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Some girls never can say goodbye

Claudia Schiffer has said she's quitting the catwalk. But don't panic, it's not the first time.

Melanie Rickey
Monday 05 October 1998 23:02 BST

Fashion models love manipulating the press, and none more than Claudia Schiffer. Last Friday, on the first day of the Milan spring/ summer collections, the 28-year-old German blonde did her catwalk thing for a little-known designer called Giorgio Ferrari. Shortly afterwards she announced to Rome newspaper Il Messaggero: "I love fashion, but I never really liked the runway. I am never going to model on the catwalks again."

This was done for reasons best kept to herself. One possibility is that the model finally realised her Barbie Doll looks are out of fashion. A booking for a Giorgio Ferrari show is not a successful way to spend Milan fashion week. In Milan, the most lucrative city of the fashion calendar for models, the top catwalks to appear on are Versus, Versace, Prada, Dolce Gabbana, Jil Sander or Gucci. An appearance at one of these shows could mean a booking for a subsequent - even more lucrative - advertising campaign. It also results in almost continuous glossy magazine coverage.

But the real bonus of appearing on a Milan catwalk, of course, is kudos. Being in Milan means simply that you're "in", or at any rate famous enough to bring the press to the designers. It is no coincidence that Kate Moss made her second catwalk appearance of the season at Donatella Versace's Versus show on Sunday. Her first was in New York for Calvin Klein, for whom her contract includes catwalk appearances. Both strolls along the runway are likely to have paid her enough money to buy a house.

Kate Moss doesn't spout off when she's in a bad mood, indeed her response to the whole retirement business is spot on. She has said: "I'm not going to retire. If people are still willing to pay me money to model, then I'll keep doing it. A lot of us aren't doing the shows any more because we want to slow down and choose exactly what we are going to do." Naomi Campbell echoed these sentiments by saying: "I have no time limit, and I'd never make an announcement that I might [retire from the catwalk], only to back down from it later."

Claudia Schiffer should have taken notes from these two women. She hasn't really made a memorable appearance on a runway for two years, so there is not a whole lot of point to announcing the end of her catwalk career.

Schiffer's publicists, Hoffman Media, must have agreed: they hastily issued a damage-limiting statement on Sunday in which she announced: "I'm not quitting. For me, the runway work was only a small part of my modelling career... For almost two years now, I've only done fashion shows occasionally and for special causes, for example, for Valentino."

And it's not the first time Claudia's publicists have been involved in frantic back-pedalling. Rewind one year, and surprise, surprise - Claudia was making the same threat. She's leaving the catwalks. She's concentrating on being in the movies, or starring in a car advert (she's under contract to Citroen) or saying, "Because I'm worth it," for L'Oreal.

The attitude displayed by Claudia Schiffer echoes British model Sarah Thomas - who caused a mini-kerfuffle last month when she announced she was quitting the catwalk, because she didn't like being prodded and poked, and treated like a bit of meat. She was applauded for her strength of character. But hold on a minute... last week, during London Fashion Week there she was, calmly and beautifully modelling for Pearce Fionda.

Schiffer joined with Elle MacPherson, Christy Turlington and Naomi Campbell to front the Fashion Cafe, but last month she left after a much publicised row in which she said of Naomi Campbell: "Instead of promoting our cafes, she only thinks about collecting lovers."

Claudia Schiffer is beautiful. Untouchable even. She is part of the breed of model who found fame in the late Eighties alongside Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista and Cindy Crawford and was given the term "super". Only problem is, the original supers are too perfect in today's climate.

As one fashion insider put it, "Claudia is one of the original blonde divas. Her look is completely different to the current breed of girls. In their heyday, the supermodels were treated like princesses, but today's successful models are better known for their personalities, and are treated as part of the team. The modern model does not want to be pampered. She's cool and she's fun."

Schiffer's career began 11 years ago, at 17, when she was discovered in a German disco by photographer Ellen Von Unwerth. Months later she gained notoriety when Von Unwerth shot her for the Guess? campaign, in which she looked like a young Brigitte Bardot. Throughout her career she has appeared on more than 600 magazine covers, notably Vanity Fair, the only magazine with an editorial policy that generally refuses to place a model on its cover. She is also the first, and only model to have a wax likeness placed in the Grevin Museum in Paris.

Once Schiffer had wised up to the world of modelling, her girl-next-door appeal vanished. In its place was a ruthless businesswoman who in 1990 launched an on-running swim-wear calendar. Shortly afterwards she popped up first on the arm of Prince Albert of Monaco - many called her the new Grace Kelly - and then as the fiancee of millionaire magician David Copperfield.

Well-informed gossip-mongers took great delight in claiming that Schiffer was engaged to Copperfield as part of a deal to improve his kudos. From that moment Schiffer tumbled from the hot seat.

The downward spiral had begun. In 1996, after several years as the face of Chanel and bosom buddy of fellow German designer par excellence Karl Lagerfeld, she was dumped by the fashion house in favour of British aristocratic model Stella Tennant, a woman known for her realistic attitude towards fashion and modelling. Lagerfeld's attitude toward Schiffer was summed up perfectly when he said of her: "Claudia would have been a wonderful Hollywood silent star."

In a curious twist of fate, Schiffer has assumed this mantle. She is the current "face" of the Citroen Xantia, and has appeared in a couple of straight-to-video films, one of them The Blackout by Able Ferrara was instantly forgettable.

In the unlikely event that Claudia holds to her threat to abandon the catwalk, we shouldn't mourn her passing - she certainly won't. Last year, while on assignment in Lima, Peru, she told reporters she would like to be cloned, as "I could send them out to work instead, and have more time to myself".

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