Vera von Lehndorff: I was always being different types of women. I copied Ursula Andress, Brigitte Bardot, Greta Garbo. Then I got bored so I painted myself as an animal.
I have this old issue of ZOOM magazine from the 80’s and they are featuring a big portfolio of pictures of Veruschka. I have always loved that woman, and recently, someone reminded me of her existence, which made me think I could write a post about her on here.
Veruschka was the world’s first supermodel, a playmate of Hollywood stars and a pioneer in the art of body painting.
Veruschka was born in 1939 in East Prussia as Vera Gottliebe Anna Gräfin von Lehndorff-Steinort. For a short time, she enjoyed a wealthy lifestyle residing in East Prussia in a large house on an enormous estate that had been in her family for centuries. Her father was a German count and army reserve officer who became a key member of the German Resistance. When Veruschka was five years old, Heinrich Graf von Lehndorff-Steinort was executed for attempting to assassinate Adolf Hitler in the July 20 Plot. After his death, the remaining family members spent their times in labor camps until the end of World War II. By the end of the war, her family was left homeless.
She studied art in Hamburg and then moved to Florence, where she was discovered at age 20 by the photographer Ugo Mulas and became a full-time model. Back then tall models were not considered desirable in Paris, but there she met Eileen Ford, head of the prestigious Ford Modeling Agency. In 1961, she moved to New York City, but she did not score any bookings. To stand out, she returned to Munich and told people that she was really from Russia and changed her name to create a mysterious persona, which earned her many bookings. She had also garnered attention when she made a brief five minute appearance in the 1966 cult film Blow Up by Michelangelo Antonioni.
In the same year, she did her first shoot wearing nothing but body paint, which she would continue to do for years. She once worked with Salvador Dalí and photographer Peter Beard, who took her to Kenya, where she painted herself with black shoe polish to resemble surreal plants and animals in an attempt to “go native”.
In 1975, she departed from the fashion industry due to disagreements with Grace Mirabella, the newly appointed editor-in-chief of Vogue, who wanted to change her image to make it more approachable to average women. In 1985, she entered the art world, putting on a body-painting show in Tribeca; on her naked body, she was painted with different outfits transforming her into wild animals and several archetypes, such as film stars, dandies, gangsters, and dirty old men. Occasionally, she still appears on catwalks.