THE THRESHOLD BETWEEN THE IMPERMANENT AND THE COMMERCIAL SPANS AN ARCHIVE OF COVER AND EDITORIAL SPREADS THAT STRETCHED LIMITS OF THE IMAGINATION AND MADE THE FASHION INDUSTRY OF THE 60’S AND 70’S GO BOOM. AS THE FACE OF A SOLID DECADE, VERUSCHKA’S MODELLING YEARS SEIZED A FORERUNNING PHILOSOPHY THAT EXTENDED FAR BEYOND THE LENS. MODELING WAS FOR HER, AN OPPORTUNITY TO TRANSFORM, TO CHANGE HER SKIN, A CHANCE TO CHALLENGE THE ILLUSION THAT ONE CAN BECOME DETACHED FROM THE SELF.
Her scene in Antonioni’s 1996 cult film Blow-Up catapulted Veruschka’s fame and multiplied her desirability factor. To this day she is often cited in interviews expressing that she doesn’t know why that five-minute ‘model muse’ role made her famous. It was perhaps less to do with the film scene and everything to do with Antonioni laying his golden finger on the precise zeitgeist of the time. The late 60’s were the epitome of glamour-fixation, the onset by which those behind the lens: models, photographers, and designers began to live a celebrity status and lay a stronghold on what eventually became an industry dogma. Blow-Up did exactly that for Veruschka, though she chose the contrary route in order to free herself from the predefining roles that were already shaping her name. She stayed loyal to her personal expression by painting her body and transforming her skin into various permutations of vegetation and wildlife through which she traversed remote parts of Africa. Her modeling persona intrigued fashion’s greatest image-makers of the time: Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton, Irving Penn and Peter Beard.
HER SKIN, HER TOILE
It was Veruschka’s body painting technique that sculpted her impermanent rapport across almost two decades between the mid 60’s to the late 80’s. Born in Prussia into aristocratic bloodlines as Vera Gottliebe Anna Von Lehndorff, the moniker Veruschka was created later in her life as a means to conceptualize the characters she wanted to play. Beyond her artistic vantage point, much of Veruschka’s body painting served as cathartic reprise from her childhood. Her father was Count Heinrich Graf von Lehndorff-Steinort, a leader of Germany’s WWII Resistance movement was tragically assassinated. It was a devastating episode which left Veruschka, her mother and three sisters to traverse one concentration camp to the next until she began her studies in fine art, first in Hamburg and then Florence where she was discovered on the street by photographer Ugo Mulas in her early 20’s. Modeling was Veruschka’s way of escaping the monotony of day-to-day life, she wanted to see life as a game and the meticulous process involved in painting her skin allowed her to forgo her external appearance and disappear into the background. She painted her body in Africa for the first time with photographer Peter Beard for the magazine Queen. Beard gained a reputation as a playboy and prolific adventurer who spent the 60’s and 70’s in Africa chronicling natural disasters from an aerial view across the vast continental planes. He took Veruschka to Kenya and photographed her in the thick of the wild and in often dangerous situations, her painted body camouflaged among various types of exotic flora and fauna. His excavations earned him the name half Tarzan, half Byron and it was his sharp eye for beauty and devastation that drove the imagination by which editorial image making was elevated to new heights. Some of Veruschka’s most iconic images arose from her romantic relationship with photographer and filmmaker Franco Rubartelli. They became known as a power couple and together created some of the most vanguard images alongside fashion’s most cutting haute couture of the time. Valentino was their signature collaborator and the exotic images that erupted from their synergy gave rise to Veruschka’s “Amazonian” stature. Disappearance did not veer far from the pair’s image undertone and the loft that they shared in Rome inspired the setting for their 1971 film ‘Poesia di Una Donna’. Shot by Rubartelli starring Veruschka, one of the film’s most striking scenes manifests in Veruschka’s painted face, camouflaged among a bed of rocks which consolidates the film’s visual array of moving images as one of the hidden gems among Veruschka’s body of work. Published in the same year, a ten page Playboy spread titled ‘Stalking the Wild’ mimics the clandestine lines that Veruschka applied to paint her body in black and drape herself across a tree in a panther-like sprawl. Rubartelli and Veruschka’s partnership made them known among fashion’s most notable designers and the artistic depth with which their images were born concealed their collective force.
SCULPTING AN EDITORIAL ARCHIVE
Veruschka’s body painting combined with her sense of storytelling, forged relationships with photographers and editors that made countless pages of editorial history. American Vogue editor Diana Vreeland took Veruschka under her wing in 1964. Vreeland was a true clairvoyant at discerning and harnessing those whose vision was a step ahead of the time. Versuschka’s working relationship with Vreeland grew into a potently creative one. She recalls coming up with shoot ideas in the middle of the night and calling up Diana who would encourage her to make them happen, many of which translated into no less than 11 Vogue covers. The styling was a pivotal element of Vreeland and Veruschka’s conceptions and in 1968 Vreeland sent Veruschka into the Arizona desert with photographer Franco Rubartelli and stylist Giorgio di Sant’ Angelo with nothing but bolts of fabric, fur and dynel wigs. The resulting images had a stunning array of depth soaked with piercing desert shades against Veruschka’s sun-saturated skin. It was a fantastic way of working by which Veruschka and her team would dream up the looks that would become fashion later. One of Veruschka’s most idiosyncratic working relationships was struck with the great Richard Avedon. Each one of their shoots channelled and uncompromising strength and in 1966 under Vreeland’s direction, the two of them travelled to the Japanese Alps to shoot one of Vogue’s greatest editorials: The Great Fur Caravan. The stunning 26 page spread spanned distances shot between Kyoto, Tokyo to the deep snow of Hokkaido and the journey was charged with emotional depth which marked a critical element for Vogue’s aesthetically forward storytelling of the time. Each page of the spread was coiled with an authentic extravagance with which Veruschka played the role of an endless wanderer, nomadic royalty. Wrapped hooded goatskin, golo suede boots, snow leopard mittens and decked with the Shakuhachi, the traditional Japanese flute, the story’s angle suited Veruschka’s waking life. Her melancholy expression became her trademark and the decadent sadness in her face held an authenticity by which she chose to live the life of a gypsy, never possessing too much or getting too attached to the clothing and objects which scattered the peripheries of her world. Veruschka’s exit from the fashion industry came in 1975 with the changing of hands of Vogue’s editor-in-chief Grace Mirabella. To her, Veruschka’s melancholic guise was no longer one which the average woman could relate to. Her intention was to make Veruschka’s look more marketable and under the direction that she cut her hair, Veruschka kindly refused and walked away. By 1974 Verushka’s images had saturated editorial pages and had long out-run the industry’s monetary peak which earned her up to $10,000 a day. Walking away from fashion became and open gate for Veruschka to return to her first love: art.
ART OFF THE STREETS
One of Veruschka’s early influencers with whom she performed on the streets of New York was Salvador Dali. It was the height of New York’s Fluxus movement in the 60s and Dali staged a series of ‘happenings’ for which he sprayed shaving cream on Veruschka’s body, transforming her into a walking sculpture. The streets of New York served to familiarise Veruschka with the urban grid, which would infiltrate her own 1988 film, ‘Buddha Burn’. Stretching the city’s limitations as a further means of expression, Veruschka came to depend on the streets, their structures and the decaying urbanity therein as means of connecting her childhood to a theme of aristocratic rebellion. Here Veruschka would transfigure yet again, changing herself into various permutations of vagrants and noble gangsters. During her New York years, she often spent her time under the Brooklyn Bridge filming footage, which she edited into her first film ‘Burn Buddha’, a narrative that traverses spirituality interwoven among the city’s facades and homeless aristocrats. Noble stature held Veruschka’s attention throughout her life and nurturing her artistic expression to transform herself through the act of disappearance proved to be the greatest noblesse of her career. She continued to pursue her body painting for live shows in Tribeca throughout the mid 80’s, tying in the painting technique she developed a decade earlier, this time adjusting her palette to disappear into scenes of urban decay: corroded pipes, fragmented window panes and industrial beams which she documented in a series of photographs with her former lover, artist and sculptor Holger Trülzsch and in 1986 they published a book with their collaborative work titled ‘Transfigurations’. Veruschka’s most recent book ‘Veruschka: From Vera to Veruschka’ was released by publishing house Rizzoli in 2014. The book dives into an intriguing archive of images of Veruschka in Italy captured at the height of 60’s glamour around the most lavish corners of Rome, Capri and Sardinia by photographer Johnny Moncada. The images were discovered in a trunk by Moncada’s daughter 40 years later and the discovery is a true testament to Veruschka’s affinity to stun and provoke the eye, her ability to disappear and reappear perfectly concealed.
Known as the “Amazonian” Veruschka’s body painting was the connecting link to her 1971 body painting Playboy spread by Rubartelli. One of the greatest fashion editorials “The Great Fur Caravan” depicts Veruschka as a nomadic princess, an endless wanderer form which her melancholic gaze became her trademark.
Veruschka made her name by following her own artistic expression; there were little industry standards set before her, so she held the reigns to create them for herself. Stylist Giorgio di Sant’ Angelo for example created an entire collection out of bolts of fabric, fur and dynel wigs, modelled by Versuchka and shot by Rubartelli. The dream team was a distinctive part Versuchka’s editorial ideas throughout the 60s and 70s. She would dream up looks, which became fashion later.
Born Countess Vera Gottliebe Anna Gräfin von Lehndorff-Steinort, on May 14, 1939 in East Prussia, known today as Kaliningrad, Russia.
As a leader of the German resistance movement, Lena’s farther Count Heinrich Graf von Lehndorff-Steinort was assassinated in Berlin’s Plötzensee prison for plotting Hitler’s death.
Vera moves first to Hamburg then to Florence to follow her passion of studying art. She is discovered on the street by photographer Ugo Mulas in Florence in her 20’s.
Vera meets Eileen Ford, owner of Ford Models who encourages her to go to New York to pursue modelling full time. After little success, Vera adopts a new character and changes her name to Veruschka, a Russian sounding moniker that connects her Prussian roots.
At the height of the Fluxus movement in New York, Veruschka becomes acquainted with Salvador Dali, the two begin a working relationship and Dali uses Veruschka’s body for his shaving cream sculptures, which were filmed in a series of ‘happenings’ around the streets of New York.
Veruschka is discovered by American Vogue editor Diana Vreeland. This year sparks a momentous working relationship for the two of them.
Veruschka’s long working relationship with Richard Avedon begins. The two embark on a momentous journey across Japan for Vogue’s stunning editorial ‘The Great Fur Caravan’.
Antonioni casts Veruschka in a five minute role in his movie Blow-Up. She plays the part of a model for photographer David Bailey, played by David Hemmings. The movie stirs much hype and Veruschka’s career explodes.
Blow-Up wins a Palm D’Or at Cannes Film Festival. This year marks the height of Veruschka’s career earning her up to $10,000 a day.
Diana Vreeland sends Veruschka, Rubartelli and stylist Giorgio di Sant’ Angelo to the Arizona desert with nothing but bolts of fabric, fur and dynel wings. It is a stunning editorial that heightens the editorial prowess of making fashion from nothing.
Veruschka poses in a series of self-portraits depicting cultural characters like Marilyn Monroe and America’s first black president.
Veruschka’s animalistic body painting technique shot by Rubartelli gets published in a ten page spread titled ‘Stalking the Wild’ for Playboy.
Helmut Newton photographs Veruschka in Nice. The photo reappears on Vogue Russia’s 2012 cover.
Veruschka steps away from modelling following a conflict of views with new American Vogue editor Grace Mirabella. She returns to Germany to spent time with her mother.
Veruschka reconnects with ex lover and collaborator Holger Trülzsch to publish their collaborative body painting photos in a book titled ‘Transfigurations’.
Veruschka directs her own film under the Brooklyn Bridge in which she appears as various personas: a Lion, a Vagrant, a Buddha sitting serenely on a block of ice.
Veruschka collaborates with Artist Francesco Vezzoli in a live performance for a series of his embroidered works during the Venice Biennale.
Former Warhol collaborator Paul Morrissey directs an autobiographical film: Veruschka, A Life for the Camera.
Assouline publishes a limited edition $500 book of Veruschka’s photographs, compiled by David Wills.
Rizzoli publishes unseen photographs of Veruschka in Rome, Capri and Sardinia, shot by Johnny Moncada in the 60s. The book release is paired with an exhibition at Somerset House, London.
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