Fifty-five years into her career, Lauren Hutton – model, actress and activist – shows no signs of slowing down. As part of a dynamic, highly selective industry, Hutton has consistently questioned and changed the way the world sees modeling. She was the first model to secure a contract, has been honored by leading high-end fashion designers and is an influencer for beauty at all ages. Throughout it all, a key driver of her passion and enthusiasm comes back to a childhood dream: to travel the world. We recently sat down with Hutton to discuss her multifaceted career, the modeling industry through the years and several extraordinary experiences along the way.
You have been in the modeling industry for 55 years. Tell us about how the journey started.
During college and before getting into modeling, I worked on Bourbon Street at a jazz nightclub as a waitress, often until 2 a.m., for about two and a half years, which was exhausting. The club’s opening night featured Dizzy Gillespie, and we integrated Bourbon Street. I knew I was swamp smart, but there I learned to be street smart.
One day in 1964, I was so tired, and someone asked me, “What do you really want to do?” I kept thinking over that question, and the answer was that I wanted to go to Africa; it had been my dream since I was young. Another waitress said that she wanted to do that too, so we planned to meet in New York and take a steamer that she knew about there together.
My friend never showed up at the New York airport. I had $200 on me, two suitcases filled with everything I owned and was all alone. I took the bus to Port Authority and was terrified when I got off. I had nowhere to go, but I remembered where Tiffany’s was, so I hailed a cab and went there. It was a Sunday morning, and no one was out on the street. I got out and started crying because I didn’t know what to do.
Another girl who I vaguely knew had moved to New York. On the off chance, I looked her up in the phonebook. She said to come right over, and when I got there, I started talking to her and her boyfriend about what I was going to do. He showed me the help wanted ads in the Sunday New York Times, and we went through pages of them. I didn’t have experience in anything, but I knew I never wanted to waitress again. I had grown contempt, and working at night scared me. There was an ad for a house modeling job at Christian Dior New York. The next morning, I arrived bright and early. When my turn came, they called me a “baby elephant” and said to lose 10 pounds. I was on my way out, and they called me back and asked if I would do it for $50 a week. I accepted.