'A woman of 60 can look better than a woman at 20,' says supermodel Helena Christensen
One of the original supermodels, Helena Christensen tells Celia Walden why she's ripping up the traditional age rules that hold women back
Published 15/05/2016 | 02:30
'I really don't think we should talk about ageing." We're 20 minutes into an otherwise amiable chat, but it seems I have inadvertently pushed one of Helena Christensen's trigger buttons.
Famously one of the most mild-mannered and easy-going of the 'Magnificent Seven' - a term coined by the New York Times 20 years ago when she, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Elle Macpherson and Claudia Schiffer were ruling the catwalk - Christensen has gone from expansive and jokey to crossing her arms and pursing her lips.
She looks both very beautiful and very intimidating, but I push on: because?
"Because this is something only women ever have to deal with, not men. Why do men never ever get asked about ageing?"
I'm thinking it's because a certain kind of man would simply shrug and say that they're maturing like a fine burgundy, making more money than ever and enjoying late-in-life fatherhood with the 22-year-old lingerie model they'll trade in some time next year. But this isn't the moment to be flippant, and in any case Christensen (47) doesn't seem to expect an answer.
"If women weren't reading about the constant pressure of ageing," she goes on, "it might not be in their heads. And I don't want any woman to feel that there are any limits imposed by age."
I may have raised her heckles, but Christensen will always remain my favourite supermodel, and this eloquent little eruption - in the midst of calm Danish waters - only makes me like her more. She's as glorious to look at as ever, a few laughter lines around the eyes, but as hard-bodied as her twenty-something self in a white bustier & Other Stories dress most teenagers would find hard to pull off.
I forgive her for her tetchiness around the A word, because she is, after all, at the end of a long day promoting the "boyfriend shirts" she and her business partner, Camilla Staerk, have designed for Thomson's five-star Sensatori spa resorts. I even concede that she has a point. We are obsessed with how women age today. Whether this is by nature or media nurture, women are interested in both the process and the implications of ageing. They (and I include myself here) look at someone like Christensen - who doesn't appear to have had any work done - and they want to know their secrets, their ruses, their rules.
"Why would there be any rules at all?" she asks, smiling and serene once again. "It's all about keeping healthy and staying true to yourself and your style. I mean, you could be a very unfit 20-year-old and look really dumb in a mini-dress, or you could be a super-sexy 60-year-old and look great in one. Anyone can wear whatever they want to."
Even when she was in the thrust of the supermodel madness and writhing around on a beach in the video of Chris Isaak's Wicked Game, the daughter of a Danish typographer and a Peruvian vintage boutique owner has maintained a detached stance to fashion, celebrity - and tabloid drama.
Brought up in suburban Copenhagen, Christensen came to modelling relatively late (having won the Miss Denmark title at 18), and with a relaxed, hippy-chick attitude. She eats far more cheese than is decent for any woman with that figure ("but thank goodness journalists have stopped bringing me really smelly ones as gifts") and has often stated that she "hated the 'supermodel' branding".
Her only brush with scandal came at the end of a four-year liaison with late INXS star Michael Hutchence (when it was wrongly suggested that the singer left her for Paula Yates), and since then she has had a child - 16-year-old Mingus - with American actor Norman Reedus, swapped the catwalk for photography and design, and is now happily ensconced in Manhattan with Interpol singer Paul Banks. She is, as ever, living life on her own terms.
She describes her professional balance as being "40 per cent modelling, 40 per cent photography and 20 per cent all kinds of strange, interesting, weird stuff", and, unlike some members of the 'Magnificent Seven', her collaborations always have a genuine rather than a 'big bucks' feel to them. Which is presumably why she has been chosen to design for and spearhead this latest fashion campaign for Thomson (each of the designs is inspired by a different Caribbean destination)."When I go away I'm so low key that I only bring hand luggage, because the whole airport thing is so frustrating," she sighs. "So we really wanted to design a shirt with a very casual, loose and deconstructed fit that could double up as a mini-dress with a belt and take you from day into night.
"Because sometimes I'll get some place and realise I've brought too little," she laughs. "I always run out of underwear, for example, so I'm forever washing it. I'll literally go on a three-day trip and only bring one pair of underwear. Then I'll think: 'What are you going to do now - turn them over, or what?' And by the way," she's quick to point out, "I've never done that."
Another thing Christensen won't do is flog herself on social media. Her Instagram account is only two months old and not very active, and that's as far as she'll go in the cyber-sphere. "I've always said: 'Whatever'," she shrugs. "I mean, now that I'm on Instagram I can see the allure, but there's something about judging yourself on how many followers you have that could put you in a constant state of anxiety. I would be unable to sleep if I had as many followers as Kim [Kardashian]. It just doesn't seem natural."
Given how well the new generation of models, such as Cara Delevingne, Kendall Jenner and Karlie Kloss, have utilised social media to increase their profiles, does she not wish she had had access to such a tool when she was starting out? "I feel so grateful that social media wasn't there before," she assures me. "I was very happy with just being an elusive, mysterious figure that just appeared in photo shoots.
"From the start I felt that modelling is like acting in a silent movie - and that was enough for me. I never had the desire to let the world know about the rest of my personality. Just being who I was, am, has always been enough for me."
And although it's probably easier to be at one with yourself when you're Helena Christensen, if banishing all thoughts of ageing gets you even a sprinkling of her Zen, it might be worth a try.