Tuesday, 23 November 2010

My favourite models - Veruschka

Photography by Franco Rubartelli

Veruschka's exotic looks have always been a favourite of mine.  She was Vogue's cover girl the month I was born in January 1969, not that I actually remember it, but I have since bought a vintage copy.

One of the original supermodels of the Sixties and Seventies Vera von Lehndorff was born in Prussia in 1939.  I love her looks and style and she got to wear some of the most fabulous clothes of that era.  An amazonian 6'1" tall, she also has size 12 feet!

A favourite of Hollywood stars, Veruschka has dated Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman, she must have absolutely towered over Dustin!  Here's a piece from the Telegraph and some of her iconic images.

Photography by Franco Rubartelli

Veruschka interviewed for the Telegraph, 2003
By Naomi West

Veruschka was no ordinary '60s model; a German countess, she could be anything from Greta Garbo to a leopard in a tree.  Now, she is still an inspiration.

Of all the players in Michelangelo Antonioni's cult 1966 film BlowUp, there was one legendary enough to star as herself.  Veruschka - the model whose farout features dominated fashion magazines in the late '60s - appeared for hardly five minutes, but her performance was electrifying.

With David Hemmings in Blow Up

Announcing herself ("Here I am") at the studio of the David Bailey-esque photographer (played by David Hemmings) barefoot and in a black mini-dress, she proceeded to seduce the photographer's lens by writhing on the floor like a wildcat, while he sat astride her, snapping furiously." She moves like nobody on earth," Hemmings sighed afterwards.

In real life her photo shoots were no less extraordinary; US Vogue editor Diana Vreeland would give Veruschka carte blanche to conceive fashion stories with her then lover, the Italian photographer Franco Rubartelli.

Photography by David Wills

Photography by Franco Rubartelli

Photography by Franco Rubartelli

Photography by Franco Rubartelli

The leotard-clad Veruschka and Rubartelli would jump on a plane together, taking all the clothes, body paint and photographic equipment they needed to the middle of a desert, or to some snowy wasteland against which Veruschka would throw her lean body into contorted shapes.  They once travelled to the Bahamian island Eleuthera on Christmas Day to take photographs by moonlight.

You would expect such an astonishing figure to make an entrance. But when Veruschka, now 61, arrives at a Parisian photographic studio, she glides in swiftly, shrouded like a brightly coloured Lawrence of Arabia.

Within seconds she has disappeared into a back room for a further hour to apply her make-up.
Veruschka, who now goes by her real name, Vera von Lehndorff, is in Paris to meet the New York fashion designer Michael Kors, who chose to capture her spirit in his spring/summer 2003 show for the French fashion house Celine.  To a sitar-laden remix of the Rolling Stones' Jumping Jack Flash, Kors sent on to the catwalk a collection he dubbed Veruschka Voyage, a holiday wardrobe gleaming with gold embroidery and hot pink and orange tie-dyes.  Kors's models looked like leisured, sun-tanned bohemians, sporting collar-bone-skimming earrings made of linked brass discs.

Photography by Franco Rubartelli

Photography by Franco Rubartelli

Photography by Franco Rubartelli

Photography by Franco Rubartelli

Photography by Franco Rubartelli

Today, von Lehndorff is just here to hang out while the photographer Vincent Peters shoots the Celine advertising campaign with the 27-year-old Midwestern model Frankie Rayder, who appears airily unconcerned about measuring up to one of modelling's all-time greats.

Von Lehndorff's pale, heavily lined face and broad features remain impassive as she draws on a cigarette. Her ensemble is on the outer reaches of eccentricity; over her taut body she wears something resembling a black body stocking, a floor-length orange cardigan and a raggedy orange tie-dyed scarf.
On her size-nine feet are Vivienne Westwood pirate boots, and her straggly tawny hair hangs from under an orange bandanna decorated with spangles.  Odder still, earlier in the day this look was completed with a pair of orange-lensed Ali G-style sunglasses.

However, von Lehndorff's career as a model has had unusually little to do with clothes.  As she said to Nova magazine in 1968, "I hate the whole kind of chic look - Dior, St Laurent.  They might look very nice, but I don't feel them."  And her attitude hasn't changed.  "I'm not especially inspired by fashion," she says slowly in her contralto, Germanic voice, before giving the rail of Celine outfits a polite but cursory survey.  For von Lehndorff, modelling was all about transforming herself. "I was always being different types of women. I copied Ursula Andress, Brigitte Bardot, Greta Garbo. Then I got bored so I painted myself as an animal," she says in a deadpan way. "One day I ended up as a stone.  I was depressed and went out on to my terrace in Rome.  I wanted to disappear, to be like the stones of the terrace. I painted myself lying down in the mirror, and copied the stones on to my face."
But at the beginning of her career, changing was a necessity, not an artistic, endeavour.  She had first travelled to New York in 1961 as plain old Vera, but failed to secure a single booking. After retreating to Milan for a spell, she returned to take Manhattan under her new name, Veruschka. "I dressed all in black and went to see all the top photographers, like Irving Penn, and said, 'I am Veruschka who comes from the border between Russia, Germany and Poland.  I'd like to see what you can do with my face.' "

Photography by Franco Rubartelli

Photography by Franco Rubartelli

Photography by Richard Avedon

Photography by Franco Rubartelli

It worked; constantly booked, Veruschka gained almost mythical status. When Life magazine profiled "the most sought-after model in the world", they magnified her 1.8-metre frame to an alien 1.9 metres. Her extraordinary physique, complete with outsize hands and feet, even spawned industry rumours that she had once been a man.

Von Lehndorff's background is as intriguing as the Veruschka creature she invented.  Of noble birth, her full title (which she never uses) is the Countess Vera Gottliebe Anna von Lehndorff.  Her father was a Prussian count who was involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler in 1944 and hanged that year, when Vera was three.  Her mother was arrested, and Vera and her sisters spent the rest of the war in Gestapo camps. They were reunited with their mother after the war, but the family was destitute, and ostracised by other Germans for their father's treachery.  She ended up studying textile design in Florence, where a fashion designer first asked her to model.

Von Lehndorff stopped modelling in the early '70s when the newly appointed editor-in-chief at Vogue, Grace Mirabella, advised her to cut her hair so readers could identify with her ("I hate that idea").  She then sought to become "an artist who had modelled for a few years".  Collaborating with the artist Holger Tradilzsch, she was photographed in 1971 and 1972 as a series of characters, clad only in body paint.

Although she has made the odd foray back into modelling (for example, to launch a menswear collection for Karl Lagerfeld in 1995), von Lehndorff lives the life of an artist in a rundown area of Brooklyn, with her lover Micha Waschke, a musician who doubles as her assistant.  She has exhibited a steady stream of work, from photos of herself covered in ash to a short film, Buddha Bum (1998), in which she plays a series of homeless people and Buddha.

Photography by Franco Rubartelli

Photography by Franco Rubartelli

Photography by Franco Rubartelli

It is unfortunate that von Lehndorff talks about her art in the kind of indistinct terms that smack of half-baked pretension. "Veruschka was the first emanation of the children of illusion," she murmurs, referring to her sprawling work in progress, Emanations.  Since the mid-'90s, she has collaborated with designers ranging from Helmut Lang to Paco Rabanne to explore characters that include "urbanites and savage animals, presidents and movie stars".  But the results are compellingly strange, and far from anachronistic.

The fashion world fosters an ongoing fascination with her '60s persona, the make-up brand MAC sells a lipstick called Veruschka, and there are still boutiques named after her, yet she is detached from any hype.  Asked if she misses the glamour of modelling, she looks down her wide, flat nose unselfconsciously: "No. I have my own drama and glamour anyhow.  As long as I am here, it is not gone."

"Oh, I think she's more glamorous than she ever looked in her pictures," designer Michael Kors chips in, which is plainly untrue. But in fashion, where myths can hold more sway than reality, Veruschka will always be an extraordinary beauty.

I loved this film too.  David Hemmings was hot.

Photography by Franco Rubartelli

Who are your favourite models?

Have a great evening xxx


Sarcastic Bastard said...

She is so magnificent looking. The first time I ever remember seeing her was in film The Bride. She had a small part, but it was memorable.

Penny Dreadful said...

No picture of her walking for Giles? ;)

I think she is incredible, she really epitomises the look of the 60s. x

Dash said...

SB is spot on she is magnificent!

Christina @ Fashion's Most Wanted said...

Dear SB, oh I must check it out as I haven't seen it xx

Dear Margaret, no I didn't like the Giles dress so I'm not posting it. I like to remember her looking like this xx

Dear Dash, isn't she fabulous! xx

Make Do Style said...

She is amazing, love the photos truly glorious. I've never liked Blow Up - but when you've seen Antonioni's L'elisse nothing compares. I know loads of people love Blow Up and I wish I could too - good costumes though!

Girl in a Thunderbolt said...

I love Veruschka too. One of my favourite quotes from Blow Up,

David Hemmings: "I thought you were in Paris"

Veruschka: "I AM in Paris!"

La Porta Màgica said...

I love her also and i need google traslate!! because I want to understand all jajaja
thangs great great post!!


Calamity Jem said...

Hi Christina,
She's undeniably a stunning looking lady.
I've always really liked Christy Turlington, I like models that radiate kindness & sincerity & she’s got the most captivating smile & exquisite doe eyes.
Thank you for all you lovely comments on my blog btw :)
I think I've managed to sort out that little mail related prolemo you mentioned the other day.

Fashionistable said...

She is and speaks like a product of her time. It is amazing how very successful are very blase/comfortable about the whole process. She certainly seems to exude this. Mind you her young experiences in life I am sure shaped her outlook. How amazing to spend Christmas day doing a low key shoot somewhere amazing. Now I would love that. Xxxx

Alex said...

What a truly outstandingly beautiful face she had. I had no idea about the freedom she was allowed in her photo shoots though.

ps - will be home from this weekend onwards :)

Vintage Vixen said...

Dear Christina, a real Amazonian beauty. Like Margaret says, she really did epitomise the 1960's and I'd kill for that Pucci dress she's wearing, isn't it glorious. I love Blow Up, we've got a knackered old VHS copy, I should track down the DVD.
Gillian is a freak! Such a fraud. I don't know if I could be as patient with her as her jungle mates...grrrr! xxx
PS Hope today goes as well as it can.

Simone said...

She is absolutely astonishing isn't she....WOW!!! I have seen photos of her before but never really studied her as I was able to do in this post....amazing.

The photos by her Italian lover/photographer really capture something in her....and I love the Richard Avedon shot.

What an interesting life and personality too...I must come back and re-read this.

I need lots more time to read the fabulous long interview you did last week, I didn't miss it just needed "proper" time for it!! Your Mrs Jones interview was so fabulous, seriously, that I know this one is good too - and I know you have had lots of feedback on it :) I promise to read it - and comment!!

I love your interviews, I read tons of magazines and bad interviewers are easy to come by it would seem. You should be writing those fabulously long interviews you get in the Sunday Times :)

Hope all is well with you Christina....and I hope lovely Mrs Jones (and George) are coping well with the life laundry, it can be quite traumatic can't it?! xx

MilaneseGAL said...

Hi Darling! Great post! She is really an icon, I adore Dovima ...remember Dovima and the elephants by Dick Avedon? Modern GALS I love love Carolyne Murphy, so classy. Linda Evangelista by Meisel, the best. Gisele for the amazing body.... Coco Rocha she looks amazing on the runway.... Keep your post coming...busy with Thanksgiving but always keeping an eye on your blog! Hugs Milanesegal.blogspot.com

katie said...

Haa i love the photography where she's painting her legs- very much reminds me of one of my models- frantically applying fake tan before a shoot!

carl can said...

I am to submit a report on this niche your post has been very very helpfull greg herlean