Hubert Burda Media

An interview with Tatjana Patitz

Original supermodel Tatjana Patitz tells us about life in front of the camera.

Tatjana Patitz was proving to be a hard woman to track down. An original plan to chat while she was in the middle of shooting a L’Oréal campaign in New York had to be rescheduled to a subsequent day, when she was in Miami. Fittings with a client there ran late, so new arrangements needed to be made before Patitz jetted back to her home in Santa Barbara, California.

“I am so sorry,” Patitz said, when we finally connected. “It’s just been one thing after another.”

Having a back-to-back schedule is not new to Patitz. Those who followed high fashion in the 1980s and 1990s will have seen her gliding down the catwalks of Paris and Milan, or on Vogue covers shot by the likes of Peter Lindbergh, Herb Ritts and Bruce Weber. The German model – who earlier this year turned 50 – with the glacial, graceful features was in the vanguard of that era’s supermodels: Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell.

Dress: Balmain. Earrings and ring: Dior Joaillerie

In the mid-90s, Patitz segued into acting, a path well trodden by other models. She appeared in the Sean Connery action film Rising Sun and the crime thriller Restraining Order, as well as The Larry Sanders Show.  She continued modelling off and on throughout that period, doing campaigns for Pantene and Marina Rinaldi. She’s been living in California since the late 1980s, first in Malibu and then, for the past six years, on a ranch in Santa Barbara, where she lives with her 12-year-old son and a menagerie of animals. When not modelling, she is an activist for animal rights and the environment. In conversation, Patitz retains an authoritative, insightful, unflappable air. Just don’t get her started on Instagram models.

Where do you feel most comfortable these days?

The place I live, my home base, with the animals and my son. Going outside of that is like a treat, but it’s not the norm for me. I’m a mom, I wear jeans and T-shirts and comfortable dresses. I’ve always loved Dior, Chanel, Tom Ford. But when you live in semi-nature, like I do, you don’t run around in high heels and fabulous clothes, you just don’t. It’s more jeans and riding boots.

You’ve been modelling for most of your life – since you were 17. How did it all happen for you?

I accidentally fell into it. I was discovered when I was 15 by someone who took photos of me and sent them on to modelling competitions. I was one of the finalists in one, third place, and they sent me to Paris. It all started from there. In hindsight, it happened quite quickly. But it wasn’t like I had this dream of becoming a model. And even so, it was a struggle. It wasn’t like things just fell into my lap. Getting introduced to the business was hard.

Do you think most people have any idea just how taxing the life of a fashion model is?

Honestly, nobody understands. They just don’t. It can be absolutely gruelling. You have zero time for your personal life, so just kiss that goodbye. At some point in time, you wake up and don’t know where you are, because you’ve been in so many places. It looks glamorous on the outside. But when you’re doing 25 shows in Milan, then 20 in Paris, and you get three hours of sleep a night, between the jet lag and being pulled and prodded and five or six people are touching you at the same time and you do that for three weeks at a time … there’s no privacy, and it’s not fun.

You did it a long time though. What did you love about it?

The people. I loved the teams I worked with, the photographers. I became closer to them over the years. And I loved the stories we did, the creativity. One of the first designers I ever worked with was Azzedine Alaïa. He was fantastic. He was designing these incredibly sexy things that were all about women and the body. And I loved working with Karl Lagerfeld, Helmut Lang, Gaultier, Valentino. I’m still in touch with a lot of them.

What’s your take on the Instagram models of today?

I think social media is going to kill everything, because it has nothing to do with anything. It’s all hashtag-watch-me-on-my-vacation-windblown-and-perfect. It has nothing to do with reality, or art. It’s a feeding frenzy. I feel sorry in one sense, because social media has produced some incredible creative endeavours. But I have a 12-year-old son who is entering this world of social media and hashtags and posts and it’s taking away from people having a normal rhythm of interacting with each other. I think about how it’s going to impact my son. He’s part of that momentum of what it is now. And how long can I control it? Until he’s a teenager? And then he’s off to college and then what am I going to do?

Dress: Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci. Earrings: Chanel Fine Jewellery

What do you think the obsession with social media says about young people today ­– people who are the age now that you were when you started out?

Some of the millennials, they want to be famous fast, they want a CEO job as soon as they get out of college, to make six figures. There are no building blocks. They want it all now. When I see a person who hasn’t done anything having millions of followers, having done nothing productive for the planet or otherwise, it pisses me off. I honestly believe it’s going to backfire. People spend so much time on their phones, but they don’t take in moments any more. I read somewhere recently that more people die from taking selfies than from shark attacks. They fall off cliffs. They have major accidents, just constantly looking at themselves through the phone. It’s quite ridiculous.

So how much of a role does social media play in your own life?

I do some Instagram, although I’m terrible at it. It’s fun, but I don’t properly make use of it. I don’t have a Facebook account. I only tweet about things that matter and that are centred on conservation. I never tweet anything about myself. Why would I? They would just be little words thrown out into the void. But subjects like what’s happening with the environment, or elephant poaching, really hit home for me.

You love animals. How many do you have? And how does that factor into your activism?

I have three dogs, a cat and two horses. I was very much involved with dolphins for many years, and involved with education around marine life and ocean conservation. I also got involved with causes around African wildlife. Through the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust I’m fostering six orphan elephant babies. I do what I can to spread the word – from climate change to clean air to fracking.

And that’s probably where the power of the Internet really works for you. Getting people mobilised to help.

For sure, people can get behind these issues. That’s the beauty of the Internet. Everything is accessible right at your fingers. And it helps people get even more involved, if they have the passion for it.