Helena Christensen wears bodysuit, by Stærk&Christensen, and hat, by Ellen Christine Couture (Photo: Andrew Arthur)

Thrust into the “strange world” of modelling at 19, Helena Christensen had left her home country of Denmark for Paris to try her hand at the business on the assumption that the pursuit would be short lived. “At first, I just thought it was an interesting opportunity [of] a couple of years if I could last that long mentally; and if the business wants to deal with me for that long,” she recounts with a laugh. “But it just kind of ended up being a different story.”

Christensen, who turns 53 this month, has a modelling career spanning decades. She’s a founding member of the original supermodel wave—Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista et al.—who, along with the legendary photographers of the time, redefined fashion photography forever. The work they produced initiated a collaborative energy between photographer and subject, and catapulted models to celebrity status for the first time.

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Helena Christensen wears dress, by Ashlyn. (Photo: Andrew Arthur)

“It was a lot to take in from a very young age because each job was an experience in itself and we used to shoot all over the world,” she says. “I’d find myself in temples in Thailand; at castles in Russia; at the top of Machu Picchu; on an elephant’s back; riding horses through deserts… There have been movies made [chronicling that particular time in the 1980s and ’90s], but I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to ever make a movie about what it was really like. That secret will stay with us girls and we always laugh about it. We all know how crazy and amazing it is that we were given that strange opportunity.”

One of the more iconic mainstream moments of Christensen’s career was her sultry role in Chris Isaak’s Herb Ritts-directed 1989 “Wicked Game” music video, which offers insight into her commitment to her craft. “It was an 18-hour shoot on a burning lava beach with sharp rocks,” she shares. “We ended up with wounds all over us—but it was worth it, obviously, because it ended up being so iconic. I have a feeling that when I’m 105 and in a nursing home, somebody might still come up to me and tell me that they watched that video when they were 13.”

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Ritts played a pivotal role in not only building up Christensen’s burgeoning modelling career in the ’90s (and beyond), but also igniting in her a passion for photography, which led to her fruitful, parallel career as a photographer. “I got my first Polaroid camera from Herb Ritts and I might not have put enough emphasis about how incredible it was that these photographers were my teachers,” she says of her unorthodox, money-can’t-buy education under the tutelage of the legendary greats. They taught her lighting and composition, and how to use and push film, laying bare the magic of photography that she still finds exciting to this day. “How is it actually possible to frame a second of life and have it frozen like that forever?” she muses. “The sheer mind-blowing fact that you can click the shutter or the button on the phone to literally have time stand still… That’s where my real passion lies.”

Helena Christensen wears dress, earring, and booties, all by Chanel. (Photo: Andrew Arthur)

For most people, having two thriving careers is enough to quench the proverbial professional thirst. Christensen, however, is not most people. She’s a model, photographer, creative director at fragrance brand StrangeLove NYC and co-founder of fashion brand Stærk&Christensen (her partner is her best girlfriend, stylist Camilla Staerk). She is also in the pre-launch phase of an architectural and fully sustainable “prefab” tiny homes company with Staerk, which she says “will likely be the biggest project that we would have ever done by the end of our lives”.

Creative and entrepreneurial projects aside, Christensen is a philanthropist. She is the ambassador for UNHCR, a global organisation dedicated to protecting the rights of refugees and building a better future for them. This year also saw her signing on as an ambassador for VETPAW and its mission to save endangered wildlife, which consequently led her to undertake a photojournalism mission to Africa with the organisation.

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Photo: Andrew Arthur

It would be easy to deduce that Christensen’s life is all work and no play, given the expansiveness of her resume. She is, however, balanced in a way that is not often associated with highly successful entrepreneurs or celebrities. Her full-throttle business-building drive is equalised with a grounded prioritisation of connectivity, family and friends, not to mention an appetite for experiences and fun. Lots of it.

On the day of the BAZAAR cover shoot in New York City, Christensen arrived at the studio in an off-the-shoulder tee, jeans and sneakers, her long locks pulled back into a loose ponytail. An hour of glam later, after trading in her casual uniform for Chanel, Louis Vuitton, latex and oversize hats, she commanded the set with effortless movement that showed her vast experience, her electrifying green-eyed gaze never losing focus for a second. Via phone the next day, Christensen shares that post-shoot, she attended an intimate comedy show, laughing along with a small audience in an old, dark cellar in Manhattan, before walking home with her best friend and business partner Staerk. Along the way, they stopped to dance with guys who were playing loud music and selling chicken from a grill chained to scaffolding on Sixth and Bleecker. “We ended up buying the chicken and the sauce,” she says laughingly.

Helena Christensen wears bodysuit, by Vex Latex; hat, by Ellen Christine Couture, gloves, by Anoeses, and pumps, by Dolce&Gabbana. (Photo: Andrew Arthur)

Christensen has resided in New York, between Manhattan’s West Village and her upstate home in the Catskills, for decades, though her Danish roots are still very much a part of her identity. “Copenhagen is my heart and New York is my head,” she says. “I long for Denmark and I long for Danish nature. I [sometimes] transport my mind to our little family cottage up in the north where I spent entire summers. But I want to live in New York. The fact that I have my very quiet and cosy apartment in the heart of the West Village, that I can just step outside and there is this intense, exciting, electrifying life going on right outside my door, I love that combo. There are no boring Mondays here and there are such crazy moments to experience every day. I need those; they’re so life affirming.”

As the festive season approaches, I’m curious to know what Christensen’s dream celebratory scenario looks like. I’m not surprised when she shares that she’ll be spending the holidays back home in Denmark. “We’re all together: My family, Mingus, his dad and his family (Christensen shares her son Mingus Lucien Reedus with actor Norman Reedus). It’ll be a really big, fun Christmas this year with a lot of old traditions and a lot of decorating,” she says.

With a joyous child-like excitement that seems innate to her being, she lets on: “My birthday’s on Christmas Day, so it’s a double celebration for me! We celebrate Christmas on the 24th and then the next day is all mine! I think you can count on one hand the European countries that celebrate Christmas on the 24th. So I’m very lucky that I’m Danish.”

Photographed by Andrew Arthur
Styled by Jahulie Elizalde
Creative direction: Windy Aulia
Makeup: Christyna Kay
Hair: Jenni Iva Wimmerstedt
Photographer’s assistants: Blair Alley, Edoardo Cozzani
Stylist’s assistant: Rebeca Flores
Shot at Andrew Arthur Studio, New York

This article originally appeared in the December 2021 issue of Harper’s BAZAAR Singapore