It’s 11 a.m. on a calm, early September day in Berlin, at Café Schönbrunn, Volkspark Friedrichshain. The skies are clear, and it’s warm enough to have breakfast outside. Stefanie Giesinger comes around the corner, astonishingly slender, astonishingly tall. Her presence is relaxed. Like the city she’s called home for the past two years. Three years ago, Giesinger was the winner of a German modelling show in which her task was to go from being the wavering candidate to the favourite candidate and achieve high viewer ratings. Now these days are almost forgotten: the 21-year-old German/Russian model has since become a successful businesswoman in her own right.
Ms Giesinger, you have nearly three million followers on Instagram. Be it on the runway, in advertising or on social media, you are more present today than ever before. What is your strategy?
Stefanie Giesinger: My answer is very simple: I don’t have one.
If having a strategy means that I take pains to make sure my Instagram presence is on point or have an agency consult me, I’d have to say no. What’s the point? “I just do my thing. I don’t think about whether I’m doing something wrong or how many followers I’ll get with this or that post.
What does it mean to be authentic today? Is it being open?
Definitely, I’m a very open person. But I think that’s just how it is these days. Being open is in. Just the opposite was true not long ago. The supermodels of the ’90s, for example, were shrouded in mystery. They were quite secretive. Since then, authenticity has become important currency and social media has made it possible to share yourself with the world.
If models like yourself regularly show off their faces and bodies on platforms like Facebook and Instagram, does that make success as a social media star a type of job qualification?Maybe. When you go to an audition, one of the first things they ask you is if you’re on Facebook, if you’re on Instagram, how many followers you have. And I get why that’s important. The client isn’t just paying for me as a model, for my face – they’re buying my entire fan base, an entire target group. If you market yourself right, you can bypass working with an agency altogether and still be successful.
Is it easier to go your own way today, to hold your own against the opposition, than it was before?
If your goal is to reach a broad audience as a relatively unknown person, then it’s definitely easier today. You don’t have to wait around to be discovered on the street, like Kate Moss. Now you can make a concerted effort to achieve this fortune – by auditioning for modelling shows, for example. How long the fame will last is another question.
You have a second account on Instagram. Why?That was a spontaneous idea. I wanted to post a hilarious picture of me, but it didn’t fit in with the others on my account at all. So I just created a second account, which I use to show how I really am.
What exactly is the difference? You’ve said yourself that your ‘official’ account is absolutely authentic.
True, but those pictures just show one side of me that I would call ‘perfect’. Hair, make-up, clothes, not a single blemish, and beautiful. I like that of course – there’s a reason I work in the modelling business. But it got to a point where it was too perfect. Then there was a picture I thought was funny. My face looked sort of weird, like an alien. If I had posted that on my first account, it would have stuck out like a sore thumb. Instagram is a gallery of sorts, and you’re the curator. Now you can see this funny, completely imperfect side of me on another channel.
That’s not the only side. There’s a picture of you in a wheelchair at the hospital in London at the end of summer in 2016. What happened?
I suffer from a phenomenon that causes me to have what’s known as volvuli. My organs aren’t fixed firmly in my body, so they can become twisted. When I was 13 I had a bad case. I broke down in the bathroom because of pain and exhaustion. I vomited for days on end and was completely weakened. It was anything but sure that I would survive the operation. Still today I live with the constant danger that this will happen to my body again. Last year I was in the hospital six times because of twisted organs.
You are 21 years old and act quite mature. Is that typical for your generation?
I think my generation has been forced to make many important decisions earlier on in life simply because we’re just flooded with offers and information. We don’t have as many responsibilities as our parents’ generation, but we have our work cut out for us in other ways. We are in a constant state of overload. Some cope well with this, others not so much. And not everybody is equipped to make quick decisions. I am though, thankfully. I notice that I grew up earlier whenever I see my old school friends; most of them, at the age of 21, don’t yet know what they want to do ‘later’ in life.
What does growing up entail? Getting a driving licence?
Definitely. I got mine during Germany’s Next Topmodel. To me, being grown up means being capable of making good decisions for yourself. This is probably harder today than it was in the past. My parents taught me that, while money may be able to get you some nice things now and then, true happiness lies in the people you love. I can therefore say with a clean conscience that I would still be a happy person without the commotion that goes on around me. I don’t have to put my life on display, but I have chosen to do so for good reasons.
What could you have seen yourself doing if the modelling career hadn’t panned out?
Studying psychology, and specialising in child psychology. I still haven’t completely ruled that out. Maybe that’s something for my life after the runway.
Your parents emigrated from Siberia to Germany in 1995, then you were born a year later. What role does Russia play in your life?
A big one. My mother’s native language is Russian, I grew up eating Russian food, watching Russian TV, listening to Russian songs. But still, I don’t feel any … longing. My parents aren’t homesick for Siberia. They made a very deliberate decision to leave for Germany. The Palatinate region is their new home.
You’ve lived in Berlin for the last two years. Your boyfriend commutes between London and Brighton. Is it even possible to settle down anywhere when you live such a public life, always on the go? How important is it to stay rooted?
The jet-set lifestyle is something I’ve always dreamed about, of course: Berlin today, London tomorrow, New York the day after that.
What nobody ever tells you, however, is how exhausting it is. The long flights, seemingly unending days on set, living out of your suitcase for weeks or months on end. And then you come back to Berlin alone and sit in your own flat and think: “This doesn’t feel good.” I definitely wish I was more rooted. In moments like these, I tend to get in the car and drive to Kaiserslautern, to my parents. Do you ever put this world out to the people out there? No, never. This is a place I’d never make public, it’s a place I keep well protected. It’s where I can lay in my parents’ garden, with messy hair and my head in the clouds, while my mum cooks me something to eat. Does it get any better than that?