Tatjana Patitz, one of the original supermodels of the 90s, has died at the age of 56.
Patitz rose to fame in January 1990 when she appeared alongside Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington wearing a Giorgio di Sant’ Angelo bodysuit and Levi jeans on the cover of British Vogue.
The black and white photo taken by Peter Lindbergh was a pivotal moment for minimalist fashion in the 90s. But for the women themselves, the image became the crowning glory for the “supermodels”, defining them as the ultimate icons of the popular culture of the decade. And it was this cover that caught the attention of George Michael, who asked them to lip-sync in his unforgettable Freedom! Music video ’90.
The high elegance of the German model, the strong beauty of the bones and the statue, the athletic physique made her a favorite of Chanel and Versace, for whom she starred on the catwalks and in campaigns. But she kept a low profile, settling in California, away from the fashion party circuit.
“She was far less visible than her peers—more mysterious, more grown-up, more elusive—and that had its appeal,” recalled Anna Wintour, chief operating officer of Condé Nast and global editorial director of Vogue.
Patitz was still modeling in 2019, when she walked the catwalk for Etro at Milan Fashion Week and posed for Vogue with her son Jonah Johnson.
Born in Hamburg to an Estonian mother and a German father, Patitz moved with her family to Skanör, a coastal town in southern Sweden. Already a competitive rider, she entered the elite model competition in Stockholm in 1983 and came third. The prize was a trip to Paris and a short-term contract.
Success did not happen overnight. According to a 1988 Vogue profile: “A star was not born quickly. Tatjana did not find a job for a year.”
Meeting Lindbergh would change her career. Known for his penchant for a “natural” look and resistance to retouching images, the German photographer shot Patitz in his “White Shirts: Six Supermodels, Malibu” for Vogue in 1988 before shooting her for the famous 1990 cover. Patitz will retain his longtime collaborations with Lindbergh, as well as Herb Ritts and Patrick Demarchelier.
Despite growing up alongside some of the world’s most famous models – also in 1990, Linda Evangelista claimed her co-stars wouldn’t wake up for less than $10,000 (£8,200) a day – Patitz had no interest in living in New York. York or Paris, buy a ranch on the west coast instead. She briefly tried her hand at acting, and appeared in Sean Connery’s film Rising Sun. She also became interested in environmental and wild animal issues, and was one of the models that appeared in Peta’s famous song “We’d rather be naked than wear fur”.
Outspoken about the dangers the industry poses to the new generation, she told the Guardian in 2009: “It would be nice if models were allowed to be at a healthy weight – for the models and for the young women who look up to them. We were athletically built and healthy, and we looked like women.”
In his book 10 Women, Peter Lindbergh wrote about his longtime muse: “I admire Tatjana because she always remains herself.” She is very gentle, but at the same time very strong and knows how to stand up for what she thinks, and it is always very rewarding to be with her. It is impossible not to admire her and for years not to be just a little bit in love with her.”
Patitz is survived by her son, 19-year-old Jonah.