WHEN GERMAN ÜBERMODEL CLAUDIA Schiffer agreed to pose for a 1992 pinup calendar, she demanded complete control. “I wanted it to be sexy,” she said, “but in a nice, fresh, young way.” Translate: minimal T&A. “You know,” says Antoine Verglas, the photographer Schiffer chose to shoot the calendar, “not too much trucker stuff.”
Ja, ja. Since the calendar hit U.S. stores on July 1, men both buttoned-down and in their muscle-shirted prime have lined up, $10.95 in hand, to eye those lips, those legs, those, well, those. The rush in one Manhattan bookstore—where a personal appearance by Claudia helped sell more than 300 copies in two hours—makes plain the already obvious: The poses Schiffer considers cautious do not stop guys from gawking.
Or gals from gossiping. Though lots of models do calendars—Elle Macpherson’s and Cindy Crawford’s are two of this summer’s crop—none elicits the insider snarl that has always nipped at Claudia’s heels. From the moment Schiffer surfaced as a Brigitte Bardot look-alike in her 1989 Guess? jeans ads to her very first walk down a runway at the 1990 Chanel spring collection show in Paris (where, the fashion community observed with a snicker, Schiffer tripped), this small-town fraülein has been cast as a voluptuous vamp-villain.
“Many women see Claudia as the kind of girl who might run off with their husband,” says Aline Souliers, Schiffer’s agent and co-owner of the Paris-based Metropolitan agency. Snipes one top model who prefers to remain nameless: “She’s not really a classic beauty. It’s just that men love her.” Adds a New York City fashion editor: “She’s like a fleshy Barbie doll. It’s hard to read this as progress for womankind.” Furthermore, meows one stylist, “she wears big, plain white underwear—like a dopey country girl.” Cruel, cruel.
To another model, the backlash might be devastating. But the constant fuss—both the criticism and praise—leaves the 20-year-old Schiffer curiously unmoved. For within that goddesslike body lies the sensible soul—and unflappable passions—of a Teutonic hausfrau. “What can I say?” she asks with a shrug. “I don’t feel I deserve all this attention.”
All the attention began in 1988 at a nightclub in Düsseldorf, Germany, near her hometown of Rheinberg. Claudia didn’t want to go; her mother made her. “She never went to discos,” says mother Gudrun, a housewife, “but we had houseguests, and I wanted their youngsters to see something of the nightlife.” As it happened, among that night’s life was Metropolitan co-owner Dominique Galas. One glimpse of Claudia convinced him that the teenager in a turtleneck could be fashion’s newest sensation.
Claudia’s staunch middle-class parents (father Heinz, 54, is one of Rheinberg’s most prominent lawyers) were skeptical. They were raising their children, Claudia, Stefan, now 19, Ann-Carolin, 17, and Andreas, 10, to be substantial citizens. Claudia had been schooled in ballet and piano. She excelled at languages and planned to study law after high school. “She was a no-nonsense girl,” says Gudrun. “But the Paris agency begged and cajoled until we decided to give it a chance.”
Before long, Schiffer’s naughty allure caught on, landing her a coveted cover on British Vogue in 1989. And yet, Gudrun wasn’t sure that modeling was suited to Claudia’s low-profile personality. “She has a tendency to keep in the background,” says Gudrun. “Whenever I tried to buy her a nice dress, she protested that the girls in school would accuse her of trying to stand out.”
In the show-all, tell-all world of fashion, Schiffer’s quiet nature has made for puzzling first impressions. “With the other girls, we get to be buddies,” says Loren Laney, a stylist for Elle magazine. “When they’re doing makeup, we kid and joke. But Claudia reads. If we’re all having dinner together, she won’t come. She likes to go back to the hotel, order from room service and go to bed early. At first people think she’s snobby. Actually she’s very friendly. It’s just that she wants her professional life and she wants her private life—and she wants them separate.”
Curled up in the cozy, English country—style apartment she rents in Manhattan, Schiffer waxes philosophical about such comments. “Most people think I’m a rather serious and into-myself person,” she says. “In the beginning I saw all these wild, spontaneous people in fashion and I thought, ‘Oh, my God, I can never be that way.’ I wished I could, but after a while I realized that I like myself the way I am. People might think that I’m boring, but I’ve always had just a few close friends. I choose them very carefully—and I’m happy with them.”
For the moment she is happiest with her boyfriend of three years, model Bill Goins, 32. Together they tool around on their BMW motorcycle and go to movies and museums. They live together—back and forth between Manhattan and Paris, where Claudia is filling her new apartment with Biedermeier furniture and has covered the walls in pastel suede. They often vacation together too—at Christmas with Claudia’s family in Rheinberg and during summer at the Schiffer holiday home in Mallorca, Spain. “Bill is very much in love with her,” says Gudrun. “He’s become the fifth child in our family.”
What the future holds, Claudia will not say. For now, she turns most of her million dollar—plus annual income (her day rate often reaches $15,000) over to her father. “It will serve for the inevitable date when Claudia won’t model anymore,” says Gudrun. Already Claudia has turned down several scripts, including one, she confirms with a blush, that Sam Shepard reportedly wrote just for her. “I only read it to see what a script was like,” she says.
Whatever she chooses to do, it will probably be outside the limelight. As she strolls along Fifth Avenue, oblivious to the stares and whispers, Schiffer stops at a bookstall and leafs through a volume on Van Gogh. “I’ve been always reading biographies,” she says. “I don’t like fiction so much. I am more interested in things that are not make-believe.”
KAREN S. SCHNEIDER
CATHY NOLAN and GEOEGINA OLIVER in Paris, FRANZ SPELMAN in Munich