Lauren Hutton Reveals the Secrets to Her Legendary Career

The always-candid supermodel talks scoring the first-ever exclusive beauty contract and why modeling is so different now.
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Tyler McCall
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The always-candid supermodel talks scoring the first-ever exclusive beauty contract and why modeling is so different now.
Hutton. Photo: Joyce Culver/92Y

Hutton. Photo: Joyce Culver/92Y

If anyone in the audience left the 92Y Wednesday night not completely in love with Lauren Hutton, they might want to make sure they still have a heart.

The legendary American model was there to chat with Fern Mallis to finish out this season of Fashion Icons, a series Mallis hosts; I've covered a lot of these, but this may have been the most fun talk yet. It was less like an interview and more like listening to a relative tell their life stories at the dinner table. 

Still, in between explaining how to differentiate poisonous snakes from harmless ones ("Red before yellow, kill a fellow," picked up from her childhood in Florida) and telling the audience how to find their own sense of style ("People say you're either born with it or you're not -- that's phooey!"), she managed to share some valuable stories about her time as a model.

Hutton said her first New York lesson in getting things to go her way was simply, "Lie!" (The second: "I'll do anything.") It was this determination (and lying, as it were) that got her into Diana Vreeland's office, which led to her first set with Richard Avedon. After hours of trying -- and failing -- to imitate the great German models of the era, a frustrated Avedon asked Hutton what she did growing up. She told him that she used to jump over turtles, so he drew an "X" on the ground and made her repeatedly leap over it for the photo.

"That started the running-jumping pictures," Hutton said gleefully. "Because I couldn't model!" (You're welcome, Caroline Trentini.)

Thanks to some serious business savvy, Hutton became the industry's first "million-dollar" model by scoring an exclusive contract with Revlon -- the first time in history any model had done so. She got the idea reading about a baseball player who had scored himself a major contract because his was a "youth-obsessed" industry; when she made the connection to herself, it was her then-boyfriend who suggested she approach beauty companies since they had the most money. 

That lucrative contract allowed her to travel most of the year, mostly through Africa where Hutton spent time with local tribes. It ended after 10 years, with Hutton in a room with "about eight VPs," because, in her words, "I had been making much more money than them for a very long time."

Still, for all the groundwork Hutton laid for models, she's not entirely sure she would have had the same results today. "It's probably completely different now," she mused about the modern modeling industry. When she started, she skipped over several agencies who wanted to change her look -- including, she says, losing 10 pounds. That weight obsession, it would seem, is more crucial than ever.

"If you look good in person now, you will look overweight on camera," she said matter-of-factly. "You have to be very under weight to look good on camera now."

But for any models still hoping to follow in Hutton's footsteps, she had only one piece of advice: "Do what I did!"

That might sound easy, but would-be models might want to pick up Hutton's autobiography -- she promised it's coming "very soon."