Model Vanessa Hessler stands 5-foot-10, with breast-length blonde hair and piercing blue eyes. The size-2 stunner has walked the runway for Prada, starred in TV commercials for Armani, Calvin Klein, and L’Oréal, and appeared in a print campaign for Guess.
But she’s also the former girlfriend of Mutassim Gaddafi, Muammar Gaddafi’s 34-year-old son and national security adviser, who was captured and shot to death by Libyan rebels last month, the same day his father was killed in Sirte.
The model’s relationship with the dictator’s son flew largely under the radar—until she gave an interview to the Italian magazine Diva e Donna. “The Gaddafi family is not how they are being depicted, they are normal people,” she said. “I didn’t have contact with him since the uprising broke out, but our relationship was one of passion.” She called her four-year relationship with Mutassim a “very beautiful love story.” In the Italian interview, Hessler is described as “crying for Libya,” and she told the magazine that the rebels are “people who don’t know what they’re doing.”
Almost immediately she was dropped from her lucrative gig as the face of the telecommunications company Telefónica Germany. “Vanessa Hessler has failed to distance herself from her comments on the conflict in Libya,” Telefónica spokesman Albert Fetsch said in a statement. According to the Daily Mail, Hessler is known simply as “Alice” in German households; she blankets the country in billboards for the telecom company. Fetsch said Hessler’s likeness will be removed from all of its ads. “Vanessa Hessler’s relationships are private business,” the company’s PR department tweeted. “However we cannot accept her comments on the Lybia [sic] conflict.”
Mutassim was notorious for dating models and showering them with lavish gifts. Another former girlfriend, Dutch model Talitha van Zon, who escaped the uprising by leaping from a hotel balcony in Tripoli, told The Telegraph in August that her three-month relationship with the playboy was characterized by obscene displays of wealth. He brought her on lavish vacations to Monaco and St. Bart’s, flew in Italian hairdressers for €5,000 haircuts, and showered her with Louis Vuitton purses. “I asked him once how much he spent, and he took a minute to add it up in his head,” van Zon said. “He said, ‘About $2 million.’ I said, ‘You mean a year?’ He said, ‘No—a month.’”
Hessler, 23, is a successful model, walking in Prada’s Fall/Winter 2010 show and appearing in campaigns and commercials for Baby Star, Nara Camicie, and Gilli, among other. And she is a regular on the social scene, appearing at store openings in Paris and London and at premieres at the Cannes Film Festival. She has even rubbed elbows with Nicolas Sarkozy, appearing onstage with him at a Christmas-tree-lighting ceremony in 2007 at the Elysée Palace in Paris.
Born to an American father and Italian mother, Hessler lived in Rome until she was 8 before moving to Washington, D.C. She became a model at 15 and returned to Italy to begin work. In 2008, she appeared alongside Gerard Dépardieu in the film Asterix at the Olympic Games. At the time, she told Women’s Wear Daily that, as a model, it was a challenge to be taken seriously in the movie business. “Everyone sees you as merely another pretty face, and I work really hard every day to show I am more than that.” She acknowledged, too, that she was “intimidated” by the older Dépardieu but that the cast “all became friends in the end.”
Hessler is now represented by One Model Management in New York, and will appear as Aurora in an Italian adaptation of Cinderella out this year. A call to One Management on Wednesday prompted the question: “Oh, God, which tabloid are you calling from?” and an email to its president, Scott Lipps, went unreturned.