INTERVIEW: Helena Christensen charts her journey in fashion, from being Victoria's Secret Angel to working behind the lens
In her almost three-decade-long career, Helena Christensen has donned multiple caps – as one of the original supermodels, the face of Victoria Secret's Angel flagship, a representative for Denmark in the coveted Miss Universe contest, and as a talented designer. And needless to say, she was quite successful in all her endeavors.
Throughout her journey in the fashion industry, however, what remained constant was her passion for photography; something that the brunette beauty recently put to use in kickstarting an intriguing project of hers, a portrait series titled "See More" in association with Chinese technology brand Huawei.
"I'm working with HUAWEI, to support the launch of their amazing camera phone," Christensen tells Meaww, opening up about her collaboration with the leading mobile phone manufacturer. "Being a professional photographer, I was invited to be one of the first people in the world to use the HUAWEI P20 Pro and test it out and, at the same time use it for an actual project which has been very exciting for me."
As part of the project, the model-turned-photographer worked with three cherry-picked subjects, in other words, women hailing from three distinct professions with a completely unique perspective. Ultimately, the idea was to combine her artistic abilities with the latest available technology in mobile photography to narrate a story via her "See More" collection.
For instance, with ballerina Melissa Chapski, Christensen's focus was on capturing the movements without missing out on the technical finesse of her clicks.
"I would ask her to twirl around and move around in different light sources – as I wanted to capture her with the light falling from different angles," says 49-year-old Christensen, explaining the merits of her tool of choice, the HUAWEI P20 Pro. "It was really impressive to see how well the camera adapted to exactly that – the movement, the changing of the light sources, getting her face, her expressions."
As an acclaimed photographer, Christensen knows the nuances associated with each individual and how story-telling through photography changes from person to person. On a personal note, though, the model who, in her career-span, has graced numerous magazine covers explains her style as somewhat "mellow and melancholic".
And it is this variety that she uses in the portraits of Maria Fagerström, an international pilot who has traveled the length and breadth of the world. Christensen explains, "Interestingly enough, I found that because she is such a happy person with a bubbly personality and sunny spirit full of color and vibrancy, I wanted to see if I could capture a completely different side of her. My natural style of photography has a somewhat mellow and melancholic side, told through low light and still moments."
"I wanted to show [Fagerström's] energy in a different way and to emphasize this, I shot her in black and white. I asked her to stand in corners that were very dark and it was very interesting to see how her spirit, the personality that she normally exudes, went calm and suddenly there was something else going on behind her eyes, which I was able to capture perfectly with the camera,” the photographer adds.
Her third muse, Adeline Rapon, a jewelry designer by profession, however, posed an entirely different challenge to Christensen's mettle.
"How do you capture concentration in a photograph?" the Danish beauty asks rhetorically, adding, "You could sense her brain was working and I wanted to capture that. I wanted to get into her zone and be as close as possible, as close as I could get to her face, her hands, whilst she was creating this beautiful imagery – but at the same time I wanted it to seem as if I wasn't there. "
"It was basically about making that picture seem as if she was alone in her artistic word,” the photographer quipped.
As interesting and diverse as the subjects of her "See More" collection, Christensen's personal evolution has been quite a head-turner as well. Beginning as a model in the early 90s, the 5 feet 10 multi-hyphenated star has charted her way to the top, one step at a time.
There are at least 600 magazine covers to her credit, including some of the top fashion staples such as Vogue, Elle, Harper's Bazaar; and multiple top-notch fashion campaigns, the likes of Revlon, Chanel, Versace and so on.
In the latest leg of her career, as a photographer, however, the model continues to draw heavily from her initial learning days. She tells Meaww, "I had the best teachers in the world as part of my career, it was like having the most wonderful photography education anyone could have."
"I hope that through my work as a model, I was able to convey inspiration and emotions but as a photographer, I hope to tell stories with my visuals, maybe even make people discover new sides to life and raise awareness about certain plights."
Indeed, she has used her platform for important causes, she has even supported funding for breast cancer organizations and other charities. But most importantly, Christensen, who, in her own words, has been "fortunate to work with legendary photographers", was able to use her modeling platform to invest herself further in her love for photography.
"The most valuable lesson is not even a lesson, it’s about having a passion for visuals in the first place. That has to come from within – a desire and curiosity for life and people," the former beauty queen explains.
Considering her unique position, a career admirably juxtaposed between modeling and photography, what is that one lesson Christensen would impart to her contemporaries?
She quips, "To remain true to yourself and to trust your gut feeling and intuition. To stay open and curious about all the experiences that come your way and absorb as much knowledge as possible along the way."
In 1996, Frank DeCaro of the New York Times cited Christensen, along with Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Elle Macpherson and Claudia Schiffer as "The Magnificent Seven." DeCaro reflected, "Known by their first names to legions of fans, they are the legends of the modern catwalk, the girl next door pretty underneath all the paint."
Christensen continues to model. She graced the covers of Spanish Vogue (2011), British Harper’s Bazaar and ELLE, and American Vs. magazine. She was also featured in the advertising campaigns of Ermanno Screvino, Reebok, Charactere and Triumph. Christensen is signed to ZZO Management in Paris, D Management in Milan, Unsigned Management in London and 1/One Management in New York City.
In September 2017, Christensen, along with models Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Carla Bruni and Cindy Crawford, closed the Versace spring/summer 2018 fashion show, which was an homage to the late Gianni Versace.
Christensen also partnered with Oxfam in 2009 to document the impact of climate change in Peru, where her mother was born. “Climate change in Peru is already devastating and we welcome Helena’s commitment to show this to the rest of the world,” Frank Boeren, Oxfam’s coordinator in Peru said, in announcing her involvement with it. “Peru is on the frontline of climate change, along with other developing countries, which have played little part in causing the problem.”
Christensen launched the second Fashion Targets Breast Cancer campaign, which involves the sale of exclusive designer t-shirts to raise millions for Ireland's Action Breast Cancer (Irish Cancer Society) and Europa Donna Ireland to help younger women with breast cancer.
Christensen appeared on over 600 magazine covers—including Vogue, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, and W—and in fashion campaigns (including Revlon, Chanel, Versace, Lanvin, Prada, Sonia Rykiel, Hermes, Valentino and Karl Lagerfeld) during the 1990s. She rose to prominence in the 1990s as one of the most popular models of her time and hailed as one of the supermodels by the media for her fame and popularity.
One noted campaign featured her in a 20 by 40 feet (6 by 12 m) billboard in Times Square, bare, "except for a strategically placed banana leaf." She was in the Victoria's Secret catalog and in their television commercials as one of the signature Angels, along with Tyra Banks, Karen Mulder, Daniela Pestova, and Stephanie Seymour. She also became a spokesmodel for Revlon cosmetics in 1992. In 1991, she starred in the music video for Chris Isaak's song "Wicked Game." The video was later featured on MTV's "Sexiest Video of All-Time," voted #4 on VH1's "50 Sexiest Video Moments," and voted #13 on VH1's "100 Greatest Videos."
Christensen was creative director of Nylon magazine at its 1999 founding by publisher Marvin Scott Jarrett. She launched her own clothing line, Christensen & Sigersen, with lifelong friend Leif Sigersen. The pair previously ran Butik, a shop in New York's West Village.
Christensen created a vintage clothing line, sold in her mother's store, the Yo-Yo Second Hand Shop, in Christianshavn, Copenhagen, Denmark. In 2012, she created a lingerie collection, Helena Christensen for Triumph, for the UK-based lingerie brand. Christensen's collaboration with Triumph started in 2008 as the face of the Triumph brand.
Christensen dated, and lived with, INXS frontman Michael Hutchence on and off in France and Denmark for a period of five years in the early 1990s. She was in a relationship with actor Norman Reedus for five years; together they have a son, Mingus Lucien Reedus. Reedus and Christensen separated in 2003. She previously dated Interpol singer Paul Banks in 2008.