Lauren Hutton was the original supermodel. Despite her relatively short stature, 5 foot 7, and gap-toothed smile that would later be regarded as her trademark, the Southern belle changed the landscape of the fashion world when in 1973 she insisted on, and was given, a then-record-breaking $250,000 per year long-term modelling contract with Revlon cosmetics. It was a watershed moment not only for Hutton but for models in general. Suddenly they were no longer mere pop culture artifacts (most notably Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton, and Veruschka) but legitimate stars in their own right. The first to break the milliondollar barrier in annual earnings, Hutton’s career was set in motion when the 22-year-old aspiring model bulldozed her way into the New York offices of Vogue magazine and caught the attention of its legendary editor DianaVreeland. Recalled Hutton of their first meeting: “‘You have quite a presence,’” Vreeland told me. I didn’t know what presence meant. I figured it was good. I said, ‘Yes ma’am, so do you.’ She said, ‘You stay after…I think I’ll call Dick [Avedon.]’” That led to an inspired photo session with star photographer Richard Avedon and the first of 27 Vogue covers for Hutton. She would become the most influential model of the ’70s while pursuing a parallel career as an actress that would see her co-star with Richard Gere in American Gigolo , arguably the best role of her otherwise indifferent Hollywood tenure.
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“I modelled my way through acting and didn’t give it enough time, and as a result my work as an actress was very uneven,” says Hutton. She also became a hard-partying fashion icon who hung out at the hottest clubs and became a fixture of New York’s jet-setting celebrity circuit that included Andy Warhol, David Bowie, Halston, et al. and set the trend for all future celebrity models. Hutton was the face of a fast-developing new era in fashion and the kind of independent woman whose vitality was very much in keeping with the growing feminist ethos of the era. Over the course of six decades, Hutton’s spirit has rarely wavered and her beauty endures. At nearly 74, she retains an ethereal, incandescent appearance and enjoys her life perhaps more today than ever, still going on treks to Africa and scuba diving whenever she has the opportunity. Hutton is currently in the midst of her latest career renaissance as part of the new Calvin Klein underwear campaign directed by Sofia Coppola. She made headlines last year by strutting the catwalk alongside Gigi Hadid at last September’s Bottega Veneta show during Milan Fashion Week, and was featured in a Love magazine editorial together with Irina Shayk as part of an issue overseen by Kendall Jenner. As part of the ongoing evolutionary social consciousness with respect to women, the world of fashion and film is hastily revising contemporary notions of beauty. Hutton, who posed nude for the first time in 2005 at the age of 60, has always had an ambivalent attitude towards her own looks.
It has a shelf life, beauty,” she says. “And we’re always redefining it. When I was suddenly on covers and saw them just as I walked down the street, I would stand back and look at that and think, ‘Oh, boy! She is awful good looking, isn’t she?’ And then I’d feel good. “But then maybe the very next day, I’d pass by a mirror and see myself looking ridiculous. Sometimes I feel very handsome and sometimes I feel really ugly, and that’s always been true and probably will always be true. I go back and forth.” Hadid, Shayk and Jenner, together with supermodels past and present, have Hutton to thank for their fabulous multi-million dollar annual earnings from campaign spokesperson contracts. Hutton might well envy the staggering sums that today’s elite models can earn not merely from the work itself but also from the ad revenues accruing from their massive social media following.
Still, by the time she was in her fifties, Hutton had amassed an estimated $30 million in the course of 30 years in the business, which on paper should have ranked her as one of the richest models of all time. What she does regret, however, is how her lover and mentor during this time – Bob Williamson – squandered her entire fortune prior to his death in 1997. Regarded by outsiders as short, fat and ugly, Williamson was the love of Hutton’s life for over 25 years. “I had a shattered childhood with no father,” says Hutton. “I wanted a daddy so badly that nothing else mattered.” Hutton was so impressed with Williamson’s charm and “beautiful mind” that she entrusted him with managing all of her money. It was the the worst mistake of her life despite the feeling of comfort and security he gave her. After his death, Hutton discovered that “Bob God”, as she was fond of calling him, had spent every cent she ever earned and which he had promised that he was “investing” for their old age. Adding to her shock and dismay, she learnt from friends that he had been a chronic philanderer who had the gall to marry his latest mistress, who would inherit the remaining $2 million in his bank account. Revealed Hutton at the time: “I used to sign entire chequebooks for Bob; he would pay everything. I never paid a bill till I was 47… All my money from those years is gone. [After his death] I would have ripped open the root-cellar gates to hell just to smack him a few times. I don’t want this to happen to other women.”
The experience may have left her “angry and depressed”, but it was another terrible event that truly brought about a personal awakening in Hutton. On 21 October 2000, Hutton was nearly killed in a terrible motorcycle crash 40 kilometres east of Las Vegas during a group ride with other celebrities. A long-time biker, she was riding with actors Dennis Hopper, Jeremy Irons and other motorcycle enthusiasts as part of a 160-kilometre trip across Southern Nevada when her bike veered off the road and left Hutton in a serious condition in hospital with a broken arm, multiple leg fractures, and a punctured lung. Oddly, Hutton used her time in hospital and subsequent lengthy recovery process – she walked with a cane for nearly a year – to reflect and rethink her world. Said Hutton a year after the crash: “Since the accident, most of the time I’m more happy, more peaceful, more content than I’ve ever been in my life. I’m much more sane since this happened.” The accident didn’t curb her wanderlust and she has tried to expand her horizons as much as possible ever since. She developed a fascination for Uganda and Africa as a whole in her twenties and confesses to experiencing a profound sense of peace and personal enlightenment during her numerous journeys into the bush. “I was healing myself three times a year with my trips,” says Hutton. “After smiling for two months in a row, I took off… I would travel all over Africa.
I was very happy when I lived with hunter-gatherers. It was paradise for me, back to the beginning of who we were. I felt all the time that I was with real people – no facade, no fakeness.” Interestingly, despite venturing into various desert regions as well as the lush Amazon jungle, Hutton has never used sunscreen and her face shows few ravages or wrinkles from the sun or aging in general. “I never did [use sunscreen]. I kept trying to, especially since I spent decades on the equator, and you really should have a hat! But I just couldn’t do it. I think it was because I was always coming from three months of modelling, and when I’d get free, I’d be on a plane the next day and didn’t want to touch anything. I didn’t take makeup, I didn’t take a mirror, and I certainly didn’t take sunscreen.” She equates happiness as much with being out in nature as she does “in the arms of someone I love”. “[Happiness] so many things… It’s being deep down in the hundred-foot deep, someplace great in a reef, seeing a bunch of sharks. And it’s seeing a rosy rattlesnake out in Joshua Tree, who’s stretched out and I’m looking right in his eyes, because poison things have much more intelligent eyes…It’s being with someone I love. It’s being in the arms of someone I love, and you’re gonna sleep the night. It’s a lot of things. Happiness is a lot of things,” says Hutton. Born in Charleston, South Carolina, Hutton spent her formative years in Tampa, Florida.
Her mother, Minnie, was a schoolmate of Barbara Bush’s at Ashley Hall in Charleston and her Mississippi-raised father, Lawrence Hutton, was a highly literate man whose Scoutmaster was none other than William Faulkner. Lawrence was stationed in England during WWII when Minnie gave birth to their first child, Mary Laurence Hutton, on 17 November 1943. Shortly after the war, Minnie moved to Miami and obtained a divorce, later marrying ex-oil wildcatter Jack Hall with whom she would have three children. Mary (she changed her name to Lauren at the beginning of her modelling career) never met her biological father, who died in 1955 at age 36 while working as a journalist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “Never meeting my father was the most painful thing in my life. I look just like him and I’m named for him, but all I have are these two books of his letters and drawings from the war. The day of my birth he wrote and told me about our ancestors, what he thought was important in the world, what books I should read and what he wanted for me. He was a very, very hip young man of 24 when he wrote to me,” during Richard Avedon Opening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, September 13, 1978, New York City, New York, United States. “He was a pilot who…did barnstorming-type things, tricks with planes, that sort of thing, and he was in WW II…
He wanted to belong to the US Army Air Corps because William Faulkner was his next door neighbour growing up, and his Scout leader, and was a big influence on Dad. Faulkner wrote about my grandfather, who I also didn’t get to meet, whose name was C.L. Hutton, in a book called Intruder in the Dust.” Hutton’s childhood was marked by having to spend considerable time looking after her three younger siblings. She amused herself by hanging out with guys rather than girls – part of her “tomboy” character – and exploring swamps, climbing trees, and raising worms, which is where her “love of being out in nature” took root. There were also some very “tough years” when her family was “fantastically poor”, but that kind of adversity is what Hutton believes “moulded” her and “gave me a survivor’s instinct and a huge amount of determination.” She was a good student (also voted ‘best eyes’ during her senior year in high school) who was accepted into Tulane University in New Orleans, where she studied art until she was lured by the prospect of a more vibrant life in New York City. Upon arrival, she worked as a cocktail “lunchtime bunny” waitress at Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Club alongside fellow future luminaries Gloria Steinem (who was writing an undercover exposé and would become leader of the feminist movement) and aspiring singer Deborah Harry, who would later achieve fame as part of Blondie. That was when she changed her name from Mary to Lauren since there were too many other Marys already on staff.
Her entry into the modelling world came when Eileen Ford, founder of what was at the time the leading modelling agency in New York, saw a star in the making and soon Hutton was set on her way to what would become one of the most extraordinary careers that the fashion world has ever seen. Although her recent turn as a 73-year-old Calvin Klein model is cited as an example of her ageless beauty, Hutton believes that she first proved that there is life after 40 for women when in 1989 she revived her thennearly-extinct career at the age of 45. While making a movie in Yugoslavia, she was offered a low-paying but high-profile job as a model for zeitgeist photographer of the day Steven Meisel, who was shooting an ad campaign for Barneys New York. That assignment immediately opened up many more jobs for Hutton, who thrived on stepping back into the limelight. “I think [her comeback at age 45] was a better thing because I just realised that I was looking at magazines and there was no one over 30 in them. And you sort of felt out and forgotten, and… I still looked really good. So I called every editor that I had worked with in the past, from every magazine all over the Western world, and said, ‘You know, we’re at this nexus in history where women have got to be allowed to representit.’” Hutton is certainly as capable a representative of women in their seventies as anyone could ever imagine. Her smile still has an entrancing quality to it and her intrepid exuberance is fully captured in her latest fashion spreads. Asked whether she feels any deep sense of attachment to her looks that have become part of the cultural imagination, Hutton takes a pragmatic if cryptic stance: “They have a lot of sayings in Charleston (her hometown), and one of them is ‘beauty is as beauty does’. And in order to stay alive and make a bunch of money, I had to hopefully do both. But I had to let the beauty thing go. Beauty is as beauty does.”