It seems that you built your modelling career both gradually and all of a sudden, when you were discovered by Peter Lindbergh. What was that first shoot like?
One of the first shoots was in the desert in Los Angeles, me with a white horse, and I was wearing a long white dress, and we were in the middle of a salt lake. It was just visually so beautiful and so stunning and so mind-blowing. One second, I was a teenager with a bad perm; the next, I’m in the desert, with a horse, with this incredible team of people, and I end up on the cover of Vogue. Peter Lindbergh was so essential in shaping my career, because he booked me constantly for about a year or so after that. And I’ve worked with him many times over the years, and I think those are some of the most inspiring stories that I’ve done.
And you started modelling at such an incredible moment for fashion and the modelling industry, with amazing peers. Why do you think supermodels became such a phenomenon when they did?
Sometimes, moments just happen to coordinate and work out. But I do think that if I was to say anything, we were allowed to just be ourselves. Each one of us had a very unique look in the sense that we looked different. There was no conformity about our look—and our personalities too, we had very different personalities, and emotionally and mentally we were different—but I think that that put together created this strong force of women. And no one told us to be any different. No one ever came up to me and said, “you need to reshape your body, to lose weight, or to be more outgoing, or less outgoing”. We were just allowed to be us, and I think at the end of the day, isn’t that the whole point of being a human being? To be allowed to be yourself, to be accepted the way you are? Ironically enough, in a business where a lot of styles and looks are dictated in some way, from the point of view of the media onto the audience, I think it’s so great that we got to just remain our quirky selves and have the body shapes that we had without anyone ever pointing a finger at anything. Maybe that’s what gave our careers longevity.
Fashion should be about celebrating somebody’s individual style, personality and look. That’s what’s unique about a person. If you’re going to go and say, you need to look like this, you need to weigh this—what is the point of that, then? It’s so simple, really, and so complicated. It’s always about dictating, it’s always about pointing fingers. Everybody is so busy pointing fingers at someone else that they forget that what we actually need to celebrate is the individuality.
I read that you just shot the new Duran Duran video. What was that like?
On so many levels, it was an incredible experience. A band like Duran Duran, it’s always been the soundtrack to your life. You grew up with the songs, and every single song is special and iconic in its own way. It’s probably one of the bands you would know the most songs to, and when you hear one, you’re straight back in some moment in your life. And obviously I know them personally because of having worked with Yasmin over the years. That we got to work together as a little group of girls was super-cool. You get to hang with them all day, and you get to be in a video together. Which will be a great memory, to sit there as a 90-year-old woman and show your grandchildren. These are the girls I grew up with, in a sense.
What was the concept of the video? Of course I haven’t seen it yet...
We are the band. The band play other characters that would normally be around the band. We just had a good laugh doing it.
You got to play rock star a little bit.
I got to learn how to play drums!
Amazing! I can see you as a cool girl drummer.
I’m telling you, I always admired—well, any musician in a band, obviously, has their talent and their input and all. But a drummer? It was really difficult to sit and coordinate your brain. You have a stick in each hand and your foot on a pedal. It sounds maybe simple, but when you’re sitting there, it’s about the coordination, but you realise at that the end of the day it’s more about feeling than anything.
Maybe that’s the answer, but if you could suddenly possess any skill or talent that you don’t already have, what would you want to do?
When I finish a great book, I wish I could write that way. For sure. I would say an incredible voice as well. When you listen to somebody sing and the effect it has on you, it would be wonderful to have that effect with your voice, as an instrument, as your personal talent. But then you would have to be in front of people, performing. If you’re a writer, you can just sit all by yourself and you can just hole up in your own little bubble. I envy authors’ talent in an admiring way.
What was the last book you read that you loved?
Aldous Huxley, The Genius and the Goddess. I browse a lot in old bookstores, and I found this book. Anything with Aldous, I would read, but I had never heard of this one. It was a big revelation to read.
Meanwhile, we’re here because of your connection with lingerie. What is the key to good lingerie for you?
...I will always react visually to a piece of lingerie. It’s such a beautiful small little art piece in itself. There are a lot of great things about life, but going into a lingerie store all by yourself and just browsing with a lot of time, that is a really cool little experience. Lingerie that feels like you’re not wearing it, but it accentuates your features in the best way possible, and then looks beautiful and sexy—if you can combine that, you’ve got the idea.
That’s the lingerie holy grail. I know we’re out of time, but everyone from the team is going to be disappointed that I haven’t asked you about your skin care, fitness regime, hair—have you ever thought about doing a beauty line or project?
I am actually working on a little line of lotion and handwash for Habitat. That has been a really incredible experience as well, where we’ve been travelling to the factory in Italy to sit in the laboratory and smell all the different scents. You learn about why some notes work together, and why some don’t, and what feelings and emotions it creates in you, and what ingredients should be in a product so it stays smoother and more moisturised for longer.
... When you work with a company and you evolve with them, it feels better, you feel more confident in letting them know about your ideas, and learning about the industry. It’s always a little intimidating to tell somebody about something you’ve been inspired by, but when you get positive feedback, it feels great.
The Triumph Essence range modelled by Helena Christensen is available exclusively at John Lewis.