Tatjana Patitz, whose death at age 56 was announced by Vogue on Jan. 11, died of breast cancer, her agent Corinne Nicolas confirmed to PEOPLE.
“She is survived by her son, her sister, and her parents. We are all devastated by her passing,” Nicolas shared in a statement with PEOPLE. “She was compassionate soul, kind and generous of heart and an avid advocate of animal rights. One of the major causes she supported was the conservation of wild horses.”
Patitz, one of the original “supermodels” alongside Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington, made a major impact on the modeling industry in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which included being a part of some of the most iconic magazine covers and music videos of the time before stepping back to lead a quieter life dedicated to animals and raising her son Jonah Johnson.
The iconic German supermodel rose to fame in the late 1980s after working with well-known photographer Peter Lindbergh. It was the iconic black-and-white British Vogue cover for January 1990, though, that truly put her on the map.
After the cover shoot, in which she starred in with Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista, she was cast by George Michael for his iconic “Freedom ’90” music video. All five models took center stage to lip-sync to Michael’s song, making it one of the most memorable music videos ever created.
The Fashion World Pays Tribute to Supermodel Tatjana Patitz Following Her Death 56
“I was in my own zone,” Patitz told The New York Times in 2016 of filming the video. “I had to kind of slide up and down the wall for part of the day. The feel of the set was so run-down, this big, loft kind of vibe. There was another setup with me laying on a chaise lounge with a black smoking jacket. I think I may have had a bustier on. And I was smoking, even. People still smoked in videos then and even in films.”
In the years that followed, Patitz modeled in a number of glossy magazines, including landing the cover of Vogue six times, and walked countless runways. She worked with the likes of Chanel, Donna Karan, Vivienne Westwood and many more over the years. The supermodel walked her final runway show at Milan Fashion Week in 2019 with Etro for the fashion house’s Autumn/Winter 2019/20 presentation.
Patitz is remembered for her unique beauty, something Anna Wintour, chief content officer of Condé Nast and global editorial director of Vogue, noted in her tribute to the model. “Tatjana was always the European symbol of chic, like Romy Schneider-meets-Monica Vitti,” Wintour said after the news of Patitz’s death. “She was far less visible than her peers—more mysterious, more grown-up, more unattainable—and that had its own appeal.”
Tributes from the fashion world and beyond have been pouring in following the news of Patitz’s death, including a heartfelt note from Crawford, who has worked with Patitz since the beginning of her career.
Along with sharing a few throwback photos on her Instagram Stories, Crawford also shared a photo of just her and Patitz on her grid. “We were babies together in the fashion industry and I feel like we grew up together,” Crawford wrote. “We were in so many shoots together and backstage at shows. I found her soft-spoken, sensitive, kind, inquisitive and, who could ever forget those piercing eyes. Her love of animals and nature was infectious. Sending my condolences to her family — especially the son she adored.”
Patitz was born on March 25, 1966, in Hamburg, Germany, and was raised in Sweden. She welcomed her son, Jonah, in November 2004. Patitz had a deep love of all animals, especially horses, according to Vogue, and was an ambassador for the American Wild Horse Sanctuary.
Patitz spent many years in California, living a private life and raising her son out of the spotlight.
To celebrate Patitz’s life and legacy, donations can be made in her honor to Return to Freedom, a national wild horse conservation organization.