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Lauren Hutton
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— January 17, 2012

Lauren Hutton

By Allan Richter
  • Tending to the bruises sustained on her global adventures, the iconic supermodel finds new ways to nurture her explorer’s heart.
Lauren Hutton

Model Beauty

Lauren Hutton’s face tells her biography—at least sketches of it. The trademark gap between her teeth tells you she has modeled for four decades on her own terms. So do the slightly asymmetrical appearance of her eyes and the creases through her cheeks; she once called wrinkles “our medals of the passage of life.” No plastic surgery. No caving in to shallow standards of perfection.

The blue pools that are Hutton’s eyes have seen more than most. Between modeling trips, the knowledge-hungry and adventurous Hutton has spent weeks at a time with, among other tribes, the Bushmen of the Kalahari, the Hulis of Papua New Guinea and the Masai of East Africa. She has dived with whale sharks, ice fished in Sweden, wrestled an alligator in Florida, and trekked 400 miles by dogsled in Alaska.

It’s no surprise, then, that this renegade spirit has relished the biker’s life. Hutton has ridden motorcycles since learning to ride on the set of her 1970 film with Robert Redford, “Little Fauss and Big Halsy,” the first of her 30 movies. But her passion has also been a hindrance. In 2000 she was riding in the Nevada desert with friends, actors Jeremy Irons and Dennis Hopper, when she spun out of control. She flew 20 feet and was mangled when she landed.

The accident slowed her down, and the successful makeup business she started shortly afterwards kept her too busy to trot the globe as frequently, but she remains vibrant and in love with life. As Richard Gere, Hutton’s co-star in “American Gigolo,” her best known film, tells us, “Lauren is and was obviously one of the great beauties. And what has made her so beautiful is her boundless animal appetite for life, a true and fearless openness to experience, measured by a woman’s softness and vulnerability.”

Hutton’s intellectual curiosity and explorer’s heart can be traced to her childhood in Charleston, South Carolina, and Florida’s swamplands. “I was interested in where we came from and how we got here. So when you’re five years old you ask the stars all the big questions you want to know,” Hutton recounts.

Her motorcycle accident and a surfing mishap in Hawaii two years ago have saddled her with pain, so much so that Hutton, typically a naturalist, finally agreed to surgery on nerves in her neck. The ever-beautiful Hutton, 68, spoke with us from her Venice, California, home, where she was recuperating.

ET: How are you feeling?

LH: I’m still in the war-wounded stage. They told me I was able to take a shower now by myself. I looked at what the wound looked like for the first time last night, and it was terrifying. It was an inch and a half, two inches long, and it’s all fantastically red and swollen up. Not infected, but terrifying.

ET: How have you dealt with the residual pain of your motorcycle accident until now?

LH: My ankle still hurts from the motorcycle accident, my knee still hurts by the end of the day, and it always will. That’s just going to be the way it is. I just sort of try to figure out how I can engulf it, take it in. You have to digest it. And I think you have to start from childhood, because if you have parents who say, “Oh, darling,” the second anything happens to you, the second you fall down, then you start associating [pain] with immediate relief. As we get older that’s not how it’s going to be. We’re going into our 70s and 80s and 90s, and it’s not going to be comfortable. You have to remember that no matter what, these are the good years. You have to adjust your mental attitude.

The mental health of it seems awfully important. I have an aunt that I really love, and she started having the bones disintegrate on her. She was telling me all this stuff, and it was so horrible for me, so painful, and it was especially horrible since I couldn’t do anything. And I thought to myself, I want to be careful about doing that to people who love me, about telling them what’s going on because there’s nothing they can do. It just hurts them, and I’m already hurt so what’s the point?

I also think there’s such a thing as having a high pain tolerance. I grew up outdoors, climbing trees and swinging from vines, and then I traveled the world doing the same thing, looking for wild people and vines to swing on in jungles all over the world.

ET: What other natural approaches, if any, have you used to manage pain?

LH: I’ve done massages. I’m only walking because I found a great therapist, a Frenchman who walked me and walked me and made me walk, and I have absolutely no limp. I mean, I had a leg that was hanging off. 

I wasn’t going to walk again, much less walk with no limp. The two bones of the lower leg at the 
shin were broken so badly they were powdered.

ET: How are you redefining adventure in the context of slowing down a bit?

LH: The adventure I’m on right now is trying to write down the adventures I’ve had. I just turned 68, and there is definitely a difference from 62. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to move quite as fast as I could before. You have to make allowances for that. I can’t see as well, which is the worst part.
But I don’t want to shrink. It’s very easy as you get older to get more alone and be in a little corner somewhere until finally you’re just stuck in a corner. So I read The Economist every week, which is quite a killer. And I read something called The Week and I read The New York Times. I read good books of every sort all the time. Right now I’m reading The Court Years, the autobiography of William O. Douglas, from the Supreme Court. What else am I reading? I’m usually reading a few books at a time. I’m reading the new Charles Dickens book, about his growing up, by Claire Tomelin. I just got Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. I can’t say I won’t travel. I’ll always travel but I don’t think I’ll get back into the kind of travel I was doing.

ET: After you recuperate, what’s your next travel adventure?

LH: I put off a big trip to the tiny island of Yap [in Micronesia]. I was going to go diving the Solomons and then go see my friends in Yap, and I couldn’t do that because of this operation. The thing about diving is that you can do that all your life. You’re underwater; it’s just deep current and you know what’s happening.

ET: What were the circumstances behind your return to modeling at age 47? That was unprecedented.

LH: The first movies I did were when I was 26, so I had been getting jobs all along. None of them had been hits so nobody knew about them. After “American Gigolo” [in 1980], I was starting to make bad movies. “American Gigolo” came out when I was 40. But you can’t very well start a career, especially back then at age 40. And “American Gigolo” wasn’t a hit. Everybody thinks it was a hit but it became a hit in videotape. So you don’t get other jobs unless you’re a hit.

Then I just started realizing I didn’t look at fashion magazines anymore because they always featured very young girls and you felt silly. There was nobody in there that looked anything like you. I realized this looked ridiculous, because I looked fine and I had guys hitting on me all the time. It’s a problem of society still being stuck back in Edwardian stages. So I called up every editor I knew from my loft in New York and said, “You don’t have to use me, but you have to use somebody around my age.”

ET: Many actors find acting therapeutic. Do you?

LH: Yes, because you’re in a tribe. The great thing about acting and the reason people get so terribly addicted to it, besides the obvious gains, is you’re with a bunch of people every day like a tribe. That was the natural way we operated for millions of years. That’s the way we were organized to be and to move. Now we’re being separated in a way we weren’t before.

ET: What’s your philosophy about healthy aging?

LH: The other day I’m in the middle of this horrible pain, and I’m all crinkled up and I looked in the mirror and thought, “Oh my God, I can’t go out like this.” And I thought I just look too hideous, this is terrible. Then I just kept looking at myself, and I braved the mirror. I started putting on makeup. And because I was really looking at myself, you don’t put it on automatically. You put it on just exactly where you need it, and little by little you accept. You accept. And you see the interesting stuff about it. And it just makes you interested in the whole wonder of the ride we’re on, this trip around the block that is life.

ET: Tell me about your diet.

LH: When I grew up, we were very strict about not allowing candy. Fast food wasn’t a big thing. I think it was from being from Charleston, where everybody had chickens in their yard. I don’t eat too much meat. I eat more vegetables and salads and fruit and beans. I love beans. I quite often don’t have lunch, but when I do, like today I’m meeting a girlfriend, I’ll get a quinoa rice bowl. It’s delicious because they have all different cucumbers and all fresh vegetables, and it’s all different textures and crunchy food. Quite often, it’s just a bunch of beans that I’ve done something to. Limas or some particular bean I was happy with and I make some sort of bean mix. I’m learning how to cook so I’m doing different things with that. I’ll make a bean mix and a salad, and that’s it. I’ll have two things. If I snack I’ll grab a pear or another fruit. I finally made that a habit.

I’m also taking a multiple vitamin and looking at vitamin A, magnesium, calcium and zinc. I’m going to start taking the fish oil omega-3s. I’d like to be around to watch how interesting this world is getting, and I think it’s important for elders to be elder. The societies that I looked up to, the elders weren’t just there for laughs. Some of them were really spectacular people, and I’d like to be a useful elder, a real elder.

ET: What was behind your decision to refuse to model for cigarette ads? 

LH: Tobacco is probably the worst drug of them all, and the strongest drug of them all. I had it really ferociously for a long time. So I knew it was one thing if you wanted to do something like that to yourself, but I couldn’t imagine doing it to other people. So I didn’t want to advertise it. I’ve always been careful from the beginning, knowing I was in a very dangerous job and I could be of use and still honorable to myself if I wouldn’t do something that I wouldn’t use. If they were clothes that I generally didn’t like, I wouldn’t wear them. If it was a wild animal [fur or skin], I wouldn’t put it on my back.

I almost got off some Vogue jobs for that at different times, when I couldn’t afford to be without them. But in fact what happened instead was it got through to [Vogue editor] Diana Vreeland. I refused to wear this leopard-skin coat. I thought maybe that’s the end of my career right before my eyes. But I just couldn’t do it, because by then I had been to Africa twice. Word got up to Diana Vreeland, and the next time she was in Washington, she said something to somebody—she told me all this later—and the next thing you know, they had banned spotted-fur coats in America.

So you can be of use, you really can if you just stick by your guns. Know what your guns are. And you don’t have to be ashamed. So, with cigarettes, even though I was a user, I wasn’t going to be a pusher.

ET: You also resisted pressure to have plastic surgery. Did anyone ever try to get you to fix the gap between your teeth?

LH: Yeah, of course. I forgot the guy’s name but there was some famous nose around, and I was supposed to cut my nose. I was supposed to fix my teeth. It was all about fashion, and I didn’t want to do any of it.

I just learned how to [accommodate those changes] differently. I learned a lot about light, and how to shadow my nose with light. Then, what was more important was diplomatically saying it to a photographer. [Fashion photographers Richard] Avedon and [Irving] Penn figured it out for themselves; don’t worry, you didn’t have to tell them. But we did jobs by the hour in the Sixties. Until the Revlon contract, we did like six jobs a day, with six different photographers a day. So, diplomatically, you’d say, “What about trying the light over here a little bit? I think I might look better. Take a look through the camera here,” without hurting their egos.

ET: You’ve applied many of those lessons to the makeup you’ve created.

LH: You can change a face by putting your makeup in certain places. And when you buy a bottle of makeup, the bottle doesn’t tell you that. Only supermodels who have done this stuff learn it. I made color coding to show women exactly where on the face you put it by color. If you put it where I tell you, you’ll look very different.

ET: I’m going to guess that you don’t make New Year’s resolutions because you always work on improving yourself, not just once a year.

LH: That’s well put. I usually don’t. It’s just, “How do I make myself better?” I mean I could never read The Economist; the words were too hard. And now I read The Economist every week.

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