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Interview: Claudia Schiffer

Claudia Schiffer talks style icons, confidence and family with Stylist.

Heading to meet Claudia Schiffer at her home in the Suffolk countryside, I try hard to imagine what a supermodel’s house is like. Stark, modern, minimalist? Urban boutique hotel crossed with a nightclub? In the end, it turns out to be more Gosford Park than the Gansevoort, a graceful, 13-bedroomed, 15th-century pile, complete with deer roaming across the front lawn, leaded windowpanes and a clock tower. I’m shown into a cream-coloured sitting room, with log fire. Claudia strides in, all 5ft11” of her, in a navy blue boyfriend dress from her own range, black trousers and a red and black print Stella McCartney scarf.

It’s the second time Stylist has met Claudia, and been invited to one of her two UK homes. She graced the fifth cover of Stylist, and, two and a half years on, she’s equally warm and welcoming. She is also, it has to be said, simply beautiful; and throughout our talk, her clear, Arctic blue eyes alternate with flashes of humour and focused concentration.

I start our interview by asking her what led her to want to design her own collection (called Claudia Schiffer Cashmere). After all, she’s not the first – Elle Macpherson and Kate Moss are just two fellow supers who have had huge success with their own ranges. Is this something she wants to build on, to leave as a legacy for her children?

ABOVE: Photos of Claudia Schiffer Cashmere, available at net-a-porter.com

“Yes, very much so,” she answers in her lightly accented English. “I’d always known, soon after starting out as a model, that I’d love to do this. But I’ve turned down so many offers to collaborate with other people, because I never wanted to put my name to something I didn’t believe in. I wanted to do something I could feel proud of, and that I would genuinely wear myself.”

Her first collection, an understated easy-to-wear range of earthly toned boyfriend-style sweater dresses, cape dresses, jumpers and classic granddad cardigans, launched for autumn/winter 2011. So far she’s mainly stocked at Net-a-Porter, boutiques and high-end department stores worldwide. “We’ve grown really organically,” explains Claudia. “Net-a-Porter from the very start has been so supportive; 70% of the collection sold out in four days.”

Claudia’s inspiration for the spring/summer 2012 range is: “Sixties, early Seventies – my mood board featured pictures of [actress] Jane Birkin. I like the way she wore her outfits, often with bare feet; the feel is very cool, very relaxed.”

“It’s practical – however you move in your day-to-day life, whether picking up your kids from school or going to work, you feel comfortable, but still chic.”

In Paris I could dress how I wanted – to show my personality through clothes instead of hiding it

Having spent over two decades wearing clothes for a living [Claudia was discovered by a model scout in 1987, aged 17], she’s well placed to know what makes a woman look good. But she’s the first to admit that when she started out in her career, she played it incredibly safe. “When I was growing up, clothes, for me, were all about being invisible. I lived in Rheinberg, a small town in Germany, where everyone knew everyone else, and I stood out because I was really tall and skinny.

My mum loved buying us clothes [Claudia has one sister, Ann Carolin, and two brothers, Stefan and Andreas] and people at school would comment whenever I wore something new. I used to borrow clothes from the boy next door, instead – I’d wear his baggy jeans and jumpers. I was incredibly shy and just wanted to disappear.”

"My People"

Being launched straight into a series of high-profile shoots and campaigns soon after arriving in Paris, aged 17, Claudia’s take on fashion started to broaden. Did she have someone she deemed a mentor, in a sense, during those early modelling days? “I would say Karl Lagerfeld, especially as we worked together so much. I had a lot of Chanel clothes so was able to play around with new ideas and looks.

At one event I wore a Chanel biker jacket over a very short mini dress, a gold belt with charms hanging off it, fishnet tights and loads of make-up – it was all really over the top and fun! I went to a lot of events in Paris, and it encouraged me to experiment. I built up my belief in what looked good, what things went together. I was only around 19 at the time, so it was amazing. Plus, living in a big city, it was incredibly liberating to walk down the street, wearing what you liked, and realise that no-one cared. There was none of that small-town mentality. For the first time, I felt I could dress how I wanted – to show my personality through clothes, instead of hiding it.”

Claudia’s confidence grew as she learned how to express herself in front of the camera, and she credits one particular photographer, Ellen von Unwerth (herself a former model), with teaching her how to become fearless and put her trust in the person shooting her.

“Ellen and I pretty much started out together,” she says. “We had an immediate affinity, because she’s German too, and that created a natural chemistry which exists to this day. Our first shoot together was for Interview magazine. Ellen came to pick me up from my flat in Pigalle, and her attitude was very much like, ‘Right, we’re going try all this stuff, so just jump over this… hang upside down from that…’ – all these crazy things you’d normally be too embarrassed to do. But she has this talent, and this element of fun, which stops you feeling self-conscious, and the pictures turned out really well, which led to us working together on the Guess jeans campaign. It was a crazy time, and we both started being recognised after that. Her upbeat character has influenced me so much; she always has a smile on her face. Ellen convinces me I can do anything; she’s taught me that whatever you do, however silly you seem, it’s just between you and the photographer. The end result is all that matters.”

Initially, Claudia was self-conscious on shoots – “I hated being the centre of attention” – but she soon learned to relax. “It was great to hear [from photographers] that all the things I thought were ‘wrong’ at school – being so tall, having skinny legs – were now the best thing ever.”

ABOVE: Photos of Claudia Schiffer Cashmere, available at net-a-porter.com

Claudia admits she was ‘very’ homesick initially, after moving from her home town to Paris. “I’d be in tears every night. Before I left, my dad said, ‘OK – we’ll give this a year. You’ve got a year to learn French, to see where this takes you, and then, if you’re not successful, just come home’ I had that safety net, so my parents’ support has always been very important. But I also had support from my oldest friend; we’ve known each other since we were four years old. She still lives in Germany, so we don’t see each other as often, but I talk to her regularly. She knows me from before, she knows my family, we’re very close. We went through all the same rituals together – experimenting with make up, first boyfriends, her first cigarette (though we got caught by her mum!). Now she’s a mother too and we holiday together [Claudia prefers not to name her]. Among the ‘supermodels’ from my era, I would say I was closest to Nadja Auermann, who’s also German, and also Eva Herzigova, who’s eastern European, and Helena Christensen, who comes from Denmark. We all came from backgrounds with similar traditions, so we could relate to each other. Otherwise, I was a bit of a loner, as I was still quite shy. But then that probably prevented me from going out and getting into trouble!”

Now, of course, Claudia has her own family. She met filmmaker Matthew Vaughn [Kick-Ass and The Debt] in 2000, and they married in 2002; they now have three children, Caspar, 9, Clementine, 7, and Cosima, 20 months. Were marriage and kids always on her agenda? “Yes. I come from a big family, and I always wanted to have kids of my own. Before I met Matthew, I worked non-stop. But once we got together, suddenly a whole new world seemed to open up. And when I had my first child, my priorities became completely different. Motherhood made me feel, ‘this is what I’m all about.’ You stop worrying. Matthew and I are a team, we make all our decisions together, whether it’s about the children or the house. We’re not divided in any sense.”

"My Places"

Rheinberg, Germany: “This is where I grew up. It’s on the river Rhine, it’s very old and incredibly beautiful, surrounded by gorgeous woods and countryside where my father used to drag me and my brothers and sister for walks every weekend. I didn’t appreciate it so much at the time, but looking back, I realise I had such a nice childhood. It was a very safe place – I could walk to school or cycle anywhere on my own. But when I was there, I always couldn’t wait until I could leave, just because it was so small. Now I love going back.”

Paris, France: “I always felt an affinity for France, ever since I went on a school exchange to a little town called Montreuil-sur-mer. I loved the food, the way people spoke and dressed, and from then on I used to fantasise that one day I’d move to Paris. And then I did. I lived in Pigalle at first, then later the Marais where I settled; people recommended I stay somewhere more quiet, but I wanted to be in the buzz of it all.

Initially I was wary; it was a big, overwhelming city. My mother came for a while to help me settle in, and once I’d worked out the metro system and knew how to get around, I knew I’d be fine. I revelled in my newfound independence, and thought, ‘I’ve got to make this work’, because I knew I had a deadline of a year. So I worked really, really hard; even on days I didn’t have anything on, I’d ask my agents why I wasn’t working. I wanted to show what the shy girl from Rheinberg could do.”

Puerto d’Andratx, Majorca: “We’ve always gone here on holiday. As soon as I step off the plane, I smell my childhood memories: barbecues on the beach, windsurfing, the sense of relaxation. The same group of people would always come here when I was young, including my best friend. I go there now, with my own family, and bring the same games I used to play with my brothers and sister and friends.”

Coldham Hall, Suffolk: “Matthew used to come here as a child, because his friend’s family owned it, so he has so many memories of this house. But then the family sold it, though he always talked to me about it. He used to bring me to the area, and one day we decided to see if the owners might ever plan to sell. We literally knocked on the door, asked them, and found out that they were – it was that easy. It dates from 1574; it’s Tudor style, it felt quintessentially English. I liked it immediately; I got such a good vibe from it when I walked in. It felt like it was waiting for us. It’s an ongoing renovation project, though; we started working room by room when we moved in 11 years ago and it’s still not finished.”

London, UK: “I’ve lived in Paris and New York, where I love the pace, but this has become my favourite city. It’s got everything you could want and it has a lovely villagey feel; there are parks and gardens everywhere in London. There is a sense of community in the neighbourhood we live in, in Notting Hill, and it’s also really easy to get to the countryside. I’ve fallen in love with it, and I’m so glad I ended up here. It’s thanks to Matthew; it’s where love brings you.”

Claudia Schiffer Cashmere spring/summer 2012 collection is available from net-a-porter.com, Harvey Nichols and Brown Thomas from 1 February; prices range from £350 to £650

Words: Laura Millar

Picture credit: Courtesy of Net-a-Porter