Supermodel Tatjana Patitz Dies at 56

Supermodel Tatjana Patitz has died at age 56.

Vogue, which helped launch Patitz’s career in the 1980s, announced news of her death on Jan. 11. Her cause of death was not made public. Considered one of the original supermodels, the Germany-born, Sweden-raised Patitz entered her first modeling contest at age 17 in Stockholm. Though she took home third place, it wasn’t until famed photographer Peter Lindbergh photographed her a few years later in 1988 that her career started to blossom.

One of Patitz’s most memorable appearances came after she modeled for British Vogue in 1990 — George Michael cast her for his “Freedom ’90” music video alongside Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista.

Patitz told The New York Times in 2016 that Michael was one of her “first teenage crushes,” so she was starstruck when she first met him. The two worked together a few times, though, she said, and she always had a good experience with him, including on the “Freedom ’90” video. She noted, though, that the musician actually wasn’t even on set the day she filmed her portion of the video. Patitz flew in and out of town for the day and didn’t even cross paths with Michael.

“I was in my own zone,” she said of filming. “I had to kind of slide up and down the wall for part of the day. The feel of the set was so run-down, this big, loft kind of vibe. There was another setup with me laying on a chaise lounge with a black smoking jacket. I think I may have had a bustier on. And I was smoking, even. People still smoked in videos then and even in films.”

Once Patitz’s career started to take off in the 1990s, she set down roots in California and also made a home for herself in the pages of the various editions of Vogue, as well as other magazines like Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan.

Along with frequently working with Lindbergh, Patitz often shot with well-known photographers Herb Ritts and Patrick Demarchelier as well. She built close relationships with the photographers, who continued to help elevate her career.

“People always said that I looked special; that I didn’t look like anyone else,” Patitz told Vogue in 1988. “And I was going to make it because of that.” A 1990 feature on Patitz in Harper’s Bazaar confirmed the model’s uniqueness in her beauty.

“Indeed, Patitz’s features almost confuse. Like Garbo or the Mona Lisa, the inexplicable gifts of line and luminescence defy definition,” the magazine reads, after attributing similar sentiments to hairstylist Oribe and makeup artist Gary Berkowitz.

During her career, Patitz modeled for the likes of Chanel, Donna Karan, Vivienne Westwood and many more. Her final runway show was at Milan Fashion Week in 2019 with Etro for the fashion house’s Autumn/Winter 2019/20 presentation.

“Tatjana was always the European symbol of chic, like Romy Schneider-meets-Monica Vitti,” said Anna Wintour, chief content officer of Condé Nast and global editorial director of Vogue, after the news of Patitz’s death. “She was far less visible than her peers—more mysterious, more grown-up, more unattainable—and that had its own appeal.”

Patitz’s son Jonah Johnson followed in his mother’s footsteps to become a model in his own right — even posing with his mother for Vogue. The two appeared the in the fashion magazine more than once, most recently in 2019. She told Vogue in 2022, “Jonah is my source of happiness.”

Patitz’s last red carpet appearance was with Jonah at the Tribute to Bambi in Berlin, Germany, last October. For the event, the two coordinated in all-black suits to walk the carpet together. Gerald Matzka/Getty

Patitz was born on March 25, 1966, in Hamburg and welcomed her son, Jonah, in November 2004. She had a deep love of all animals but especially horses, according to Vogue, and was an ambassador for the American Wild Horse Sanctuary.

She often shared photos of her animals on Instagram, including in her last social media post in August. She celebrated National Dog Day with two sweet snaps of her pups, Matilda and Gatsby. Patitz also often shared throwback shots from her career, sharing praise for the teams she’s worked with over the years.

Patitz lived a private life while not on a runway or red carpet, choosing to raise her son out of the spotlight. Her iconic work will live on as her legacy.

“In front of the lens, she’s it! It’s clear why she’s in such demand,” hairstylist Sally Hershberger told Harper’s Bazaar in the same 1990 feature that touted Patitz’s beauty. “She’s the most beautiful of them all.”

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