Why Supermodel Helena Christensen is Still Super
The eccentric among the 'Magnificent Seven', Helena Christensen talks about her quirky 'otherness'
Helena Christensen was never your typical supermodel. Even in the days of the “Magnificent Seven” — as she, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford, Elle Macpherson and Claudia Schiffer were dubbed in the 1990s — Danish-born Helena always seemed set apart from the other members of the A-list modelling sorority.
Her beauty was more bohemian and accessible, her ethos earthier. She arrived late to the profession, at 19, and after she had her son she quit full-time modelling at 30.
Even in those 11 years, it seemed as though she could take or leave the whirlwind of the catwalk, and the fame that came with it.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the day before I am due to meet her in New York, which has been her home for the past 17 years, I receive a message requesting that we meet not in a hip cafe or restaurant, but instead in a tiny public garden, close to her apartment in Manhattan’s West Village.
The morning of our interview arrives lashed with rain, but 48-year-old Helena will not be deterred and insists on keeping our outdoor rendezvous; thankfully, the downpour is over by mid-afternoon. And so it is that I find one of the world’s most photographed women shivering slightly in a summer dress on a damp bench among the roses.
“It’s a really lovely little secret place,” she says of our surroundings. “And because the garden has walls around it, it keeps a higher temperature, so butterflies that are only usually seen down south are also found here,” she tells me, as one flutters past.
“I like to just be in nature,” she smiles.
Helena has a weekend home in the Catskills, a few hours north of the city, where “tidying up and organising are my two favourite pastimes. It brings me so much joy to attack my bathroom cupboards and get everything organised”.
But for all this apparent homeliness, she harbours a rock’n’roll side too. Her Instagram feed is a gallery of selfies with her music-industry friends Nick Cave, Bono and Noel Gallagher. In her 20s she spent five years dating the late INXS frontman Michael Hutchence, and she has been in a relationship with Paul Banks of the band Interpol for nine years.
She is, of course, outrageously beautiful: tall and slender with bronzed skin, green feline eyes and an impossibly angular bone structure. Today, she’s make-up free, her brown hair tumbling around her shoulders.
It’s somewhat galling to hear that she does not subscribe to a diet of green juice and self-deprivation to stay in such enviable shape.
“I’m a total food lover — I love cheese, and fast food; I’m a sucker for a Whopper,” she freely admits. “And I love condiments. I don’t want to eat anything without mayonnaise. But you’ve got to buy the real stuff, not that low-calorie, non-fat shit.”
She began boxing 12 years ago, in a bid to offset any potential impact of her eating habits. “When I was younger I did nothing, but then realised I needed an intense form of workout so I could keep up my obsession with eating,” she says.
“Today, I’m proud of myself — I got up and did an hour of pole dancing, and then went straight to yoga — so tonight I will have a starter, pasta and cheese, and feel absolutely fine about it.”
She doesn’t much like talking about beauty regimes. “It gets a little tedious,” she observes with a shrug. But in her new role as ambassador for Lumity, an anti-ageing supplement designed to improve skin, hair and nails, boost energy levels and support overall wellness, she is genuinely enthusiastic.
“Honestly, it is amazing. Your skin becomes so much brighter, smoother and tighter. You might not notice yourself, because you look in the mirror every morning, but people’s responses are like, ‘What are you using on your skin?’”
A hefty, twice-daily dose of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and amino acids, Lumity claims to counter the effects of ageing from the inside out. But that’s not an aspect Helena wishes to discuss. “I don’t want to talk about getting old at all,” she says, firmly, when I broach the subject.
“No man ever gets asked about the fact that he is nearly 50, but with women, they even put our age in the headline, and it makes people read and interpret everything differently. It diminishes us in so many ways and it starts early for women.
As soon as you pass 35, it’s like, ‘Mmm, now you’re nearing the time where it will all start to go’; [as if] all that’s going to happen now is a rapid progression towards old age. I don’t want to be a poster model for somebody who is half-dead and still looking good.”
She will, however, vouch for the fact that her energy levels have been revolutionised. “I was never somebody who jumped out of bed early in the morning and went at it, but these [supplements] have started to have that effect upon me.”
Helena estimates she spends a third of her time modelling — last month, she famously closed the Versace show in Milan in tribute to Gianni Versace, alongside fellow 90s supermodels Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell and Carla Bruni — a third taking photographs herself, and a third on other projects.
Her own pictures, which she describes as “moody, gloomy, poetic” in style are mainly commissioned by “underground arty magazines”, for whom she shoots subjects such as the rapper Tyga and singer The Weeknd.
Her personal projects, meanwhile, include her brand of perfume oil, Dead of Night, and Staerk & Christensen, the company she runs with her friend Camilla Staerk, designing clothes, jewellery and home interiors.
“We’ve just signed a contract to create houses from scratch,” she tells me, excitedly. The high-end prefabricated homes will be produced by Revolution, which has also worked with the designer Tom Dixon and the late architect Zaha Hadid.
“I’ve always been fascinated by architecture, but I obviously can’t sit down and technically design a house with the right proportions. So you work with somebody who can.”
Helena grew up on a small island that forms part of the Danish capital, Copenhagen, where her father worked as a typographer and her mother, originally from Peru, worked for SAS, the national airline.
“You should always have one person in your family who works for an airline,’” notes Helena, who, along with her younger sister Anita, spent her childhood reaping the benefits of family travel concessions.
She won Miss Universe Denmark at 18, but then promptly took off for a year backpacking around the world. “I never really had ambitions,” she confesses.
When she landed back in Denmark, however, she needed to make some money, so decided to give modelling a shot. She went to Paris for a week of castings, and was soon working for the likes of Mario Testino and the late Herb Ritts, eventually relocating from Paris to New York.
“Every job was a standout moment,” she says. “Working with legendary photographers, flying to amazing locations, being prepped by a team of extremely creative individuals. But sometimes it was almost too much.”
Her parents attended every fashion show she appeared in and frequently accompanied her on jobs. “I don’t know how I would have explained to them what it was like unless they were there with me,” she says.
“Same with my friends — I made sure that any time I could, I would bring them along. My girlfriends from Denmark are still my friends. Having experienced it all together keeps you closer for life.”
She spends every summer in Copenhagen, where “everyone in my family lives around the corner from each other. We have at least one meal a day together”. Her mother now runs a second-hand shop while her father indulges his hobby full-time. “He’s been a lifelong horse gambler, so that’s his job now.”
Helena’s son, Mingus, 17 (whose father is her ex-partner, The Walking Dead actor Norman Reedus), has one year of high school to go. “He wants to do film-making and screenwriting,” she says.
In September, he made his catwalk debut, walking for Calvin Klein — an experience she described as bizarre and intense.
“I would never hold him back if he wanted to do it, but I would probably be happier if he didn’t,” Helena admits, adding that the industry has changed dramatically since her heyday. “Because of social media,” she sighs.
“I know a lot of the younger girls [her friends include Martha Hunt and Caroline Brasch Nielsen] and it frustrates them deeply that they’re booked for a job not because of their personality or physique, but based on how many followers they have.”
Though she may not want to talk about ageing, she admits to being somewhat obsessed with mortality. “My mind very quickly goes to dark places,” she says, cheerfully. “I feel like I’ve got to cram in everything I still want to do in life.”
That includes revisiting some old hobbies, as well as picking up a few new ones. She’s started playing the piano again, after decades away from it, and is about to begin taking opera lessons, much to the amusement of her son.
“Mingus goes, ‘So, Mom, are you going to be performing at a pole while singing opera?’” she laughs.
For the moment, Helena insists she is exploring her musical side purely for pleasure — but you never know.
“Maybe next time we meet we’ll be talking about my record,” she quips. I certainly wouldn’t bet against it.
— The Daily Telegraph