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 in a Giorgio di Sant’ Angelo bodysuit and Levi jeans on the cover of British Vogue.
Photographed in black and white by Peter Lindbergh, it was a landmark for the minimal fashion of the 90s. But for the women themselves, the image became a crown for the “supermodels” and defined them as the main icons of 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 memorable Freedom! 90’s music video.
The German-born model’s curvaceous elegance, with a firm frame and sculpted, athletic figure, made her a favorite of Chanel and Versace, for whom she starred on the catwalks and in campaigns. But she has kept a low profile, making her home in California, away from the fashion party circuit.
“She was much less visible than her peers—more mysterious, more mature, more elusive—and that had its own appeal,” recalled Anna Wintour, chief operating officer of Condé Nast and global editorial director of Vogue.
Patitz continued 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 seaside town in southern Sweden. Already a competitive rider, she entered the elite model competition in Stockholm in 1983 and placed third. The prize was a trip to Paris and a short-term contract.
Success did not come overnight. According to a 1988 Vogue profile: “A star was not born quickly. Tatjana hasn’t found a job for a year.”
Meeting Lindbergh would change her career. The German photographer, known for his preference for a “natural” look and resistance to photo retouching, photographed Patitz in his 1988 “White Shirts: Six Supermodels, Malibu” for Vogue before shooting her for the famous 1990 cover. Patitz will continue in maintaining long-term working relationships with Lindbergh, as well as Herb Ritts and Patrick Demarchelier.
Despite growing up with some of the world’s most famous models – in 1990 Linda Evangelista also claimed that her cohorts wouldn’t wake up on less than $10,000 (£8,200) a day – Patitz had no interest in living in New York or Paris, instead buying ranch on the west coast. She briefly tried her hand at acting, appearing in Sean Connery’s Rising Sun. She also became interested in environmental and wildlife issues and was one of the models featured in Peta’s famous “We’d rather go naked than wear furs”.
She also spoke openly to the Guardian in 2009 about the dangers the industry poses to a new generation: “It would be nice if models were allowed to be a healthier weight – for the models and for the young women who look up. them. We were athletic and healthy and looked like women.’
In his book 10 Women, Peter Lindbergh wrote about his longtime muse: “I admire Tatiana because she always remains herself. She is very gentle but at the same time very strong and can stand up for what she thinks and is always very rewarding to be with. It’s impossible not to admire her and not be just a little bit in love with her over the years.”
Patitz is survived by her son, 19-year-old Jonah.