Claudia Schiffer: ‘You shouldn’t confuse the word iconic with fame’

Updated 20th February 2018

Claudia Schiffer: 'You shouldn't confuse the word iconic with fame'

Written by Claudia Schiffer
This month supermodel and designer Claudia Schiffer is CNN Style's guest editor. She's commissioned a series of features around the theme of icons and iconic imagery.

It may seem inconceivable that a supermodel could struggle with insecurity but I did. When I first heard the term supermodel it resonated with me and gave me strength. By transforming into a "superman" persona and allowing myself to embrace that character, I was able to live beyond any self-imposed limitations and accomplish much more than I thought I was capable of.

This is why I remain passionate about the fashion industry 30 years later. Fashion and beauty in their purest sense can be empowering tools, almost like armor. They can enable you to define and re-define yourself or let a specific attribute shine. More than that, sometimes we need help to find our purpose, to persevere beyond the self-doubt and be who we were meant to be.

Claudia Schiffer in the 1991 Guess advertising campaign shot by Ellen von Unwerth Credit: Ellen von Unwerth / Guess?

Karl Lagerfeld gave me valuable advice when I was starting out. He told me to be myself and trust my instincts, rather than worrying about what other people wanted me to be. It reminds me of the Oscar Wilde quote, "Be yourself, everyone else is already taken."

Until my first magazine cover shoot, I thought at any moment someone would tell me it was all over. But I think by proving to myself that I could succeed in something that didn't marry with my instinctive nature, I developed a much deeper resilience and sense of self-belief.

Over the course of my guest editorship, I will explore what it means to be an icon while celebrating some of the iconic people I have collaborated with over the years.

Schiffer poses as Barbie for Vogue Italia in 1994 in a Versace dress by Ellen von Unwerth Credit: Ellen von Unwerth / Vogue Italia

When defining the word icon, the test of time is key. You can't be iconic in the moment. It is also a very different concept to fame and celebrity, which can be short-lived. Time allows you to look back and recognize the lasting impact of an image, a person or a movement.

The power of an image
My relationship with German photographer and director Ellen Von Unwerth is certainly one of the most defining of my career. Ellen saw a Brigitte Bardot quality in me and with great fun and humor she drew me into that role, helping me to find that side of myself.

Claudia Schiffer models for the 1991 Guess advertising campaign by Ellen von Unwerth Credit: Ellen von Unwerth / Guess?

The persona she helped me to craft became imprinted in the brand identity of the Guess Jeans campaigns we did together. Their curve-hugging jeans, amongst others pieces, became synonymous with 80s and early 90s fashion. Moments that, through a different lens, might have been voyeuristic, were beautiful and empowering when captured by Ellen.


I look back on this time as a golden age for fashion This was a time before digital, where shoots could last weeks and actors or musicians were not the face of brands, it was us: the supermodels the photographers and the designers. Visionaries like Gianni Versace also redefined the fashion show format, his catwalks and the performances that he would stage became front-page news. As fashion, music and art started to converge the impact was felt beyond the industry.

I remember shooting the Spring-Summer 1995 campaign for Valentino with American photographer Arthur Elgort. The concept was inspired by Fellini's film, "La Dolce Vita" and I played the role of Sylvia. Life imitated art as we were chased through the streets of Rome by a huge following of paparazzi and TV crews. In one scene on Valentino's balcony, I was directed to wave out to the crowds of people below who responded by chanting my name. The images from the shoot captured a wave of emotion and a unique moment in time.

Celebrating history
More recently, Donatella Versace, who has not only stayed true to her late brother Gianni's legacy, but has grown the business to new heights, re-created an iconic moment.
Naomi Campbell celebrates 30 years of supermodel stardom

In honor of Gianni, she re-united myself Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Helena Christensen and Carla Bruni for the finale of her Spring-Summer 2018 show during Milan Fashion Week. Arms linked and dressed in the new interpretations of the famous gold-chain dresses her brother was known for, we walked out to the tune of George Michael's "Freedom."

It was a powerful experience that evoked an outpouring of emotion. In this case, I will make an exception; the moment itself was iconic.