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Putting the oh-la-la into octogenarian: Happy 80th birthday to Lauren Hutton, the first $1 million supermodel

1 lauren hutton file photo
1 lauren hutton file photo
  • Bernard Weil / Bernard Weil/Toronto Star

Lauren Hutton is a seen in this 2005 file photo taken in Toronto.

1 lauren hutton file photo
  • Bernard Weil / Bernard Weil/Toronto Star

Lauren Hutton is a seen in this 2005 file photo taken in Toronto.

2 lauren hutton file photo
  • Bernard Weil / Bernard Weil/Toronto Star

Lauren Hutton in a 2005 file photo taken in Toronto.

Before Linda, before Naomi, before Cindy and Christy … there was Lauren.

Lauren Hutton, of course.

The original jeans-and-tee girl, who also happened to be the highest paid model in the world at one point — appearing on the cover of American Vogue 27 times, and even earning the first million-dollar contract for a beauty campaign (for Revlon) — she upended the economics of her industry and created the template for a DIY career.

And in this current moment for all things 1990s supermodels — a reconsideration and recontextualization of them happening largely because of that spiffy, new docuseries “The Super Models” on Apple TV Plus — I have been thinking a lot about Hutton, of an even earlier era. She deserves her due! Alas, what better time than this week, as she celebrates her 80th birthday? Puts the oh-la-la into octogenarian!

“Every 10 years, I reread everything I read and loved before. Because you grow and you change, and the book — if it is good — will hit you different because you are different.” What I remember the beauty telling me when I met her at an event in New York City some years ago and we got to talking about her renowned bibliophilia.

A keen insight into the woman (and an anti-aging secret unto itself)? I have often thought that. Here is a woman who doesn’t skirt the past, even burrows into it, but is also deeply invested in the idea of chrysalis. Always changing.

With that storied gap in her teeth, and her nose for adventure, Hutton — that night — evoked for me what a writer wrote about her in 1973 when she was featured in a 22-page spread in Vogue snapped by the legendary Richard Avedon: Hutton is “deliberately self-mocking, slightly mischievous, not all awed by her tremendous success, but not taking it for granted either.”

Different, she always was. Born in South Carolina, but raised in Tampa, she grew up roughhousing with the boys in the Floridian swamps, climbing trees, raising worms. Mary Laurence was the name of this tomboy then. Lauren came later. Unacquainted with her father (who moved to England during the Second World War), she was five when her mother married. Later came an arts degree. A stint, too, as a Playboy Bunny. She Holly Golightly-ed her way to New York City, in the mid-60s, where the famous editrix Diana Vreeland took a shine to her around the time she was making $50 a week working with Christian Dior as a house model.

Soon enough came the desire to pivot to becoming a “photography model” because, as she had said in Vogue, “I knew that those girls were making a dollar a minute back then, which was a huge amount of money. I had a burning desire, because it was the only way I could see that I could make my dreams come true to go off someplace for two months.” Modelling, at its core, simply a way to fund her incorrigible wanderlust (something Hutton has never been able to shake). She wanted to go to Africa, in particular.

Before long, it was all happening, her all-American flaxen mystique becoming catnip for other camera supremes like Irving Penn. By 1973, she had broken the modelling world glass ceiling when she signed a $250,000 deal with Revlon for 20 days’ work (a harbinger of the million-dollar contract to come) and turned an imperfection — namely that gap-tooth smile — into a signature (foreshadowing of Cindy Crawford and her famous mole).

Hutton’s foray into film acting? Also pretty unprecedented for a model at the time (itself also a harbinger of the anything-but-mute, personal brand era of models to come in ensuing decades). Her movie debut came in a film with Alan Alda, “Paper Lion,” and there was also an onscreen pairing with Burt Reynolds and, most famously, “American Gigolo” with Richard Gere at peak hunk, in 1980. A zeitgeist-shaping movie, by any definition.

About her landmark contract with Revlon, she once told W magazine about the environment at the time. “I was the last man standing, and all the great models had quit or gone. Jean Shrimpton, Veruschka, Twiggy — everybody was sort of gone. And I was about to turn 31, which is horrifying. I mean, no one was anywhere near that age. And I’m reading the front page of the New York Times, and I read this thing about a great baseball player, and he’s about to turn 35 or 30 something. And he said ‘I’m in a youth-oriented business. I have to have a $1 million contract or else.’ I thought, ‘Right, I’m in a youth-oriented business.’”

Bingo. She asked what she thought she was worth. And got it.

If there is a Tao According to Lauren, it for sure includes this idea of stick-with-it-ness. She has never really stopped working, or being relevant, as is apparent with the way the Olsen twins cannily used her image for their brand The Row. Bottega Veneta, likewise, cast her alongside Gigi Hadid in a runway show several years ago. Never married and childless, she has always done things her own way, however, spending more time in “the bush” than on the red carpet. Her globe-trotting is mind-blowing, whether it be visits to far-flung corners like the Solomons in the South Pacific (a remote island chain), jaunts to South India or, of course, her umpteen visits to Africa.

This, after all, is a woman who has lived with African Pygmies and Kalahari Bushmen, and has learned that “travelling was my vocation; not modelling or acting.” That she “learned the most about men and women from the Maasai.”

No one escapes the travails of life, though, and Hutton has taken some lumps, for sure. When her partner of 27 years, Bob Williamson (who was also her manager), died in 1997, she discovered he had mismanaged her millions. A colossal betrayal. Opting not to live in self-pity or in rage, she got on with it and went back to work. In 2000, meanwhile, she suffered a near-fatal motorbike accident. She had been riding in the California desert with the boys — Dennis Hopper and Jeremy Irons, among them — when she skidded 100 feet.

When her friends visited her in hospital, she felt like they were saying goodbye. But she vowed to fight. “Listen to no one but yourself,” is what she has said she learned from the accident, adding, “I try not to be afraid of anybody or anything. Because it takes your energy.”

Live, love and learn. Just some of the other anti-aging weapons in her arsenal. Happy 80th, Ms. Hutton!

*****
Credit belongs to : www.thestar.com

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