Lauren Hutton needs no introduction. The first real supermodel hasn’t stopped since her first Vogue cover shot by Richard Avedon in 1966. She was monumental in changing the face of American beauty. Over the years she was featured on 41 covers of Vogue, not to mention countless other magazines. She invented the beauty campaign, being the first model in history to sign an exclusive contract. Her foray into films was unprecedented for a model of the era, with starring roles in iconic classics such as The Gambler opposite James Caan and American Gigolo opposite Richard Gere. For this issue, the timeless legend caught up with The Untitled Magazine’s editor-in-chief, Indira Cesarine, to give us the low-down on her past and present adventures.
Indira Cesarine: You’ve had such a unique and incredible history. Can you tell me about when you first moved to New York and how you first started modeling?
Lauren Hutton: I guess it happened two times. I was born in a place called Charleston, North Carolina [where I lived] for three years and then my mother moved away to Miami during World War 2; everything was very different very quickly. She had three children very rapidly and I sort of became the caretaker. When I left home, I did a year of university at USF (University of San Francisco) and then I came up for three months in New York where I had a job at the Bunny Club – I was a lunch bunny because I was too young to work at night.
IC: This is the Playboy Club?
LH: Yes, I got a job as a waitress and I made a fortune – like 600 bucks a week, which is easily two thousand dollars now. It was amazing. But, New York was too scary for me so I ran away from there and I decided to go back to school. I stopped to see a friend in New Orleans and I got a job there at night at a club on Bourbon Street. I worked there by night and went to school by day. I had a motorcycle and I would rush back and forth because one was far away from the other. It was a good time, which was the beginning of my motorcycle years. I learned so much on Bourbon Street, little by little I decided that I was going to go for my dream of seeing the world.
IC: So how did you end up going from New Orleans to New York City?
LH: I opened up New York Times and saw a job at Christian Dior. I never wanted to be a model, I wanted to travel the world and be a zoologist, a paleontologist…when you’re eighteen, there are a million things you want to be but you really have no idea. So, I got a job at Christian Dior for under minimum wage. They were paying me less than $50 a week, which is illegal but I was desperate.
IC: How did that evolve into getting freelance work as a model?
LH: They hadn’t made ready-to-wear yet. Buyers would come in and they would be shown, by us two models, everything that Paris had sent over and they would order. The other model, because she was making $100 a week, she liked to torture me. She would point to models and say ‘See those girls? They make more in one hour than you make in a week!’ And this light bulb went off. I started finding out about modeling agencies and what they needed me to do. No one would accept me, of course –they would tell me that I needed to lose 10lbs, that I needed to get more headshots, that I needed color pictures, jobs were by the hour- I went to all four major agencies and got turned down by all four. I changed my photographs and got better each time. I met Eileen Ford and she was very curious and I think she took me on because she liked me. I realized when I was walking out her door that this was the very last agency.
IC: So Eileen Ford took you on?
LH: Yeah, and I knew I was a very dark horse – very short, five foot seven. You were told on the phone that if you weren’t five foot eight to not even bother showing up. I got my way through that by wearing very tall heels. I had a one bedroom apartment to myself and I would hang on the door from my knees upside down thinking that it would stretch my spine and that I was getting taller all of the time! The agency would make appointments to go see clients and anyone who gave me encouragement I would call them up and say I’ve got new pictures can I come and see you again? I had this burning dream to see the world and I figured it out that it was all time and money, and modeling was quick money. I’d have money to go all of the places that I wanted to go.
IC: Do you remember booking your first Vogue cover?
LH: It was at the exact same time as my first Glamour cover. I was having two or three little jobs in showrooms a week that would keep me on subway fare and chicken potpie for dinner. I was doing nine go-sees a day, and this woman said you oughta go see Vogue. I went up there to try on clothes and I was in the hallway, which was an extraordinary thrill. There were all these people rushing around. I went in there and it was so fascinating, I had never seen a room that was red everywhere even on the ceiling. It had a leopard skin print carpet. I met [Diana Vreeland] and she was incredible, she spoke in a language that was totally her own. They had a lot of models in there, they didn’t even need me, so I sat in the window and watched everything going on…all of a sudden she pointed this very long arm and long finger at me and she said ‘You!’ It was so imperious. I said ‘Me?’ and she had this little quirk smile and she said ‘You have quite the presence.’ I had no idea what she meant; I was deep from the swamp. I said ‘So do you, ma’am.’ She did have extraordinary presence. And then she called me over and asked to see my book of pictures and she said ‘I think I’m going to call Richard Avedon‘ and I said ‘No ma’am, he doesn’t like me, he won’t use me’ and she cocked her head to the side and a smile crept up and she said ‘Oh I think he will.’ And then that was it.
IC: I heard that you had to do your own hair and makeup for Vogue, is that right?
LH: Certainly our own makeup. I learned how to do my makeup from being an extra. You basically had to figure out what worked and what looked good. If a picture didn’t come out right, it was your fault, it was no one else’s fault.
IC: You booked the first exclusive beauty campaign for a model in history, can you tell me about that?
LH: I thought of it! Girls had done makeup, but I don’t think that they were paid a lot for it. We were mostly booked by the hour, so if you did an editorial you wouldn’t make any money at all.
IC: They say you made a million dollars for your campaign?
LH: Yes, I did. I was thirty, and I was learning, and all of the big girls had died off. Twiggy was gone, people that were the stars of the business, they weren’t working anymore—I was it. My face kept changing because I was out in the wild having amazing experiences with people in the forest. I was living with very strange and interesting people all around the world and that changes your face. It also gives you a chance to get your smile back in a real way – if you’re smiling every single day, after a certain amount of years you become an imitation of yourself – you start imitating what worked before and I think that’s why the girls come and go like Kleenex. My face kept changing and that smile was real and I wasn’t trying to imitate what I’d done before and I started modeling again at 47, because I understood very well what the world meant. I got on the phone and called every editor that I had ever worked with and said that they needed to start using women my age, and after that, girls on the street would tell me how happy I made their mother and how great it was, and they were looking at me with a sort of awe because at 47, I should’ve been mummified and dead. I just understood how important it was for there to be someone who was a woman in pictures because if we were going to have a different but equal society with men and women and women in government, you needed to have older women out there.
IC: I look back at your career and I feel like you singlehandedly changed the industry from changing the hourly rates to getting daily wages and contracts, can you tell me about that?
LH: That was finished overnight.
IC: And that was because of your beauty contract?
LH: Within a week or two, there was no such thing as an hourly rate, the hour was over. I was making $25,000 a day at that point and then there were no more hourly jobs and everybody was making $1,500 a day. Within a year there were four more makeup contracts and that became the whole idea. I was making more money than [the men at Revlon] were! [Malcom Glawell] said that the whole CEO thing started with my little model contract because god knows there was massive publicity about it.
IC: How did you end up transitioning into acting? American Gigolo and some of the movies that you did are so iconic.
LH: That was an accident. About the fourth year that I was modeling, somebody asked if I would be in a [1968 comedy] Paper Lions. They asked me to do it, so I did it. I had done an acting class in high school but it never occurred to me to act. My big dream was to get out there and see the world and I did.
IC: Did you find that when you started doing a lot of the movies in Hollywood that it changed the impact of your career as a model?
LH: Oh, no question. I was something called “triple booked” which means that if you have three bookings a day and one of them falls out because someone cancelled, you have another booking. I was booked every hour of every day. There were probably only 300 working models at the time. What are there now, 3,000? It wasn’t a famous business. There were five modeling agencies. I was 31 when I first made a movie. I never studied acting. I only started studying acting after American Gigolo and by that time I was 40. Even though I did a lot of bad movies, I got to get away and learn about myself and learn how to be independent. But once I did Revlon, I could only work for Revlon – I was exclusive. I didn’t really do anything other than the Revlon, ten days a year, that was the contract.
IC: So you had time on your hands?
LH: Oh boy did I. I did one or two movies a year and the rest of the time [former partner Bob Williamson] and I travelled. We were traveling for seven months out of the year. When I came back at 47, I split with my man – I was living in my own place on Bowery – I was doing these ads and making $150,000 a day. So, I did lots of them. I did any one that they would give me that wasn’t grotesque. I had morals as a model. I would never do cigarettes, even though I was offered a lot of money for cigarettes. I would never do wild fur of any sort. I didn’t do liquor. I didn’t put myself in the position of not liking myself for what I was doing.
IC: Looking back, do you have a favorite photographer that you’ve worked with?
LH: Yeah, many. It’s like saying, ‘Do you have people in your life that you love?’ My mentors were [Richard] Avedon and [Irving] Penn. I learned an awful lot from them.
IC: What about directors?
LH: I learned a lot from directors. I’ve made 31 movies. I worked with Jean-Paul Rappeneau and he was wonderful. I was lucky – there were many great directors.
IC: What do you think about the modeling industry today compared to how it was when you started?
LH: Because of digital, there are few photographers who take time to take pictures. In my day, these people would spend time – Dick [Richard Avedon] would probably take ten rolls of one dress and there would be 36 pictures on a roll. That’s hundreds of pictures that we would look at and because you were editing with the photographer, you knew what was wrong with every picture. The photographer would point out the flaws and it was very often that the best shot turned out to be a happy accident. Richard was great! We would tell each other stories while we shot. It was like I was learning all day long. There was deep communication. I’ve been with these young girls on the set with me and just as we start to work, the photographer will take five or six photos and then they’re gone… then he comes back and they take five or six and it just goes over and over – it’s stop, start, stop, start. It never starts, there is no communication with the photographer and I don’t see how girls can learn, I don’t see how they can evolve. You’ll always have the people who are physical wonders – the Giseles and the Caras – you’ll always have these people who have these extraordinary, phenomenal bodies that can make clothes look spectacular. I was able to grow because I put my traveling into my work because my face kept changing and my enthusiasm and my joy for all of it kept feeding back and forth with each other and I just don’t see how that would work now.
IC: Because of the digital side of things?
LH: And because they don’t become involved in anything. I remember asking a bunch of girls, these household names, I said ‘You can do anything in the world that you want, what do you want to do?’ and they would look at me and say ‘Well, uh, I was in Saint Tropez.’ She had been in Saint Tropez for a couple of weeks working. It may be relaxing and a fantasy but it’s still a job, I just don’t see what you can learn there. I’ve been there once and it’s just not for me.
IC: You always preferred to go to Africa.
LH: And the Amazon and South Asia and all over Indonesia and the South Pacific, but Africa is where I went the most because that was the most interesting. I never wanted to go somewhere where there were more tourists than animals. Current day Bali isn’t the same Bali that I visited in the 60s and 70s, because the whole world wasn’t so interested in traveling back then and now it very much is.
IC: Well you were the first to get out there and inspire people! You were always talking about all of these places that you liked to travel to! So, what inspired you to do your beauty line?
LH: When I went back to work in my mid-forties, I was making my own make up. I had found that any time that they would take a picture of me for publicity, I would always look terrible—even with a good make up man and a good photographer, I would still look foolish. I came to realize that all make up was made for young girls. It all had pearl in it, which would catch in your pores and lines, it was all heavy and thick and would make your wrinkles look deeper. Even with the very good ones, it didn’t matter because they were using old-fashioned make up. When the Revlon guys said goodbye to me they said, ‘Women over forty don’t buy make up’ and I told them that they needed to get products for women my age, not just young girls and they laughed at me. They said, ‘We’ve done focus groups, women over forty don’t wear or buy make up!’ I held my tongue.
IC: So you launched your own line?
LH: Yeah, I started making this stuff, and my friends, cousins, and girlfriends were asking me…it was just from all of those years, learning from the great models of the 60s and working with every great make up person from all over the world. I just felt that I knew so much about this and I had taught myself how to make my face look even because I didn’t have the normal model look. I went to labs and found that if you take out pearl and thickness, you can have something that looks very natural. I was in my forties when I started looking into it, and I was in my fifties when I did this dumb thing, because I don’t know anything about business and you can make major mistakes when you don’t know anything about business.
IC: So you feel the beauty line was maybe a mistake?
LH: Absolutely. I stopped traveling. I was working 350 days a year not knowing what I was doing. It was horrible, I absolutely loathed it! People would ask me if I liked it and I couldn’t lie. I was never used to doing anything more than two months. I designed the cases. Originally I had art directors and I never liked anything that they did and it didn’t work, so I started doing everything on my own.
IC: Do you still travel a lot?
LH: I’ve only just stopped. I had a motorcycle accident that almost killed me and then the business took off at the same time. I put down all of the money that I had left in the business two weeks before I had the accident. So, a year later when I was able to walk again, the actual make up physically came out – the bottles and the discs came out and then I had to go market the business and I didn’t travel. Before then, I had been traveling ten months a year. I’m sort of at a crossroads now – the business can keep going by itself.
IC: What are you planning to do now then?
LH: I’m working on a book of my adventures. I have a wonderful editor, who has worked with an awful lot of serious writers, but I don’t want to have a deadline. But I’m sure we’ll be finished in a year, maybe less.
IC: If you could give advice to an aspiring model, what would you tell her?
LH: I would say try it for a year. There are three things you need to be successful at anything: you’ve got to have talent, so that means you’ve got to have bones that the light hits in a wonderful way. You can be absolutely wonderful looking in person and not photograph well. You’ve got to have the right height, unless you’re incredibly evenly proportioned and look really tall. You have to be driven, too. There are thousands and thousands of girls who want to model because it’s a famous profession for forty years now. You have to have a secret deep drive, you can’t just want to be famous or on the cover of Vogue – that’s not enough. You have to have a real reason deep within yourself and you have to have enough energy and strength more than anyone else. You have to have the talent, the dumb luck, and you have to work four times harder than anyone else.
IC: This is our ”Legendary” issue, when you hear the word legendary what does that make you think of?
LH: It makes me think of the big girls – legendary legends – I think immediately of the people who change the world but at the same time, I also think of Suzy Parker, Marlene Dietrich, Barbara Stanwyck, Carole Lombard, Catherine Hepburn… you think of those legends and those who changed what we thought it was to be a woman, the images that led us and helped us move forward.
IC: I think that we have a lot to learn from your amazing life.
LH: You’ll get some of that in the book!
Make sure to pick up a copy of The Untitled Magazine‘s “Legendary” Issue 7 for more exclusive photos of Lauren!
Interview by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine
Photography by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine
Fashion Editor Brendan Cannon
Hair & Makeup by Roberto Morelli
Photographed at Chamberlain West Hollywood Hotel
Lauren wears a suede jacket by Georgine with a hat by Albertus Swanepoel.
Lauren wears a suede coat by Georgine and heels by Roberto Cavalli
Lauren wears Passport to Africa Lauren Hutton HD Powder in Yellow, Mascara in brown, Yves Saint Laurent #12 lipstick in corial incandescent, La Prairie Caviar + Clinique Pore Minimizer Refining Lotion