Not a day goes by without at least one person asking me, “Who is your favourite model?” Okay, no one has ever asked me that, so I have taken it upon myself to anticipate the question and share my response.
Before Kendall (blah), before Linda and Cindy, even before Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton there was Veruschka, perhaps the first supermodel. In 2018, Vogue wrote, “Standing six feet tall, she was a bombshell of Amazonian proportions with a chiseled-by-the-gods bone structure, steely blue gaze, plush mouth, and shape-shifting champagne blonde hair.”
Now 81, the German countess Veruschka von Lehndorff has lived more than nine lives. From aristocracy to Vogue covers to Woodstock to principled stances, she intrigues. How many Vogue covers did she grace you ask? 11! Veruschka worked regularly with star photographers such as Richard Avedon and Irving Penn, achieving fame after changing her name from Vera. She even appeared briefly in Michael Antonini’s classic film, Blow Up.
Veruschka was born Vera Gottliebe Anna Gräfin von Lehndorff-Steinort on 14 May 1939, in Königsberg, East Prussia, now known as Kaliningrad, Russia. She grew up at Steinort, an estate, which had been in her family for centuries. Her mother was Countess Gottliebe von Kalnein (1913-1993). Her father, Count Henrich von Lehndorff-Steinort (1909-1944), an East Prussian junker, aristocrat, and army reserve officer was a key member of the German Resistance, after witnessing Jewish children being beaten and killed.
When Veruschka was five years old, her father was executed for allegedly attempting to assassinate Adolf Hitler in the 20 July Plot. After his death, the remaining family members spent their time in labor camps until the end of World War II. At the end of the war, her family was homeless. As a young girl, she attended 13 schools.
After studying art in Hamburg, she moved to Florence, where she was discovered and became a full-time model. In Paris, she met Eileen Ford, head of the prestigious Ford Modeling Agency. Veruschka appeared on the cover of Life magazine’s August 1967 issue and various times on all four major Vogue magazines’ (American, Italian, French and British) covers throughout the 1960s. At her peak, she earned as much as $10,000 a day (and danced in the mud at Woodstock).
In 1975, however, she departed from the fashion industry due to disagreements with Grace Mirabella, the newly appointed editor-in-chief of Vogue. In a 1999 interview, Veruschka said about their disagreements, “She wanted me to be bourgeois, and I didn’t want to be that. I didn’t model for a long time after that.”
Never shy when it came to social causes, she appeared as one of 28 women under the banner ,We’ve had abortions!, on the cover page of the West German magazine Stern on 6 June 1971. In that issue, 374 women publicly stated that they had had pregnancies terminated, which at that time was illegal.
Veruschka still appears on catwalks. She was a guest model in the Melbourne Fashion Festival in 2000 in Australia. In October 2010, at the age of 71, she modeled for Giles Deacon’s showing for the fall run of London Fashion Week. Most recently, she appeared in the Resort 2018 lookbook for Acne Studios. Let’s have Vogue have the last words, “a true chameleon in every sense of the world, Veruschka’s superhuman looks and metamorphic fluency continue to be a lethal and enduring combination in the fashion world.”