Model Helena Christensen
Helena Christensen was always one of my favorite models to work with. She made my job easy. With her piercing green eyes, beautiful warm skin, and dark shiny hair, all I had to do was apply lipgloss and smudge some eyeliner—everyone thought I was the most talented makeup artist ever. Helena’s smoldering beauty is what made her popular as a model, but her warmth and free spirit is what made her so fun to be around. I did many shoots with her, including traveling to Jamaica together for Italian Vogue;it was always an adventure. Over the years, I have watched her evolve into an independent entrepreneur, mother, and talented photographer whom I really admire.
BB: I’ve always loved what a free spirit you are. You’ve led such a creative and interesting life.
HC: I think everyone ends up so different because of their upbringing and their history. My mother is Peruvian and my father is Danish—polar opposites in all ways. Growing up with a South American mother in Denmark, and also at the same time traveling the world from a very early age, was probably the most character-building thing I experienced in my life.
BB: That combination also made you so unique and beautiful. Did you always know you were pretty?
HC: No! That is the peculiar thing about how you see yourself and how other people see you. Beauty, like anything that is so personal, like music or art, is all in the eye of the beholder. I grew up with the usual very cliche model story, being super tall and super skinny from a very early age. I was teased more than complimented way into my teens, and I felt more different than anything else. It’s a big shame because you try so hard to be like everybody else in your early years. Later on, I realized that everything I got teased about—being tall, slim, looking different, dark hair with green eyes, speaking languages—were all the reasons I have the life that I have now.
BB: How did you break into the modeling world?
HC: That happened much later. I was 20 and I had graduated from school. I had been approached by a few agencies, but they seemed so cheesy. Then I met this Moroccan guy and even crazier Swedish woman and I liked them right away. They had a tiny agency in Paris and asked me to come down for a week to try. I thought, Paris! So I went and was extremely fortunate to meet the right people that first week.
BB: Who was the first big person you worked with?
HC: That first week I went to see Peter Lindbergh and Karl Lagerfeld and they both booked me; Peter solidly for a year. It was just unbelievable. I was so lucky that happened. I don’t know how they saw through the baby cheeks, because they were severe.
BB: I remember those pictures Peter took of you. Stéphane Marais was doing your makeup and it was so natural, with this wonderful quality of light. It was such a big part of my learning makeup, seeing those beautiful photos of you.
HC: Those were special times. Those stories are some of the ones that I am most proud of. To have been part of that…You know, when you’re modeling you show clothes, you pose—it can seem pretty shallow. But then again, I did beautiful stories with highly talented people and created incredible photographs that mean a lot to a lot of people. I’m proud of that.
Helena Christensen in Italian Vogue, in 1992, with makeup by Bobbi Brown. Photo: Walter Chin
BB: It’s certainly art. You were also part of the phenomenon of the supermodel with Cindy, Naomi, Christy, and Kate. You always stood out from the pack, but how did it feel when you were in the middle of that moment?
HC: I never felt like I was in the middle of anything because it was so hectic and erratic and intense at the time. It was being on a plane every second day by yourself, traveling across the globe, and meeting with a new team every day, never really feeling like you caught up with yourself. I wasn’t ever like, “Oh my god, this is unbelievable what I’m doing. I’m one of the girls.” That moment happened years later, it’s still happening now. I think, “Wow, that was unbelievable.”
Helena Christensen in Italian Vogue, in 1992, with makeup by Bobbi Brown. Photo: Walter Chin
BB: Did you get sucked into all the partying and clubs, and hanging with the fabulous people?
HC: I mean, of course! There were so many fun parties. And the great thing was, I remember my parents being along to most of them. They would travel a lot with me early on just to make sure everything was OK, but then they were like, “This is fun!” I would bring my parents to Les Bain Douches, which was like the most amazing fabulous nightclub at that time in Paris. The memories that I have from that time are priceless. It was a whirlwind time for sure.
Related: Kerry Washington’s Guide to Life
BB: Since you have never really stopped modeling or being in the public eye, did you ever have a time when you said, “Ok, time for me to stop partying and start taking better care of myself.”
HC: In my 20’s? No! That happens at like 38.
BB: So when did it happen and what did you end up doing?
HC: I ended up taking up boxing. I was around 36 or 37, and I realized I had never really worked out in my entire life. I decided I wanted to be more fit and stay toned. I thought I probably should not keep eating three pasta meals a day with cheese and creams in them. There is no denying that my metabolism was super fast my entire life. The source of me being teased or slightly bullied when I grew up, later on became my savior. I enjoy food so immensely. It’s so fortunate that I was able to eat everything I did and got through all those years modeling at the same time. But at around mid-30’s, I thought it probably was not going to continue. I wanted to start doing some kind of workout that I didn’t find completely lame. I found most workouts really boring. I just did not have the patience or the discipline. But boxing for some reason stayed with me; I like the instant gratification. It’s fast and intense.
BB: That’s fantastic. Talk to me about your beautiful changing face. You are one of the most beautiful women in the world and I know that you haven’t done a thing to your face. How are you handling looking in the mirror and seeing your face change?
HC: Thankfully it happens so slowly and gradually that it’s not a huge shock. There is no alternative; it is going to happen. You’re going to change, you’re going to age, and you’re going to gain all that wisdom and be so experienced and full of wonderful memories. I am kind of looking at it in a comical way, because there’s no other way to look at it. You just have to basically make sure that the few things you can do to maintain your health and looks are being done. For me, sleep is the most important thing. If I don’t get at least eight hours, I always say I look like a Picasso painting, where things were just kind of thrown in.
BB: So what are your thoughts on plastic surgery and fillers, etc?
HC: If you’re not happy with the way you look and feel that a tiny little change could make a big difference, then fine. We all know what it looks like when you go too far. I am sure in some distant future I will, you know, and hopefully by then there will be wonderful methods that don’t seem too intrusive. I will definitely not hold back if there are ways that you can make yourself feel a little lighter and happier. We all know that with age things start sagging and that’s just the way it is. So far, I’m going to cross my fingers and hope that I will continue having my grandmother’s genes because she is 97 and looks great.
BB: What do you do now to improve the way you look in a positive way?
HC: I like microdermabrasion. It actually makes your skin look bright and glowing. Your skin feels tighter and you just look fresher. I’m kind of lazy with all that stuff, so I don’t go more than like once a year
BB: Do you wear makeup?
HC: I will always have some kind of tint that I dab on my cheeks, because I really love that red cheek look. When I go out, I will sometimes do a bronzy eye applied with my little finger. I don’t use any brushes. Sometimes I put on black eyeliner or green eyeliner. Red lips are always good. I never use mascara unless it’s for a shoot or on rare occasions even when going out, because I find it so utterly boring to take off.
BB: You always had that very natural look, I just put a little bit on and I looked like I was genius makeup artist. You are one of those people that doesn’t need a lot of makeup.
HC: I think my dark features helped in that way. When you have black eyebrows and lashes, it goes a lot way in making you look a little more sort of awake. Rather than my blonde girlfriends who have that beautiful hair, but need to put some mascara on because they feel like their eyes disappear. So you know we all win a little and lose a little.
BB: You are now the creative director of the new fragrance Dead of Night. How did this come about?
HC: A friend of mine, Elizabeth Gaynes, had been going to Borneo sourcing oud oil to create a fragrance. Oud is very intense, like smelling the heart of the earth. When I smelled that first sample, I thought it was the most incredible, intoxicating divine scent I have ever smelled in my life. I knew I wanted to be on board. To be part of creating Dead of Night from scratch was just a really amazing experience. It’s been three or four years, and we now finally have it out.
BB: You’re also an avid photographer. I’ve been a fan of your work for a long time. When did you start?
HC: It’s something I’ve always been passionate about—that looking at a moment frozen in time. I was able to educate myself through all the amazing photographers I’ve worked with. I was always absorbing whatever was going on around me, and then I used that for my photography career. I’m extremely grateful that I was able to do both these careers at once.
BB: I loved talking to you. You’re always one of the coolest girls around.
HC: So are you! Thank you Bobbi.
Helena Christensen in 2010. Photo: Sarah Maingot Trunk Archive