Annabell Häfner / IMG
shot in Paris, Oct. 3rd, 2015 / published: Jan. 18th, 2016
If there is anything we have learned on this journey, that's how models share a unique way of life. It is often not an extraordinarily glamorous one, but rather one made of extraordinary choices in the everyday. And we may slowly get to think that the infamous X factor must also have something to do with the ability to embrace and enjoy a life less ordinary with its ups and downs. In Annabell's case, it all came down to being brave just once. Now she is both an art student in Berlin and a model in Paris, traveling on a weekly basis. For this feature we met in Montmartre right after her last show of the day for some shots within the remaining daylight and a talk about life, art, travel and bravery! Enjoy!
As we met, you came straight from your last runway show of the day, all your fingernails painted in a different color and and your face still sporting half of the make-up. Fashion week is a crazy and busy time, are make-up and nail-polish remover part of your survival kit by now? What else is in there?
Oh yes, it’s all about being prepared. Because you might have a show where they paint all kinds of crazy colors into your face and the most important casting or some other unexpected appointment to run to right after that. And there is never time for “going home in between”. Also super important: band-aid, charging cable, cereal bars, hair tie!!
When you look back at your teen years in a catholic all-girls school, do you ever smile at the weirdness of life and its course?
It is really weird, because it feels like a complete different life or even world and it is really hard for me to put myself into that time, because my life now and especially me as a person are so different and far away from that period. Even though it is not that long ago, time has an other speed now. But actually I do smile, mostly because I am happy about how everything turned out so well and is much more exciting than I would have ever expected it to be and because I was so worried about my life being boring when I was a teen.
You told me, you were an extremely shy and insecure kid, who was too afraid to go on 30 minutes train ride from Bonn to Cologne all by herself. And then you were scouted and sent directly to Tokyo. On your own, thrown in at the deep end. How did you overcome your insecurities? Did anything suddenly click inside you?
I think I was extremely annoyed at my own anxiousness and when I decided to take this train from Bonn to Cologne to meet an agency for the very first time, I felt that I had to be brave just once in my life. And after that everything was actually quite easy. I think I was as surprised about myself as my mum was. I also think that going to Tokyo as the first trip is maybe easier because there is no way back. I knew I made this decision and neither I could just quit and go home, nor my mum could stop by to pick me up and save me. If I would have been in Paris, with a chance of always going home, it might have been harder. You are right, it is all about being thrown in at the deep end.
How did working as a model change you as a person and the way you see yourself?
It made me a very self-confident and independent person. I am more brave in all kind of situations and I can stand up for myself. I lost my shyness and I am more open with people I don’t know. I would also say that I like my body now. Before I started modeling I was very insecure about me being really tall and not curvy at all and I never considered myself pretty. But I am also better in small talk and all that superficial “we-are-a-big-happy-fashion-family” attitude, which makes everything easier but also makes me feel a stranger to myself sometimes. And then it is also scary how it changes your view when you are surrounded by models 24/7. I caught myself a couple of times coming back to school and having thoughts like “these pants would look so much better on her if she would weigh less” about a normal weight person.
In Tokyo you started recording random stuff on the go on video. The video camera has by now become your constant companion. Is it more a way to keep track of your life or more your own sort of window into the world?
It’s more my way of collecting memories and keeping them. I started doing it in Tokyo because everything was so overwhelming and fast that I had a feeling of not being able to save all my experiences and especially not to be able to share them with my parents in a way that they would understand and see them in the exact way as I did. And that was and still is one of the most important things to me – to keep memories, situations, places and people in a way that I can always look at them from every point of my life and share them with my parents or anyone else, so they understand all the craziness.
You started studying painting one year ago, how far are your videos an inspiration for your art?
They became more my tool of sketching. Because I like to paint situations or scenery that I have experienced first-hand because that makes the painting the most authentic and real I could possibly think of. But during fashion week and castings, fittings, shows all day and night, there is no time to paint, so I save everything on camera and as soon as I am back home I try to merge the atmosphere and experience that is in one video, which is always my point of view, into one image. So yes, it is very inspiring because it allows me to study all kinds of different settings, people and situations.
As we were talking about the sujets of your paintings, my mind jumped to Baudelaire's poem “À une passante” and I had to think of all those brief little moments we cannot enjoy but in the now, in their memory or maybe in a work of art... How far are you interested in this kind of poetry of the little moments?
I’ve always been a person that enjoys moments more in their memory and especially working as a model is so stressful and fast sometimes that you don’t really have time to enjoy or even reason in most of the situations. That always happens later, sometimes even weeks later. And for my paintings I always find the little moments more interesting and important. I wouldn’t paint the moment of doing the first steps on the runway of some big show or the moment of shooting the biggest magazine with the biggest photographer. I would rather paint people waiting or stressing out in the backstage or girls waiting at castings, talking to each other or talking on their phones to their parents in different languages or not talking at all. But there is a sort of accordance, even without words, everyone is in the same situation.
You have recently made Berlin your home base, although you are working in Paris all the time. It sounds like a smart cherry-picking move, but also like a lot of time spent in planes and airports. What are Paris and Berlin to you? How's life in between the two?
Sometimes when I go to Paris it is just for one day, so I take my old, shitty bike around 4 am from my house to the airport bus station and take the plane to Paris (I hate planes and airports by the way, all this waiting is driving me crazy). Then in Paris it is driver, studio, expensive clothes, photographer, fancy food, driver again, plane back at night and around 11 pm of the same day I take my old bike back from the airport bus station to my house and go to bed, because I have school the day after. This is really weird, being between these two worlds. Paris and Berlin are two really exciting but very different cities in my perception and it is amazing to have the chance to be in between them. They are both cities of all-consuming or even demanding character in a way, which is amazing because you’ll never be bored, especially when you are living between the two. But then it is really hard to resist all their choices sometimes, not to get lost in it and to focus on myself and painting. So they are inspiring but time-stealing in the same way!
Do you have a favorite spot in each of the two? A special place you go to get inspiration, new energy or just some peace?
The most interesting spot for me is actually the Metro or in Berlin the U-Bahn. In both cities this is the place where you can see the most interesting (sometimes disturbing) things and perfect if you like to watch other people. But it is not really peaceful or relaxing. So if you are asking for that sort of places, then I'll pick the little lake next to my house called Weissensee in Berlin and in Paris Centre Pompidou (but only if it is not too crowded with tourists taking pictures of every single painting with their phones, in that case I have to leave right away).