Born in Hamburg, she was raised mainly in Skanor in Sweden. Her father was a German travel journalist and he moved from place to place, often taking his family with him. She had lived in various countries by the time she was a teenager.
Her mother was an Estonian dancer, who performed burlesque at Le Lido in Paris.
Her parents met at a wine tasting in a bodega in Spain, whilst her mother was touring with a modern dance company. It was love at first sight. They spent the rest of their lives together.
As a child, Tatjana became a very accomplished horse rider. The family spent their summers in a home in Mallorca and she went to ‘horse camps’. “I have been riding since I was a small child. For me it means freedom, connectedness and dedication. Horses transform stress and worry for me. They are genuine and spiritual. They make me happy and relaxed, especially if I feel pressured or tense”.
In 1983, aged just 17, Tatjana entered the ‘Elite Model Look Competition’ after sending in a polaroid picture as her entry. She became a finalist and consequently earned her first modelling contract. She was beaten by another unknown, Cindy Crawford, who went on to become a great friend.
The competition was in New York, so Tatjana took her pet cats with her, to keep her company.
It took her a while to become established, but by September 1985, Tatjana had made the cover of Vogue. She was photographed by Peter Lindbergh – the start of a 30-year collaboration.
It was his book, ‘Ten Women’, that launched the era of the supermodel. Peter said, “I admire Tatjana because she always stays herself. She’s very soft but at the same time she’s very strong and knows how to stand up for what she thinks. It’s always very enriching to be with her. It’s impossible not to admire her over the years and not to be just a little bit in love with her”.
Suddenly her career took off and Tatjana appeared on the covers of French, Italian and American Vogue editions as well as on Cosmopolitan.
On the December 1985 Vogue cover, Tatjana wore coloured contact lenses. This image featured in the 1992 book ‘On the Edge: Images from 100 years of Vogue’.
She appeared in adverts for Calvin Klein (1986) and Revlon’s ‘The Most Unforgettable Woman in the World’ (1987).
Tiffany had her on the cover of their 150th anniversary special magazine alongside Mikhail Baryshnikov. She won ‘Model of the Year’ in 1987.
Despite all of this fame and attention, Tatjana was unlike many other supermodels, due to her charming character and, “her extraordinary kindness” (Antoine Verglas – photographer). She was extremely tall (just under 6 feet) with beautiful blue eyes – “an extraordinary presence”. She also had a very astute business sense.
Then, she met LA photographer, Herb Ritts, and they started a long-term collaboration. She would play any character he wanted – a mermaid, a surfer, a movie star or a character from the Wild West. He said he loved photographing her because she looked, “a bit off, and had a prominent nose. She’s not a commercial beauty but…her looks have power, strength, intensity”. His most well-known photo with her is entitled ‘Tatjana Veiled Head’.
She was also part of a famous Lindbergh photograph of a few supermodels entitled ‘White Shirts’ – one of the most celebrated fashion shoots of all time. It was taken on a California beach and Lindbergh refused to let any of his models smile.
In 1988, Vogue labelled her the ‘Million Dollar Beauty’. The following year, she became the first ever person to appear on the cover of American Vogue two months in succession.
Then she cut her hair, which had been over a foot long. “I cried for a month”. After that, Tatjana changed the style and colour of her hair with increasing regularity.
When the 1990s began, Tatjana had global appeal and was earning over a million dollars a year. She really was the first German supermodel.
She appeared in the video for George Michael’s ‘Freedom’ in 1990 (although George Michael himself didn’t appear).
Tatjana worked for Versace, Vivienne Westwood, Karl Lagerfeld, Donna Karan and Valentino, and had an exclusive cosmetics contract with Germaine Monteil. She was considered one of the ‘Big Five’ models alongside Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford and Christy Turlington. She was labelled the ‘Catwalk Queen of the 1990s’
By now, Tatjana was living in Los Angeles, and was taking acting lessons.
She appeared as a murder victim in the film, ‘Rising Sun’ and also in the US TV series, ‘The Single Guy’.
She was beginning to get involved in animal rights by now – and appeared in a famous poster with other models.
By 1997, she had featured on over 200 magazine covers and was soon to appear on the newly launched Chinese Vogue.
Tatjana married Jason Randall Johnson, a businessman, and her son Jonah was born in 2003. They lived on a ranch in Malibu.
Although she continued with her modelling career, her interests were beginning to branch out. As well as Animal Rights, Tatjana became involved with Orangutan Outreach in Borneo. She also became a vegetarian.
In 2008, Tatjana took up interior design. She used reclaimed materials sourced from salvage yards. “I needed nature around me.”
In 2009, Jason and Tatjana got divorced. She moved to a more rural ranch in Los Olivos, California, right next to a reservation for wild mustangs.
She lived with Jonah, alongside four horses, four dogs and two cats.
Tatjana became very involved in HIV awareness, gender equality, LGBTQ rights and the proper representation of women.
She continued to work. She portrayed Coco Chanel at Karl Lagerfeld’s 2010 show at the Venice Lido.
In 2011, in her forties, she made industry headlines by becoming spokesperson for cosmetic brand Chiseido. She told Sarah Brokaw, in her book ‘Fortytude’, “I believe in aging gracefully because it celebrates me as a woman…It comes from feeling good about who you are, with your flaws – and we all have them – and at being at peace with yourself.”
She was in an advert for L’Oreal Age Perfect, alongside Jane Fonda and Doutzen Kroes, representing three generations of women. She refused to allow herself to be portrayed as younger than she actually was and revelled in the role of a mature woman. She supported Andie McDowell and Helen Christensen in celebrating aging.
She was still making adverts – for Cartier, Revlon, Levis, Ralph Lauren and bizarrely, for the Vauxhall Corsa.
Tatjana was diagnosed with breast cancer and did her last catwalk in the Milan Fashion Week in 2020.
She died in Santa Barbara in California.
Her son Jonah is now a model.
New York Magazine remembered her as, “the ideal of perfection.”
Anna Wintour, former editor of Vogue, called Tatjana the nicest of all the supermodels. “With her you got no flakiness, no tantrums, no delays. You got total reliability”.
RIP – Reliable Images Photographed