This article first appeared in the Winter 2019 issue of NewBeauty. Click here to subscribe.
It’s funny how in the middle of New York, the tiniest repetitive noise—the chewing of gum on the subway, the click of lightening-speed texts with the phone volume on high—can be a colossal annoyance.
For Lauren Hutton, it’s the banging of a curtain cord, courtesy of an open-window breeze at The Plaza Hotel. “What’s that noise? Yoo-hoo, can someone come in here? Where’s the noise coming from?” she asks, apologizing in the process.
A man darts out of a second room and closes the window. “This is my assistant, Morthon,” she says, introducing us and then switching gears in the same breath. “Wait! We didn’t ask if you wanted a glass for your water!”
Seconds later, I’m whisked into another room that reveals a full-on glam squad setup that’s there to prep Lauren for a gala she’s attending at the hotel that night. There’s a hairstylist reading on the bed, luscious bathrobes on a rack, and a makeup table organized with the care of a sushi chef plating fugu.
“This is my dress,” the 76-year-old says, holding up an off-the-shoulder navy suit that she wants me to touch to feel the fabric. “I don’t wear black—it doesn’t work for me. It works for you, but not for me. I have too many yellow undertones.”
I’m still conscious of our time as she leads me over to her skin care–makeup station to show me the products she loves. I have to get her back to that sofa so we can chat, or else I won’t have a story. I take a deep breath as she starts to massage her favorite serum into the back of my hand to show me how well it works. And then, in one of the breaths, I acquiesce. This is Lauren Hutton: I will relax, try the products and let her tell me when she’s ready to talk. She is in charge. And she will start when she is ready.
And then she was ready to talk. “I’ve read all your stories on sunscreen,” Hutton says. “If only I had read them earlier because I never wore anything. Well, to be fair, they used to not really have it. But I never even wore a hat— even when I was in Africa. Africa was my first stop out of the States. I gave Eileen Ford a wink and said, ‘I’ll be back in two weeks.’”
SUNSCREEN IS KIND OF MY THING. It’s funny. Every generation gets younger and younger because we learn more. We have more information, more stuff to use—like really good SPF and things like that. And we’re smarter, and we’ve got jobs.
I was lucky. At 18, birth control pills came across the counter. And then I got a job as a waitress because that’s where I could make money at night. I put myself through college, mostly in New Orleans, by working on Bourbon Street at night in a jazz club. It was a fantastically interesting time. Our first guest was Dizzy Gillespie. Then, after that, it was just one great after another. I learned so much. I learned much more on Bourbon Street than I learned in school, and it was a very good school.
EVERYONE SHOULD HAVE TO WORK AS A WAITER OR WAITRESS AT LEAST ONCE. Good girl! It should be national service. It should be something that every person does, no matter what class. Even if you’re Zuckerberg’s kids, you should have to do it because you meet every kind of person and you start to understand. I got so much better of an education. Believe me, I have thought about going back to it too. Around 60, I started thinking, “What if I won’t be able to waitress again? So, I better not lose all my money again.”
YOU’VE RECENTLY TALKED ABOUT OTHER THINGS IN THE PAST—SPECIFICALLY HARVEY WEINSTEIN. I had forgotten about it until I started seeing all this stuff coming out about Harvey and something just kept going Ping! Ping! Ping! in the back of my mind. Then finally, I remembered this meeting—the whole thing took place in what was probably 10 minutes. I think, for him, it was that maybe he’d seen a picture of me recently and thought, “Gee, how did I miss her?” What an idiot. Suddenly, the door opened and I looked up—it was a tiny little place too. I looked up and he was in this dirty old bathrobe. It was sort of tied, but not real tight, and he was standing there with his hand on the thing, and he looked up and he passed me—then he stood there for seconds. So, I’m looking up, and it was so odd that I was just looking at him, and then he shuts the door and went back in. Then, about five minutes later, one of the secretaries said something came up for Harvey unexpectedly. I think he probably thought, “She’s too old. I can’t do it.” Maybe he heard something in his head saying, “I better not even try because this is dangerous.”
HAS IT GOTTEN BETTER? Oh, much better. Guys aren’t such big fools. The guys now have mothers and grandmothers from my generation who got birth control at 18 and jobs by 20, maybe by 25. Little by little, it got better.
The thing that I’m most proud of is that American Gigolo came out when I was almost 40. You can’t—at least you couldn’t back then—have a lead in a movie unless you’re NOT that age. And it just got more popular over the years, to the point that it’s now a cult-classic.
After that, I started making five bad movies a year. “Bad” in the sense that I wouldn’t want to see them. I think it was because I was having problems in my personal life, so I was trying to stay away from conflict. So, for a couple of years, that’s what I did. Then I realized, looking in magazines, that, in fact, I could be somebody if I forced my way back in. There had never been such a thing for a 30- something. I snuck in with Revlon at that age because they thought I was much younger. So, I thought, “If I get myself back in, and I’m the one who can do it because I was just so well-known, that it would be good for women.” Because we had gone into everything else—we were in the Supreme Court! We were in pretty much everywhere else a tiny bit, except when it came to our actual image.
IT’S TRUE. YOU WERE IN YOUR 40S WHEN YOU LOST THAT REVLON CONTRACT… I was 47. I was 31 when it first happened, and it was my idea. It was a good idea, but it didn’t change everything.
YOU MUST FEEL DIFFERENTLY NOW, BEING THE FACE OF STRIVECTIN’S CAMPAIGN. I’m really pleased about it. There’s been no one out there that’s been 60. There’s Cindy and Naomi, Christy and a few others. And then Linda, of course. The great Linda! But they must be…50? Who is 60? Maye Musk, maybe, but it’s different because her son is a trillionaire. A genius trillionaire, but nobody grew up with her around. It all means we finally have a place to grow to! My mother was parked at 30 in her generation. She was born in 1923 and it wasn’t so long ago that, at 43, we were certainly supposed to be parked—and that was progress. That was the silly boy’s idea of progress.
So, yes, I’m very pleased with StriVectin for being hip enough to go with me—a woman in her mid-70s. It’s a very interesting company. It was started by two doctors, a married couple who was looking for burn and wound-healing stuff for the skin, and I love that the current CEO is a woman. They know what they’re doing. I’m approached by a lot of brands, but not really beauty brands anymore; seems more like car brands and things like that are interested in me. But this is the product I put on, the product I send to my three sisters, the product I got good reports back on right away, the product my friends ask me: “What did you do? Did you shoot something in your face?” It’s real stuff. It’s real medicine. I like to layer it all on.
AND YET YOU STILL SWEAR BY COCONUT OIL! I was around it as a kid because it was good for your skin and then you’d put it in your hair. I doubt if you can still do this now, but it used to be that I’d be able to get it where they were actually taking the husks and pressing them—where they’d make copra. I even think the Hawaiians have something like 300-some different names for the stages of coconut—of the growth and all the different things you’d do with each one. You used to be able to get it in this old bottle that had an unbelievably beautiful amber color, and you’d put it on and smell like peanut butter—the best peanut butter cookie you have ever had in your life.
YOU DON’T SEEM TO LIKE TO CONFORM. There are so many ways people ask you to change. Do you know Lillian Gish? Broken Blossoms is one of her wonderful movies. She made a lot of silent films but she taught, too. We were all in A Wedding together. It was wonderful and I got to know her. Then we did some press for the movies together. I remember they asked me my age and I was just about to say it, and she said, “Lauren, a woman who will tell her age will tell anything.” Back then, you were probably ruined if you said your age. Now, we’re a little hipper and a little bolder, a little smarter.
ONE WOULD HOPE. I’ve never been much of a good shill. In the sense of if I don’t believe it, I can’t back it. I never did cigarettes, even back when everyone would have a cigarette. The first big bunch of money I was ever offered as a model was for those long cigarettes made for women, and I thought, “Boy, I might be a user, but I’m not a believer.” And I turned it right down. I got a lot of complaints from agents about it, but I still didn’t do it.
YOU MUST HAVE SOME THOUGHTS ON SOCIAL MEDIA. I’ve never had social media. I had this makeup company, which was really good for a bit, and they were spending 300 million in advertising, but it was just my mouth on TV and I think they had a Facebook page. That’s the only time I really dealt with it. I don’t do it, I’ve never done it, and I won’t ever do social media. I don’t follow anything or anyone, and I don’t know about it. I use my phone and I text. I’ve never liked machines.
It was a very long time before I even learned to drive a car. When I started making movies, I had to learn to do it, but for a long time, I hitchhiked. I used to hitchhike outside the Chateau Marmont. I didn’t want to wait for a taxi to come, so I’d stick my thumb out. I was like 25 and a big deal in New York as a model, and it wasn’t smart nor safe.
WHEN YOU’RE NOT FROM A BIG CITY, SOMETIMES YOU DON’T KNOW… Well, that’s all from my previous life. I was born in Charleston. Then we went to Florida—my mother sort of ran away. My father was in the War, but we were still inside the Charleston bubble. We stayed in that bubble until she met a guy, and two weeks later, she married him, which was a big mistake…well, I guess it wasn’t. I got good sisters out of it. He moved us to a swamp on the west coast of Florida, outside of Tampa, which was a three-syllable word back then. I would still go back to Charleston for weddings, funerals and family stuff, so I had these very diametrically opposed things. My stepfather also lost all his money in a short time—like six months—and for my mother, it was a surprise. But he was a very good man, and knew about the woods and that was great. So, suddenly, I got to be out in the trees— more animals than I’ve ever seen anywhere. I mean, not big like East Africa, but some serious animals. That was the thing about Dick [photographer Richard Avedon]…
…THAT VIDEO, JUN ROPE’, IS HAVING A MOMENT. With Dick, I was trying to be Veruschka, and meanwhile, I was about six or seven inches shorter than her, and I wasn’t smart enough to understand it was about bones and the length of bones. Veruschka could go into these poses that looked like abstract art because she was probably six foot one, but when I tried to do it—I was trying to act like a gazelle or something. I can still remember what Dick looked like. We became very close friends and worked together for probably 15 years or so. He said, “Where did you come from?”
He didn’t want to say, “Stop trying, you idiot.” He was too kind. I said, “Well, Florida.” He said, “Florida?” I said, “Yes, up in the woods, and he looked up and he said, ‘Woods?” And this was a huge studio, he’s lying on the floor, and he had this little Rolleiflex, and he laid there because that makes you look taller, and he was saying, “What did you do in the woods?” And I remember being 10 and 11 and 12, 13, and the woods behind us were all giant—those trees, the huge trees, and those bushes and there was a lot of snakes, big rattlers, really big most poisonous ones. We had them.
I’m telling him and he said, “Jump? You jump over the turtle logs?” And I said, “Yes, I didn’t want to step on them.” And he’d say, “OK,” and he jumped up, and he made a little X in the middle of the white paper that was in the middle of this big, dark studio because he didn’t want any distracting lights, and no one’s allowed in. They have 30 people standing around doing nothing, but those were sacred spaces! And he said, “OK, go from there,” and he made another little mark here on the side and that side, and he said, “Run! Take it from here! Run and jump over that X.” So that was the focus, and I did it. We had some of the best pictures I ever took—just like that.
IT’S ICONIC. That was after we’d been working together probably eight years or something. I just saw the video the other day. I had no idea it was being looked at. I haven’t seen it since Dick first showed me it. But, yes, it was fun. What was interesting about that is it’s like a burlesque and he was a wonderful director. By then, I was traveling for four months. Like two on and two off—or three on, two off, and then I’d come back and work again for a few months. But both Dick and Penn said that my face changed.
THAT’S A FAMOUS QUOTE: EVERY TIME YOU TRAVELED, YOUR FACE WOULD CHANGE. Yes! And I was usually traveling a lot, and often sleeping on the ground, and it was certainly intense. I was lucky. The first thing you see is there’s a beautiful woman everywhere—one of every size, every shape, every combination, and there’s also beautiful men, but especially women. Then I started to think, “What in the world are we doing with just our big, tall, skinny whites?”
And that changed. I hoped that would change. Yes, I did. I hoped that because I, well, for starters, I was tanned and no one was very tanned in those days. But I just couldn’t stay out of the sun because I’d grown up in it, I felt good in it and my skin could take it. One day, we were reshooting a cover for the second time, maybe even the third time, and it was a Saturday, and suddenly, in the doorway to the dressing room, which was very rare because there was no one out front to keep people out—I mean, it was someone who obviously had an appointment—there was this beautiful girl, Beverly Johnson.
I just remember saying, “Look at her.” Because usually, you look through the mirrors and it’s not clear. I looked over and there was this beautiful African-American girl. I said, “Why shoot me? Shoot her.” I don’t think I even had anything to do. I was of whatever it is, the social ideal, but that isn’t where my sympathies were…
I’M SURE. CAN YOU PINPOINT YOUR FAVORITE COVER? I have many of them. I was lucky I did a lot, but I did one with daisies. It was an early Vogue cover and I have really big eyes. That’s a great one.
I had some great ones…if you give me your phone number, I promise I will call you back and tell you more.
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