 9, 2022, and has hundreds of photographs that depict the heady 1990s fashion environment through Schiffer’s eyes. On January 25, 2022, a book based on the show, edited by Schiffer and titled “Captivate!” [Prestel], will be released in the United States.

“It took a lot of patience,” Schiffer added, “since there were literally hundreds of photographs to chose from.” “How did it come to be?” What went wrong? “Is this distinctly ’90s?” I always wondered.

“The 1990s were a turning point in terms of beauty and fashion,” she continued. “In fashion, there was a tremendous change away from the head-to-toe meticulous glamour of the 1980s and toward naturalism and minimalism.” There was greater individual expression and freedom…. ‘Captivate!’ was supposed to capture [it].”

Schiffer shares the stories behind some of these enthralling photographs in this article.

Ellen von Unwerth shoots a commercial for Guess Jeans in 1989.

1989: Guess Jeans ad, shot by Ellen von Unwerth

“I met Ellen when I was 17 years old in Paris. We were both new to the scene and got along like a house on fire, messing around close to the Centre Pompidou in our own clothes. Soon later, the Guess team noticed the photos and asked us to be part of their 1989 advertising campaign.

On a beautiful summer day in Pisa, Italy, we shot [the bicycle photo]…. Rather than holding a stance, Ellen urged me to walk about and express myself freely. Everything was really spontaneous, and I found myself balancing barefoot on the back of a bicycle while riding through the streets in a black bikini, as if on my way to a faraway beach.

The finest shots are when you can be as crazy and mischievous as you want because there is trust.”

Karl Lagerfeld shot the Chanel campaign in 1990.
“[Designer for Chanel] Karl Lagerfeld entered my life when I was only 18 years old. He’d seen my first cover of Vogue in the United Kingdom… and requested a meeting with me. I was nervous when I walked into his workshop on the Rue Cambon [in Paris], but within hours, I was being fitted for his new collection. We spoke in German, which he enjoyed because no one else could understand us. There was an immediate sense of collaboration, and I enjoyed his razor-sharp wit.

The following day, I was travelling to Deauville with the crew to shoot my first Chanel campaign. I recall us bonding over the fact that we were the only two individuals awake at 3 a.m. with a lot of enthusiasm.

Coco Chanel’s history is intertwined with that of the seaside resort, so donning her characteristic boater and relaxed tailoring and posing in front of the ‘paparazzi’ felt extra special.

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