20. February 2012
Alda Balestra von Stauffenberg | „Viele gelaufene Kilometer"
16. Februar 2012
Alda Balestra von Stauffenberg hast lived in Berlin for over 10 years. She's known as the youngest Miss Italy in the history of beauty pageants, but von Stauffenberg is also a major networker in the cultural, fashion and economic spheres. After years of traveling through the world in haute couture garments, this former top model has learned not to take the fashion hustle and bustle too seriously. Instead, she's decided to make a case for a new fashion show format.
You speak several languages. Does this have more to do with your upbringing or your later work as a model?
I was born in Triest, where I learned German, English and French in school. I grew up in a house with two women – my mother and my grandmother – and my grandmother came from Graz. Triest always held a special position due to its location on the border [between Italy and Slovenia], it had also been under Austrian rule at one point. My father was a sea captain who constantly traveled the world's seven seas. This to me was both fascinating and motivating for the direction my life would take later on. I had a very normal upbringing and went on to study communication, languages and tourism at university.
When did you discover your talent in self-expression and showmanship?
I always had it. There are pictures of me as a kid where I'm already posing quite naturally and without anyone instructing me to do so. I also took ballet classes, which taught me many poses and means of bodily expression. I love the possibilities that come along with expressing something through body movement.
Had you been dreaming about walking on international catwalks?
Never, I was just a normal girl growing up. I never even thought about the world of fashion. I was a little chubby and not very pretty so the thought of a potential modelling career never even entered my mind. Then, suddenly, I became Miss Italy at 16. I think I was more surprised about this than anyone else. Just one year before, never had anyone told me I was pretty. I had looked into the mirror and didn't really believe that I was good-looking, either. It seemed as if everything was happening to someone else. It was too much for me, all of this attention. People approached me on the street asking “Aren't you Alda Balestra, Miss Italia?” And I always answered “That's weird, a lot of people have been asking me this. But it has to be someone else that looks very much like me.”
You didn't continue to pursue your “Miss” career?
No, I just kept living my life and never spoke about it. Sure, other people talked about it and the papers published some things about me, like how I was doing in school.
So how was your modelling career launched?
Giorgia Rapezzi asked me if I could help out and model for their new company, Giorgia fashion. I thought, why not, the pay was good. After that, I worked for Pitti in Florence.
That was the beginning of Prêt-à-porter, in October 1975, the last fashion season in Florence. After that, the Italian fashion scene moved to Milan. In Florence, we had worked for very young and unknown designers called Gianni Versace and Enrico Coveri. I was told to just do what I wanted. I ran across the catwalk and handed accessories to people in the audience. I was just having fun! That really surprised them.
This behavior was unheard of at the time...
… in the following season, I was booked by all the designers. I had 30 shows a week. Things weren't as complicated then. We would do our own hair or make up sometimes. The models were friends, we were almost like a commune and helped each other out. The world of fashion was a functioning system – everybody knew each other and we would always meet each other in Paris, London or New York. It was so much fun, sort of like a class trip.
I worked in Italy for two years and then traveled four times a year. I walked for Haute Couture and Pret a Porter shows. And I had many photo shootings and had a contract with L'Oréal.
Were there any jobs that you didn't like doing?
Of course there were boring shoots, like for catalogues. Not everything was glamorous all the time. But the pay was good.
How long did you work as a model?
For 15 years – I walked a lot of kilometers during that time. I quit when I turned 35.
Did you have a private life at the time?
I always had a social network, but I was away so much that it was problematic. When I had long stretches of time at home, I had to pick up my friendships and relationships and nurture them so they would function again.
Where did you feel at home?
On the countryside, in a New York suburb – I had a house on the beach in the South Hamptons. Back then, in 1980, no one even knew where the Hamptons were. It was still easy to rent a house there, and I just needed to be close to the sea. Coming from Triest, the sea to us is like the air we breathe. That's a problem for me today in Berlin.
You started a family?
I have two children, their father is an artist. We met in Munich, then he came to New York and lived with me as a friend. Back then, you just supported each other and took in visitors. A relationship developed and our kids were born in New York. We moved to Germany because my husband had better career perspectives here.
Did you already know Berlin?
No, not at all. But if I had to choose one German city to live in, I would only choose Berlin. Over the last ten years that I've spent in Berlin, the city changed significantly in one aspect: It has gotten much more international. You can hear English, Spanish and French on the streets and Berliners are becoming friendlier. The big change was after the soccer world cup. The whole city blossomed – I'm not a soccer fan and didn't expect it to happen, but Berlin opened up like a flower. The city just became so much more hospitable and welcoming.
Berlin hosted its own Fashion Week in January. How do you assess its impact on the international stage of fashion players?
I have to admit that the official shows in the tents bore me. I've seen better. It's not in the spirit of Berlin to walk on trodden paths. What's interesting about fashion in Berlin is the young generation of designers that are trying new things. The street is a source of inspiration, it's where new innovations are born. Premium and Bread & Butter are the results of good work and they attract a large audience. But the big tent shows are unattractive. Green fashion is the trend, or handcrafted clothing and small production sites. That's what will introduce new, young creativity.
A Love-Fashion-Parade – that's Berlin, that's what the city is known for. Berlin is known for its wide cultural spectrum and if fashion is just fashion then there's no connection. Fashion must merge with culture and bridge the gap between the two.
You know the fashion business and you've lived the life of a model. But things have changed in the last 20 years...
… in 90's, models became superstars. Today, I would never encourage my daughter to take up this profession. At the moment it looks like everyone is isolated and doesn't enjoy their work. They might be making money but they're constantly subject to medial surveillance and don't have the leisure time we used to have. The girls today have money, but no freedom.
They have to be so thin that it doesn't even look good anymore and they're just robots on the catwalk. It's a depressing sight. They have no personality, they're completely interchangeable. And especially in the modeling business you have to develop a personality and express that personality to the outside world.
What would you advise the new generations with an interest in fashion?
To make their own clothes, to choose their own direction and interact with the established world of fashion playfully. Try to find your own path and educate yourself about the history of fashion on the internet – that's easier and more flexible than registering for a degree. And think about long-term goals, not just short-term success.
Has your daughter inherited your love of fashion?
My daughter loves wearing my old clothes, which are still very special today. Like a suit by Franco Moschino. It's a piece of Haute Couture – one of a kind. It was a gift from Moschino. His designs were avantgarde, he combined fun and fashion. The Moschino suit was an ironical and artistic reference to classic Chanel costumes. Moschino was the Andy Warhol of fashion.
What is it you do today?
I develop concepts and strategies for the creative industry. I set the course for connecting artists with the industry.