One day Helmut Newton booked me for a swimming-pool shoot. I was thrilled at the prospect of working with him. All the top models had worked with Helmut at least once. He liked tall, domineering, angry, sexy Amazons. I could do S&M, I could be his kind of girl. He was working on a famous series of models in swimming pools, contrasting the cool blue water with the black of their sunglasses and bathing suits, the red of their nails and lips, their ebony hair, long tan legs and backs, curved sexy bottoms and breasts.
Mine was an ad for Smirnoff Vodka.
The turquoise pool, my long naked back next to a martini glass.
It seemed simple enough.
Helmut arrived at Ringo Starr’s estate in a black stretch limo, took one look at Ringo’s pool, another look at the sky and declared both inadequate. He needed bright sunshine, a rare event in North London, and the pool was too shabby.
He ignored me like I was some assistant and disappeared back into his limo. The shoot was cancelled. I was paid five hundred pounds for showing up, and a week later ten of us, hair, make-up, stylist, ad-people, assistants, flew to an infinity pool carved into the Portofino mountainside.
Throughout our first dinner Helmut entertained us with witty but brutal anecdotes, like when he had a fireman’s hose pointed between the model’s legs and the jet of ice-cold water accidentally hit her in the crotch causing her to scream in pain. Helmut told the story as if this blast had actually given the girl an orgasm and everyone laughed.
I’d never been to Italy before and I ordered antipasti, Osso Bucco and Tiramisu.
I was in heaven but Helmut stated that if I kept eating this much I’d look like a Dutch heifer next to my fine-boned glass of Smirnoff Vodka and for the next two days June, his wife/assistant, ordered my meals of salad and fruit. I starved but I was terrified of Helmut and his cruel sense of humor, so I kept quiet.
I had my back to him in the shot while he said things like: She looks like a guy from behind, get me Dalma or Jerry, or anyone else who knows what she’s doing, Her hair is too short, her elbows too pointy.
It was hard to model with my back, sitting on the edge of a pool, legs in the water. There wasn’t much I could do to look different, sexier, curvier, more S&M, but I hoped my back looked angry, because I hated him, and I put all this emotion into my butt, my vertebrae, my neck, shoulder-blades, arms, hair, earlobes, and skin.
Afterwards, when I saw the ad, I realized he’d been obnoxious on purpose. He wanted that tension of anger. It showed. The ad was great and I was proud to have a Helmut Newton shot in my portfolio.