Tatjana Patitz, an omnipresent model in the ’90s, died Wednesday at age 56.
Patitz died of breast cancer and was under hospice care in Santa Barbara, California, at the time of her passing Wednesday morning, according to her longtime agent Corinne Nicolas, owner of the Model CoOp. A private memorial for family and friends is being planned for Patitz, according to a friend, who requested anonymity out of respect to Patitz’s son Jonah and the rest of her family.
The European-born model personified a certain understated ’90s style. Along with Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Amber Valletta and Karen Mulder, Patitz could often be found backstage and on the runways, as well as occasionally turning up on the social scene. Coming of age in an era when models were celebrities unto themselves — and often hung out together off-hours purely for the fun of it, Patitz was part of the “in” crowd, but she was never overexposed. Her interests weren’t rooted in self-serving publicity though — Patitz was in the mix at an opening night event for Ross Bleckner at the Gagosian gallery in Los Angeles and at dinner for Karl Lagerfeld in New York.
The ’90s model’s lasting influence was evident in 2009, when the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute unveiled “The Model as Muse: Embodying Fashion.” Spanning from Dior’s “New Look” to the modes of the late ’90s, the exhibition featured such images as a 1990 British Vogue cover shot by Lindbergh that featured Patitz with Evangelista, Turlington, Campbell and Crawford. Although several ’90s models have resurfaced in recent major designer ad campaigns and on their runways, Patitz had not gone that same route.
Patitz was a favorite subject for the late photographer Peter Lindbergh. In 1988, she was among the beauties he photographed horsing around on the beach, wearing oversize white shirts in “White Shirts: Six Supermodels, Malibu.” Estelle Lefebure, Karen Alexander, Rachel Williams, Evangelista and Turlington were the others. Unlike the highly stylized fashion shoots of today, Patitz was part of a cadre of models who weren’t afraid to show some spontaneity in their work in front of the camera. They were also handsomely rewarded for their advertising work, in the millions.
Having worked with Patitz for 30-plus years, Wolfhard Muenter, who runs Mega Model Agency, recalled, how after she became famous as a model, every top photographer and every designer was keen on her. “But she stayed the same. Normally, young models, who become famous or successful, do all the [runway] shows and are into the business. Fashion is everything for them. They concentrate only on the jobs and the pay. That was not Tatjana,” he said.
Even after Lindbergh ushered in the Supermodel Era, Patitz “stayed, who she was.” Her decision to relocate to California made the modeling world “freak out,” but she had other interests, Muenter said. “She was such an amazing, straight character. She wasn’t pretending to be interested in nature or animals. There is no PR story in her character.”
By her own account Lindbergh was a favorite lensman, as were Herb Ritts, Bruce Weber, Kurt Markus and Philip Dixon. Annie Leibovitz, Nick Knight and Richard Avedon were also on her list. From Patitz‘s perspective, “collaborating with the team to create an image” was what she loved most. “You can feel it when something magical happens,” she said in 2018.
Remembering Patitz’s “great sense of humor,” Weber said Wednesday, “She always had me laughing when we worked together. She was as gentle as a child with animals, and was so affectionate with her friends. As I look around my backyard, I honestly can’t believe she is no longer part of this world.”
Meanwhile, the ever-unpredictable Dixon said via email that Patitz was “my buddy. I called her ‘fish face.’ I have nothing to say, but we don’t die.”
Patitz also wasn’t afraid to be controversial when needed. In 1995, she was among the notables who appeared in the nude in a Patrick Demarchelier-shot campaign for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals entitled “Rather Be Naked Than Wear Fur.” Patotz wasn’t just striking a pose. As her Instagram followers can attest, she saw herself as an “Environmental crusader — Animal lover and lover of nature,” as we all as a “Mom — Model.” The Santa Barbara resident had a boxer named ”Gatsby” and two horses, “Aleada” and “Brightly.” She also was “the proud foster parent” of eight elephants at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.
Born in Hamburg, Germany, Patitz spent her formative years — from the ages of 7 to 17 — growing up in Sweden. After winning the Elite Model Look contest in the ’80s, Patitz went on to appear in the pages of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle and other fashion magazines, which were hefty must reads in the social media-free ’90s. After achieving fame as a model, she lived in California rather than be planted in Paris or New York. The West Coast allowed for plenty of time outdoors in nature and in the ocean — a must for Patitz, who also enjoyed hiking, horseback riding and traveling with Thailand and Africa being of particular interest.
Anne-Marie Curtis, founder of The Calendar Magazine and former editor in chief of Elle U.K., recalled Wednesday that one of her first assignments “fresh out of college” in her first job “as a fledgling fashion editor at Sky Magazine” was to interview “’The Supers’ shortly after they were officially anointed with the now iconic cover for American Vogue shot by Peter Lindbergh.” Curtis said, “The one I was most nervous about was Tatjana, with her cool teutonic beauty and intimidating mystique. She was actually incredibly warm and sweet to me though, and I think that was her ‘super power,’ a rare combination of cinematic, striking beauty and that juxtaposition of strength and softness. And of course [with] those incredible eyes and that enigmatic stare that always drew you into the picture and demanded your attention, she was pure class and a total one-off.”
While many have rules to live by, Patitz detailed hers as, “Do good, be kind, have compassion, and when you know better, do better. Be gentle with the environment and with yourself and others.” Another reminder of her ethos was an “AHIMSA” arm tattoo, which meant, in Sanskrit, practicing nonviolence and compassion toward all living beings.
In an online Q&A for Kendall Conrad Design, she described her life goals as being the best that she can be as a mother, friend, sister, daughter and partner. “To let my creative flame burn strong and stay inspired daily. To never lose my sense of adventure and live fully and unapologetically.”
Kendall Conrad, an accessories designer, described Patitz in a similar vein Wednesday — “beautiful inside and out, a truly kind and sensitive person.” Prior to her passing, Patitz, who rescued many dogs in her lifetime, was excited about a horse that she had recently adopted. “She was so proud of her son Jonah, a talented young illustrator,” Conrad said.
Partial as she was to luxury hotels like The Bristol in Paris, the Lowell in New York and the Amanpuri resorts, Patitz treasured more attainable indulgences like getting massages and “reading books in peace.”
Patitz, whose marriage to Jason Johnson ended in divorce, is survived by her son Jonah and sister Sophie Pollmann, as well as her parents, whose names were not immediately known. In keeping with Patitz’s wishes, in lieu of flowers, her family requested that donations be made to Return to Freedom, a nonprofit that is dedicated to wild horse conservation — an organization that Patitz supported.
— With contributions from Hikmat Mohammed