Wrote Scottie Andrews, CNN
Tatjana Patitz, who rose to fashion fame in the ’90s as a supermodel who adored animals with piercing stares, has died, her agent confirmed to CNN. She was 56 years old.
Patitz died Wednesday of breast cancer, her agent Corinne Nicolas told CNN. He left behind his son Jonah.
The German-born model appeared on dozens of Vogue covers and countless other fashion magazines starting in the 1980s. Her most famous cover, which she shared with fellow supermodels of her generation, inspired George Michael to cast her in his music video for “Freedom! ’90.”
While other supermodels of her era were known for dominating the public eye, Patitz preferred a quieter life surrounded by nature, especially wild horses and the western lands where they lived. Still, she was incredibly effortlessly chic, Anna Wintour, Vogue’s global editorial director, said in a statement to the magazine.
“Tatiana has always been a symbol of European chic, like Romy Schneider-meets-Monica Vitti,” she said.
Tatjana Patitz walks the runway at the Chanel Ready to Wear spring/summer 1991-1992 fashion show. during Paris Fashion Week 1991. Credit: Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images
Born in Hamburg, Germany, and raised in Sweden, Patitz was discovered in 1983 when she was a finalist in the “Elite Model Look” competition in which the heads of the Elite agencies chose her from among unknowns. (Cindy Crawford was also a finalist that year, according to Elite.)
Her career didn’t take off until the late 80s. Around that time, she became the muse of photographer Peter Lindbergh, for whom she modeled until the 2010s. He took the now-iconic 1988 Vogue photo of Patitz and other models on the beach in Santa Monica, California, tapping the sand in the same white shirts.
Then came the iconic 1990 British Vogue cover, also shot by Lindbergh — Patitz, one of the era’s “original” supermodels, appeared alongside Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista. The image prompted singer George Michael to cast women in the video for his single “Freedom! ’90,” which also became a cultural artifact.
Patitz (second from right) hangs on the shoulder of longtime collaborator Peter Lindbergh, alongside models Karena Alexander (left) and Milla Jovovich, 2016. Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
At the time of her rise, Patitz was considered an “unusual” look compared to other dominant models, according to a 1990 Harper’s Bazaar story: “Indeed, Patitz’s features are almost bewildering. Like Garbo or the Mona Lisa, the inexplicable gifts of line and luminescence defy definition.” Her piercing gaze gave her a slightly more otherworldly appearance, according to industry insiders.
Photographer Matthew Rolston said of Patitz in that 1990 story: “There’s a depth, an emotional quality to her that’s really extraordinary.” Her appearance, she said, was not only beautiful; it was memorable and evocative.
Patitz has appeared on more than 130 magazine covers in her lifetime, according to Elite. She was just one face in a sea of supermodels for Vogue’s 100th anniversary cover in 1992, all dressed identically in white jeans and white button-down shirts tied at the hem. And in 2016, she appeared on the black and white cover of Italian Vogue shot by Lindbergh.
Tatjana Patitz in Germany in April 2022. Credit: Gisela Schober/German Selection/Getty Images
A lifelong animal lover, she was photographed on horseback for the 1989 Vogue show and also wore several wide-brimmed cowboy hats. She also appeared with her son Jonah on set in 2012 at their home in California.
Off the catwalk, Patitz has been passionate about animal welfare since her early modeling days, as noted in her 1990 Harper’s Bazaar profile. She told the Mexican magazine Milenio 2021 that she is involved in California’s wild horse protection legislation and that she is involved in the American Campaign for Wild Horses, which works to protect public lands. She continued to work in fashion throughout her 40s and 50s, but chose her projects “very selectively,” she told Mercedes-Benz’s 63Magazine in 2016, and on those projects she tried to “combine my work as a model with my vocation as a protector of nature and animals.”
Patitz told Mileni that she prefers to live a more modest life than her fellow supermodels and enjoys “being surrounded by nature, away from concrete and noise” with her son and their animals. She was less of a public presence than her contemporaries, and when she moved to California instead of modeling hub New York, her legacy was not as widely recognized as theirs.
“She was far less visible than her peers—more mysterious, more grown-up, more elusive—and that had its appeal,” Wintour told Vogue.
The Peter Lindbergh Foundation, which shares photos from the late photographer’s archives, hailed Patitz’s “kindness, inner beauty and extraordinary intelligence.”