A lopsided face. A bumpy nose. Cross-eyed. Too short. And a big ol’ gap between her two front teeth. It sounds unthinkable that a girl with such a list of assets could be the hottest—and highest paid ever—model of her day. But that’s Lauren Hutton for you. When Time magazine captured the ascending superstar in a four-page feature story on this day in 1973, it was precisely those features, with a good dose of charisma thrown in, that made her the curiously show-stopping and undeniably lovable face of America.
The 28-year-old girl from rural Florida was about to appear on the cover of Vogue for the 19th time and had just closed months of negotiations with Revlon on a million-dollar contract that would make her the exclusive face of the Ultima II cosmetics line—an unprecedented move in the modeling business. Revlon chairman Charles Revson had put down the big bucks for Hutton because he said she had a “reachable, non-remote” quality. “She is a symbol of the ability of the American woman to achieve beauty despite isolated features not in themselves beautiful,” he said. That makes sense for someone who is trying to sell makeup. But for the rest of the flock, from talk show hosts to movie producers, who were all trying to get a piece of Lauren, what made sense was that in a fashion landscape accustomed to Twiggy’s stoicism and Verushka’s elusiveness, Hutton was just so refreshingly fun.
This was a girl who had grown up wrestling baby alligators, wearing blue jeans underneath her dresses and selling worms to fishermen. She wanted to make it as a model not to be glamorous and adored—she just wanted money to travel. “To me glamorous means something alluring,” Hutton said in an interview with Newsweek the following year. “The Kalahari Desert and the Kukukuku tribe in New Guinea are glamorous as hell to me, so that’s what I do.” As former Vogue Editor in Chief Grace Mirabella put it, “It’s the mood of the girl that comes through. She is a direct, strong, intelligent, straight woman. There’s nothing chichi.” All you have to do is look at a picture of Hutton flashing her monstrous, vivacious smile, and you kind of feel like you could have been the one to make her laugh, even if what you said wasn’t the least bit funny. Following a photo shoot for The Block magazine in 2009, she joked about how she felt in the dominatrix-esque getup they had dressed her in: “For some reason I suddenly pictured Dick Cheney on the floor in front of me, naked, tied up and in the fetal position,” she laughs. “But he could have me killed. So I probably shouldn’t say that.” Who, other than Dick Cheney, perhaps, wouldn’t want to hang out with this gal?
Less than a year after the Time profile, Hutton’s no-nonsense, smiling face was on the cover of Newsweek, which declared her “The Model of ‘74.” Not only was she ushering in a new look, she was changing the modeling business itself. Her Ultima contract was making other advertisers aware that allowing their models to plug other products diluted their own message, and other exclusive deals proliferated. Having also considerably raised the bar for models’ pay scales, the top rate jumped from $60 to $100 an hour. What’s more, Hutton’s philosophy of approaching her shoots from the viewpoint of an actress playing a role brought her truckloads of movie offers (her most successful being her role opposite James Caan in 1974’s The Gambler). “In the ‘70s, instead of a picture of a girl sitting in a car,” Mirabella said, “she is now a girl, sitting in a car, about to leave it, having been someplace else.” The aim of advertising shifted from creating the illusion of fantasy to creating the illusion of reality.
Richard Avedon, whom Hutton had worked with extensively by the time she was declared “It” eight years into her career, characterized her as the rare model with staying power. “In the end, you have to separate the sprinters from the long-distance runners,” he said. “By that definition, Lauren has already out-distanced the ‘60s pack.” Could Avedon possibly have imagined, when he said those words in 1974, that in 2005 at the age of 61, she would be publishing her first nude photo shoot? Today she is the poster girl for graceful ageing, but not for lack of wrinkles. Her un-doctored face is well-lined, but you can tell they weren’t created by rivers of booze, drugs, or by the sheer stress of desperately trying not to age. They look like they came from the Kahalari Desert, from sleeping on the ground with pygmies, from riding her motorcycle at 100 miles an hour and from laughing her ass off the whole way. —Cody Bay
Photo: top: Lauren Hutton circa 1975 by legendary photographer Ron Galella.