50 is the magic number for model Lauren Hutton

THE BALTIMORE SUN

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.

"I'd had so many bad pictures of me taken in the previous five years that I just wasn't interested in it," Ms. Hutton says. "And I didn't know Barneys, and I hadn't looked at a magazine in four years. I'd stopped looking at Vogue. It was painful to always see very young girls, because you compare yourself to them. Now I understand how always seeing tall, skinny, white girls is bad for everybody. We should have a choice of what's considered beautiful in femininity. I mean, I understand that clothes hang a certain way and the clothes look better on some bodies, but . . ." She shrugs.

"Anyway, Jerry insisted that I look at this person's work, and when I got back I did, and I said yes. Instantly."

Meeting Meisel

The person was Steven Meisel, the photographer of the moment. He was also something of a historian: Obsessed by models, he'd been haunting the steps outside Avedon's studio, and the sidewalk outside Conde Nast, since before he could shave. The idea of putting Ms. Hutton in the Barneys pictures occurred to him naturally.

"I'd just always wanted to work with her," he says. "I was insane with her way back then, and I'd continue to see her on the street and at parties. I was fascinated with her modernness and her style. And she was extremely sexy -- especially at that age. There's more to photograph with a woman than with a little girl."

The Barneys ads not only resuscitated her career, they turned Ms. Hutton into a heroine. Women -- particularly older women -- would come up to her on the street and gush their thanks for rescuing them from invisibility. Meanwhile, she continued her analysis, and re-entered the world. For Harper's Bazaar, she wrote about the painter Francesco Clemente and interviewed William S. Burroughs; she wrote about Anita Hill and Giorgio Armani for Interview. She lived happily alone for several years.

In the fall of 1991, as she was reading Camille Paglia's "Sexual Personae," a light bulb went off over her head.

"I had figured out for myself that monotheism had turned women into second-class citizens," she says. "But Camille said it wasn't just meanness on men's part -- it was evolutionary, and had joined the nations. She says we are caretakers -- which I saw, living with these tribes. Because the greatness of men is to go too far. Quite often you get yourself or everybody else in the area killed, but you get to the moon, you invent airplanes. You do all these things that -- the girls won't like to hear this -- we don't do. Just couldn't care less. We're here to see that everybody's eating, everybody's having a better quality of life all around."

A new friendship

Soon afterward, John McLaughlin interviewed her on his cable show, and Ms. Hutton raved about the Paglia book.

"So I wrote her a thank-you note, via her agent," Ms. Paglia says. "And boom! We're in touch, and she said she would like to make this documentary film exploring male-female issues; would I be willing to do this? I said, 'Well, that sounds interesting; OK.' And so I go up to New York, and she takes me to the National Motorcycle Show at the Javits Center."

An intense friendship ensued, causing some of Ms. Hutton's friends to wring their hands ("I think Ms. Paglia is provincial and glib," Helen Marden says) and many strangers to wag their tongues. Ms. Paglia is openly bisexual, and speculation about Ms. Hutton's sexuality began 20 years ago with a rumor that she and Julie Christie were sharing a house on the Isle of Jersey.

Ms. Hutton shrugs it all off good-humoredly. "That's a normal thing," she says. "I'm a famous woman who's never been married. No, I've always felt men are dangerous, exotic animals; to me, that's exciting. Camille isn't my type -- she's not a man. Though she was certainly thrilled by the speculation."

"I had heard for years that she was a lesbian," Ms. Paglia says. "People speak with absolute confidence about these things. But I said to everyone, 'That is absolute nonsense.' Because -- this is my big conceptual breakthrough -- the most dominant women are heterosexual. And Lauren Hutton really made it clear to me. Because she is so butch you can't even believe it! She dominates every single social occasion!"

It echoes what one of her friends said about her movie career: "It never took off because none of her roles is as interesting as she is in real life."

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