German model Tatjana Patitz smiles as she presents the new catalogue of the OTTO group in Hamburg December 14, 2006.
German supermodel Tatjana Patiz Image Credit: REUTERS

Tatjana Patitz, one of the original supermodels who dominated fashion in the 1980s and 90s commanding huge payouts for photoshoots, died Wednesday, her agent said. She was 56.

The Germany-born Patitz was among a handful of women of the era whose looks and style catapulted them to a global fame that transcended modelling.

Corinne Nicolas, founder of The Model CoOp, a Manhattan-based agency told AFP that Patitz died Wednesday morning in California. Nicolas told media Patitz had been ill, but gave no further details.

Along with Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford, Patitz appeared in the smouldering video to George Michael's 1990 hit "Freedom!"

That came after photographer Peter Lindbergh captured Turlington, Evangelista, Patitz and Estelle Lefebure, Karen Alexander and Rachel Williams in a picture titled "White Shirts: Six Supermodels, Malibu."

Vogue magazine said despite the elite professional company she kept, Patitz had always seemed separate from other supermodels. "There was a certain element of mystery to Patitz's beauty, something in the gentle oval of her face and the shape of her eyes that spoke of self-possession and passion," the magazine wrote.

"Patitz's allure was womanly and knowing, not that of the wide-eyed ingenue, and with her training as an actor, she was a force to be reckoned with," it said.

Born in Hamburg, Patitz moved with her Estonian mother and German father to a small Swedish town at an early age. Her break in modeling came in 1983 when she won a trip to Paris and a limited term contract.

She later settled in California, where she was photographed in recent years around her ranch near Santa Barbara with her son, Jonah.

The Twitter account for Lindbergh's foundation paid tribute to Patitz. "We would like to salute Tatjana's kindness, inner beauty and outstanding intelligence....She will be immensely missed."