Most magazine cover stories begin with a well-worn device. First, a scene-setting description of the set, or a kewl café, or, trending at the moment, a spontaneous (but actually carefully orchestrated) experience the journalist is about to participate in to get closer to their subject. And then, a breathless top to toe review of the star’s always-effortless look. All the observational stuff that’s meant to provide insight into who she is.
Helena Christensen arrives at Shio Studios in Brooklyn, an airy warehouse space with high ceilings, big windows and square meterage that could contain three good-sized apartments, albeit by New York’s cramped standards. Wearing a red floral summer dress, there’s an unfair amount of bronzed bare leg between its midi-hemline and the model’s Vans. Then there are those eyes, watching you through air-dried bangs… The same piercing greens that have looked into the lenses of the most celebrated photographers of all time, and connected with us from the covers of countless magazines.
Leaning out, now.
While the above pads my word count, it tells you no more about Helena Christensen than you can learn by looking at a picture of her: she’s a model, she’s beautiful—we know that, it’s just noise. Before this shoot I was nervous. Having an OG Supermodel agree to be a TOMBOY Beauty cover girl is overwhelming enough, but what if she has nothing to say? What if she turns out to be a dick? Lucky for me (and this story) Helena is warm, opinionated, wickedly funny, fun and collaborative…
Growing up on a tiny island in Denmark, Helena recalls her childhood as family oriented and full of travel. Her parents were “always very loving. Disciplinary, but very loving” and exposed their daughter to different cultures, including on family trips to Thailand for her mum’s work. “I grew up with a Danish dad and a Peruvian mum, which in a way broadened my horizons,” she says. “It was a home with two different cultures, not just my parents’ different personalities, but food and the different ways of making food, and my mother’s passionate, exuberant personality [in contrast to] my father’s mellow, cool, Nordic vibe.”
I recognise the balance she inherited from her parents, and wonder if she ever imagined the fairy tale existence that awaited her. For context, she left that little island before her 20th birthday and did a short stint in Copenhagen before moving to Paris to begin her modelling career. She lived in the south of France for a while and then found her home in New York, where she gave birth to her son, Mingus Lucien Reedus, in 1999. And while I struggle to intellectualise my own experience of the city I’ve now called home for two years, Helena succinctly describes the energetic pull of New York: “It feels unrestricted, it feels very alive, pulsating. It just feels like little parts of the whole world are in this city.”
Fortunate to pose for iconic photographers Herb Ritts, Irving Penn, Peter Lindbergh and Bruce Webber, her time on set was never wasted. She was a student and a sponge. “It was amazing to be starting exactly at the time I did because I got to work with these legendary photographers, and basically it was right before most of them passed away,” she says. “I just absorbed all of the knowledge I possibly could. They were my heroes first, and then I got to work with them.”
Innately curious and entrepreneurial (long before it became a thing to slash titles and add ‘entrepreneur’ to your Instagram bio) Helena never saw modelling as the beginning and the end. “I could live without modelling but not photography, because it follows me everywhere,” she says. “Modelling has given me so much, it’s opened doors to so many exciting ventures and has given me a huge education, not only in photography but also languages, design, and the technology and craftsmanship behind designing.”
This “unorthodox education” and her experience on both sides of the lens led to her role as creative director of niche fragrance company Strange Love NYC, and as co-founder of Stærk&Christensen alongside her long-time friend Camilla Staerk, who was also the stylist for this story. The pair’s multi-faceted studio and e-commerce platform has interests in the fields of fashion, interiors, architecture, photography and film, and is not only indicative of Helena’s desire for creativity, but also the value she places on friendship, particularly female friendship. “[Female friendship] is extremely important. You have certain women who will stay with you for life, and you’re there with them for life,” she says. “With Camilla it’s extra special. We are creative together and that is not only a yearning, it’s almost like a need for both of us to have this outlet. Even though we have very different visual expressions, we still agree on everything and we learn from each other and give the other person the freedom to create. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship, and I love everything we create. I’m excited about it and if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be doing it.”
I got a taste of the Staerk/Christensen dynamic, and Helena’s collaborative spirit, on set and in the post-production of this story. She didn’t just turn up, do her thing and then disappear. Generous with her time, energy and skill set, she was involved in the lengthy process of selects, editing and art direction. These pictures are proof of her relentless passion for creating engaging imagery and aesthetics.
Even after a decades-long career in an industry known for its narrow standards of beauty, Helena’s perspective is inclusive and recalls her down to earth upbringing. Her point of view extends beyond the formulaic campaigns of her profession to the beauty that surrounds us all: “Nature to me is the epitome of beauty, everything comes from that, everything goes back to that,” she says. “I think that a female body shape looks so much like nature. I photograph all my girlfriends, with their various body forms and shapes, and try to integrate them with the lines in nature. That’s beauty to me.”
Look 1: Norma Kamali Puffer Vest // Look 2: Norma Kamali collar worn as headpiece and vintage knit dress. // Look 3: Norma Kamali body suit, Stærk&Christensen pants. // Look 4: Vintage bra, Stærk vintage lack belt, Stærk&Christensen net panties, Norma Kamali pinstripe blazer. // Look 5: Vintage shirt, Stærk&Christensen net bra, Stærk&Christensen peplum belt and skirt. Stærk&Christensen the stocking bootlet. // Look 6: Vintage bra and body suit, Stærk&Christensen men’s shirt, Stærk&Christensen corset belt. // Look 7: Vintage bra and panties, Stærk vintage peak belt, Stærk&Christensen chiffon trench, Norma Kamali black trench, Stærk&Christensen The Stocking Bootlet.
SKIN: BECCA Backlight priming filter and full coverage foundation, Estee Lauder Double Wear Stay in Place concealer. // EYES: Tom Ford High Definition Eyeliner in Ebony, Tom Ford Eye Color Quad in Cocoa Mirage, and Tom Ford Extreme Mascara in Raven Black. // CHEEKS: Tom Ford The Ultimate Bronzer in Terra // LIPS: BECCA lipstick in Scarlett (red lip) and Tawny (nude lip), Lanolips 101. // HAIR: Scissor and Comb pins (for up-do), Bumble & Bumble Thickening Dry Spun texture spray, David Mallet Hair Serum
Photography and Direction: Chrisitan Blanchard
Art Direction: Luke Shadbolt
Styling: Camilla Staerk
Hair: Damian Monzillo
Makeup: Tobi Henney
Editor and Interview: Chloe Brinklow
Special thanks to Helena Christensen.