Christie Brinkley: Confessions of a Beauty Icon
By Liz Ritter, Executive Managing Editor for NewBeauty | Photography By Ruven Afanador
If you ask Christie Brinkley when she got into modeling, she’ll laugh and tell you it was when “Abraham Lincoln was president.” An obviously exaggerated claim, but the 62-year-old is the first one to make it clear she’s been in the game a long time, she’s seen and learned a lot and she is proud of—and completely comfortable with—her age (yes, she’s been in the business four-plus decades now and has nothing to hide!). “I was told I would be done at 30. I’m still here.”
Growing up in Los Angeles she never imagined “here” would mean one of the most prolific modeling careers in the world. “My mom wasn’t that into beauty, she wasn’t one of those women who was going to salons, so it really wasn’t part of my life either. She was a natural beauty, but she never put much thought into it. She sort of lived by the motto, ‘Less is more.’ Her idea of doing makeup was taking a quick peek in the rear view mirror in the car and applying her makeup in under a minute. That always amazed me. Her signature look was an orange-ish lipstick and bronzer on her cheeks—if she was going somewhere fancy, she would add mascara and eyeliner. I can still see her now, pulling her eyelid, drawing the line, and, suddenly, her whole face looked different!” she says, tearing up a little (both of her parents passed away in 2012, a few weeks apart).
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“No matter what kind of makeup she had on, she always looked stunning. She was a beautiful woman; very petite, all legs, but her biggest beauty tip came from her heart: Be kind. She was just the warmest woman. There wasn’t anyone she met that she didn’t become friends with. Even now, when anyone thinks of her, they think of her smile. She was a really special person.”
A special person, and a supportive one. When Brinkley was just 18, her parents encouraged her to move to Paris. At an age when most teenagers are starting to take those first steps to leave home, she found herself relocating to a whole other country. Not to pursue modeling—that idea wasn’t even on the radar yet—but to study art (you might have seen some of her work; she drew the painting on then-husband Billy Joel’s 1993 River of Dreams album cover, awarded “The Best Album Cover of the Year” by Rolling Stone).
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“That was what I was going to do. Art was the game plan. I never planned to get into modeling. I never had that moment where I said, ‘I want to do that!’ I was a struggling artist—whatever that means at 18—in France and a photographer saw me and asked me if I wanted to model.”
As the story goes, even that wasn’t necessarily the spark of an “aha” career moment. “I’m very curious about things. I love trying out new things and seeing what they’re like, and like most girls that age, I thought, ‘what would that be like?’ What would it be like to try that out?’ I wanted to find out.”
“The next thing I knew, someone was saying to send me to Morocco on a job. Then someone threw out the word ‘Japan.’ That was my inspiration for getting into—and, ultimately, sticking with—this career,” Brinkley says. “To travel, to see the world, that has always been my reason. I never wanted to look like Lauren Hutton or Cheryl Tiegs, who were the big models at the time. For me, it was all about seeing new places.”
The Modern Model
Fast-forward to almost 45 years later, and her “place” is now one that is mainly spent at her home in the Hamptons, but always revolves around her children: Alexa, 30, Jack, 21, and Sailor, 18, who is the same age Brinkley was when she left home and moved overseas. This fall, she’ll be the last of Brinkley’s children to leave home and start college in Manhattan.
“I’ve raised all my kids to be vegetarian because I feel so strongly about it for ethical reasons. [Brinkley hasn’t eaten meat since she was 13.] But my son, Jack, he’s an athlete and will have an occasional piece of meat now that he’s on his own. He can do what he wants, but he was raised a vegetarian!” she says. “My girls and I share so much and I think we all sort of inspire each other in different ways. Sailor, she’s a very strict vegan, she’s gluten-free and she never slips up. I am in awe! She’s also very strict about exercise. Rain or shine, she is running and active and out there. Alexa is my beauty guru. She’s always aware of the latest trends, potions and lotions. One of her first toys as a teeny-tiny kid was a perfume-making kit and she hasn’t stopped being interested in beauty products since then. She almost always has a face mask on and at some point in the day when she is at home; she’ll drift by with a white or green face. Her skin is flawless.”
And, to sum up her love life—a subject that always seems to be of extreme interest to everyone else—in one sentence: Yes, she’s still friends with Billy Joel (she loves when he sends her photos of his new baby), and as for her recent split with John Mellencamp, it was 100-percent “distance and work” that led to the breakup, or, as she simply puts it “just mileage.”
It’s pretty clear that her kids come first and Brinkley’s massive (reports peg that it’s worth somewhere in the tune of $80 million) business portfolio—there’s her New York Times best-selling book, Timeless Beauty, Christie Brinkley Authentic Skincare line, Hair2Wear hair-extensions, endorsements with NYDJ Jeans, BioSil supplements, Christie Brinkley Eyewear and Total Gym, and her latest launch, an organic prosecco line called Bellissima that includes a brut, a rosé and a zero-sugar prosecco, something she feels very strongly about because it’s a really “bad epidemic in the U.S.”—comes second, and somewhere in that mix, there’s also time for her very-much-still-in-demand modeling and acting career.
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“Modeling and the whole business thing isn’t the hardest!” That prize, she says, goes to her work on stage. “When I was 58 years old, I took on the challenge of playing Roxie Hart in Chicago. It was probably the hardest thing I have ever done professionally, and probably the thing I am most proud of professionally. I had to learn to sing and dance. I was doing eight shows a week and two shows a day, and then there were weekends. It was really, really exciting, but tough. I just kept telling myself, ‘If I work hard enough, I can do it.’ After my run in New York, I was asked to go to London, then it was extended, then we returned to New York, then we headlined a national tour. It was really an amazing time. I absolutely loved it.”
The best part, Brinkley says, is something most of us take for granted (and might even often groan about). “As a model, no one really tells you this, but most of the time, you are working alone and it can get lonely. This was the first time I was really working with a group—all of a sudden, I had coworkers! I loved the stage door, I loved the other actors, I loved the collaboration, I loved all of that.”
As for her other career as an entrepreneur, Brinkley says that’s something she loves too, but it can be challenging. “It’s important for me to really believe in any product that I put my name on, or else I wouldn’t put my name on it.” For her, that means testing it, getting feedback and listening to—you guessed it—social media comments. “I see women all the time commenting on my Instagram pictures saying, ‘I’m not going to buy her skin care because she goes to a dermatologist and it’s all fake! She doesn’t really use that.’ Yes, I do! I wouldn’t tell you to use it if I didn’t use it too. I couldn’t be doing this so long if I didn’t have credibility.”
Does She or Doesn’t She?
Sure, she’s a success in a ton of different arenas—and she is a supermodel, so she sort of has a head start in the anti-aging game—but you can’t talk to Brinkley without tip-toeing around the question: But what do you really do to look this amazing in your 60s?
She has been pretty open about “dabbling” in different dermatological treatments—some she liked, some she loathed. Botox, the first time around, didn’t go so well. “I actually started to feel depressed. My face lacked expression. I will never do it again in my forehead.” Then, she gave it another chance; this time, for her neck bands, an area that, when treated, Brinkley says, doesn’t come with the threat of totally changing your expression—just the very positive advantage of relaxing the muscle and helping with the chin area and jawline. As for fillers, she likes them in “supertiny doses.” Laser treatments, in her opinion, are “miraculous.”
“Some of the quick and easy things people can do—Botox, fillers—it seems like in the beginning, it was very obvious when they were being used. I think whenever anyone uses them and you are looking at ‘their work’ instead of them, that’s wrong. I’ve seen so many beautiful people who completely changed their face. Maybe some people like that ‘overdone’ look, but, in my opinion, there’s nothing more aging than that.”
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Whatever you do decide to do, Brinkley stresses her advice is to ‘go light’ and do your homework. “If you want to look refreshed, it has to be with a light hand. It’s one of the biggest mistakes when people deliberately go for that ‘done’ appearance—to each his own, obviously, but that’s not good. It’s so important to choose the right doctor if you want to do anything along those lines. Don’t change your face; maybe just change a wrinkle or two that’s bothering you. You still should look like you.”
“I also think it’s so important to have an ongoing conversation about this subject—what works and what doesn’t. If you do decide to use a little touch of filler, I don’t think that you should consider it a replacement for good solid skin care. You will always need that. Number one, you need to protect your skin from the sun; if you’re a sun-lover like me, make sure to protect yourself well,” she says. “I really believe the foundation for good skin is what YOU do, not what your doctor can do for you later. It’s how you eat, how you care for your skin—you are the one in control for 24 hours of the day. Then, if you do a little tweak here and there at the doctor, that’s the icing on the cake. But you can’t just rely on a quick fix at the derm; you’ll just end up with dull, dry aging skin without the proper skin care. One thing does not replace the other.”
Solid advice from a woman who pretty much defies everything at the age of 62. So what’s next for the beauty icon? Maybe not so surprising, but there’s still some of that curious 18-year-old in her. “I’m enjoying the fact that at this stage of my life, I can still take on new careers and new projects. I still get excited to try new things. What could be better?”