50 is the magic number for model Lauren Hutton

November 26, 1993|By James Kaplan | James Kaplan,Contributing Writer

At 50, golden tan and wearing an olive-drab jumpsuit, Israeli desert boots and not much makeup, Lauren Hutton is still spectacular.

The essence of this is that she looks precisely her age -- albeit with exclamation points appended to it. Her face is the same as always, with a few more character lines.

"I thought my future would never be as glorious as my past," she says, "I lived like that for a long time -- which is really a bad way to live, boy. I mean, men have this old history of being in their prime in their 50s. With women, it was this taboo subject until about two years ago that in menopause, your femininity becomes distilled. You become a much more powerful person to deal with when your body hasn't got to spend a lot of its time trying to get you pregnant."

After a long, dark spell, Lauren Hutton is at last happy in her life, and once more victorious in her career. All at once, her face is everywhere, whether it's the J. Crew catalog or the Jay Leno show or press conferences for the National Breast Cancer Coalition (she's a spokeswoman).

Last April, she signed a new, three-year, million-dollar-plus contract with Revlon. It harks back to their first deal -- a partnership that stretched over 10 years (1974 to 1984) and remodeled the modeling business.

The first in her profession to move from mannequin to corporate figurehead, Ms. Hutton liberated the industry, allowing her colleagues -- or at least the more celebrated ones -- to change from indentured servants into entrepreneurs. But none of the so-called supermodels who followed her has approached her style, wit or eccentricity.

"Every three years they hatch a whole new crop," a veteran industry observer says, "and the standards of beauty are always pretty similar -- tall, wide-set eyes, cheekbones. They'll say, 'This is the new Cindy Crawford' or 'This is the new Linda Evangelista.' I have never heard anybody say, 'This is the new Lauren Hutton.' "

Ask her about turning 50, and she smiles. "Who wants to be 20?" she says. "You don't know anything. All you do is wonder and worry. 'Will he like me? Will he call?' I don't miss it one bit."

She used to miss it quite a lot. "One day I woke up, and I was 45," Ms. Hutton says. "And deeply, deeply unhappy. I hadn't understood my desperation at approaching middle age. I think not having had a family was coming down hard on me -- I was having lots of bag-lady dreams. I think all single career women have had those dreams. And they're terrifying.

"People start getting tortured at night. And New York is so wonderfully entertaining that you can distract yourself very easily. I had been running in place for a long time."

Among Ms. Hutton's boxes upon boxes of magazine clippings are pictures of her from four decades. There's her first Vogue cover (24 followed), from November 1966: her hair sprayed into a helmet, her mouth closed, her eyelids painted green. She looks terrified, and all but unrecognizable.

Through the decades

Then there's a Newsweek cover from the next decade, titled the '74 model. Richard Avedon, her first great chronicler, took the shot, which marked her Revlon triumph. It is anything but a fashion image -- wide-eyed and fresh-scrubbed, Ms. Hutton looks like a slightly lecherous country girl. And here is a black-and-white head shot from 10 years later -- after Revlon ended her contract -- showing a puffy-faced, frowning Ms. Hutton, her eyes sullen and desperate.

"I was probably just 40 there," she says. "You'd think I would be able to model, right?"

She admits to being miserable at that point. "I was living a life that gave me no pleasure. My relationship didn't work, and I couldn't face it. I couldn't feel particularly good about my modeling career -- it had ceased to exist. I was making movies -- most of them TV movies of the week or extremely obscure theatrical releases -- back to back. And I couldn't remember my characters."

The mid-'80s were the bad years. Besides the wretched movies, and the odd gossip-column items linking her with Mickey Rourke (they crashed a car together) and Malcolm McLaren, she had faded from view. The little modeling she did was disastrous: No one knew how to photograph her anymore. She seemed well on the way to becoming another tabloid obit.

"By 45, I was really bottoming out," Ms. Hutton says. "I don't think I would have stayed alive had I not decided . . ." She hesitates. "I met a friend who had seen a Jungian therapist, and I decided to do that. I saw this great woman I talked to for a long time. I was in real trouble, because I had never resolved the problems of my youth. We started with my recurring dreams, and found what they meant, and went on. And I saw myself change and heal from my subconscious. You really can't fool your subconscious."

She was in Yugoslavia, finishing a movie called "The Bull Dance" -- never released -- when Eileen Ford's husband, Jerry, called. A young photographer Ms. Hutton had never heard of was shooting an ad campaign for Barneys, and wanted to use her.

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