Christie Brinkley Works to Demolish Stereotypes on Beauty and Age

Christie Brinkley
Dress, Nili Lotan. Robe coat, Halston Heritage.

Photo Credit: Gian Andrea Di Stefano

Photography Gian Andrea Di Stefano

Styling: La Marque for The Only.Agency, Makeup: Sandy Linter using Lancome at the Bryan Bantry Agency, Hair: Sasha Nesterchuk for The Only.Agency, Manicure: Martha Fekete for Bryan Bantry using LVX Nail Lacquer

Photographed in the Tribeca Suite at Four Seasons Hotel New York Downtown and 30 Park Place Four Seasons Private Residences New York Downtown

When telling friends that Haute Living New York is photographing Christie Brinkley for its upcoming summer issue, they immediately want to know if the former supermodel, now 63, really looks as good as her recent photos suggest—whether in Sports Illustrated, where she posed for this year’s swimsuit issue in a bikini (and for the first time with her daughters, Alexa Ray Joel, 31, and Sailor Brinkley-Cook, 18), or on the cover of her best-selling book Timeless Beauty. After all, enhanced reality is a mainstay of the digital age—most everyone with an iPhone knows how to work a retouching app.

When Brinkley walks into the suite where we will be photographing, all eyes turn to her, of course. It is early, so we are seeing Brinkley pre-glam (before hair and makeup), in unforgiving natural light, no less. While Brinkley is quick to admit that no one can match their youthful perfection, we find it hard to see how she has changed much from her twenty- and thirty something peak, when she graced more than 500 magazine covers worldwide (and was the first model to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated for three consecutive years). OK, she started out with a great genetic package, but many others did too, and they’re nowhere close to Brinkley in the “looking good at any age” marathon. Brinkley’s face and body have long been her fortune, but by promoting the enduring agelessness that has helped keep her at the forefront of the beauty business, she has also sent a potent message to a culture relentlessly focused on youth—that allure has no end date, and you can manage the aging process without resorting to drastic interventions, e.g., women (and men) can easily peel off 10 to 20 years of their appearance without undergoing dramatic procedures like facelifts.

We sat down with Brinkley, one of the Hamptons’ best known residents (and smartest real estate investors, owning significant estates worth close to $60 million), to talk about how she has seemed to stop the clock, and how she’s building a beauty and lifestyle empire with the determination of someone half her age. In recent years, Brinkley has launched skin care, hair, and eyewear lines (Christie Brinkley Authentic Skin Care, Hair2Wear Christie Brinkley Collection, Christie Brinkley Eyewear), and last year ventured beyond the realm of beauty to introduce a new prosecco, Bellissima, an organic sparkling wine made in the Veneto region of Italy. In addition to appearing in this year’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, she is featured in a new ad campaign (with daughter Sailor Brinkley-Cook) for Lord and Taylor. Brinkley, who did star turns on Broadway (appearing as Roxie Hart in Chicago) and in numerous films and TV shows, will appear in the upcoming Nightcap playing a spoof of herself. Here, Brinkley gives us the scoop on how she does it all, and how she’s determined to fight stereotypes about age while building her multifaceted business empire.

Christie Brinkley
Dress, Michael Lo Sordo. All rings, Spinelli Kilcollin.

Photo Credit: Gian Andrea Di Stefano

You are one of the Hamptons’ most celebrated residents. When did you first go to the East End? 

It was for Glamour magazine, one of my first jobs in America, with the photographer Bill Connors. I remember he had a little house, one of the Sea Captain’s houses in Sag Harbor. I’m from Malibu and had no idea that America had these villages, with picket fences and roses climbing on them, that had retained so much history and charm and looked so European. I was enchanted by them.

Why did you decide to make the Hamptons your home?

When I was married to Billy (Joel), we would drive around the Hamptons and he would say, “That used to be a farm stand, that used to be an orchard.” Although he had lived up island on the North Shore, he knew the area. I said, “I know that you see things the way they used to be, but I see it with fresh eyes, even though it’s no longer countryside and more a suburb of the city. But you’re right, let’s go look at places that feel like country.” So we got in a car and we drove from Maine to the Carolinas, and while there were a lot of gorgeous beaches, like the ones on the Outer Banks with wild horses, after we’d seen all these places, the Hamptons won out. Later, when we were visiting friends, they told us about a house that was going on the market on Further Lane in East Hampton. And we bought it.

Why did you decide to live on the South Fork year-round?

For many years, we kept a place in the city and the country, but when we had Alexa, we wanted to raise her in the country. I eventually decided to remain out here full-time, and I stay at hotels when I go into the city. I love hotels!

You’ve done very well in Hamptons real estate. What has been the secret to your success? 

It was all by accident. In each instance, I was looking for that place to call home and it had to have a special appeal for me. I think that’s why the properties retained their value.

Which is your favorite Hampton?

I’m now in Sag Harbor and Bridgehampton. I love both of the houses but only want to keep one, so whichever house sells is where I’ll be. My favorite town is Sag Harbor. It’s directly on the water and has a real down-to-earth quality, with many mom-and-pop stores. It feels like a hometown.

What’s a non-workday like for you in the summer?

I’m an early riser and up and moving around 6:30 a.m. I like to wander downstairs, make a cup of coffee, grab my phone, and go out and check my garden. I take pictures of any new blossoms, or the rainbows created when the sprinklers are on. When I am up before everyone else, these hours are my cherished time. I can daydream and wander guilt-free. I don’t feel like I owe that time to anybody or anything. In the summer, the house is always full of people. After they wake up, they wander between the kitchen and garden with coffee and breakfast. The rest of the day involves some combination of water, garden, and usually a movie. I like to keep it simple.

You’re from Malibu. How do East End beaches compare with the West Coast?

I found the waves better in Malibu for body surfing, but here you also have the bay side, which is endlessly fascinating. On the bay, you can jump on a boat and go off on an adventure, pull up at a restaurant for lunch, or go to a wilderness area or deserted beach. My “fleet” includes two little sailboats, stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, and a little rubber Zodiac I use when I want to go to the North Shore and Shelter Island.

You have many business projects ranging from cosmetics to prosecco. Are you thinking of building an overall lifestyle brand like Aerin Lauder or Jessica Alba did, or are you choosing projects as they appeal to you?

So far it’s on an individual project basis, but maybe down the road I will formalize it. Before starting on something new, I always ask myself, “If I do a commercial for this, am I going to make someone’s life better?”

Why did you become involved with a prosecco line?

My partners were looking for someone to collaborate with for an all organic winery producing prosecco and they thought of me, since I am always talking about the importance of organic (Brinkley has been a vegetarian since age 14) and I Instagram my organic garden a lot. (The winery where Bellissima prosecco is produced is pesticide-free and uses sustainable farming practices.)

There are many good prosecco labels. How does this differ from established ones?

I find many proseccos too sugary and syrupy, but I was stunned when I tasted these wines. They were crisp, delicious, and refreshing. There’s a zero-sugar version (Bellissima Zero Sugar), so those with diabetes and pre-diabetes who want to raise a glass now can.

You seem to have defied the aging process. What has been the toughest battle in the appearance to stay young? 

There probably have been a lot of things. I think my hair is thinner, although hairstylists say it’s not. My hair used to be so thick I would break rubber bands when I wanted to pull it into a ponytail. I equate thick hair with youthfulness, so when I need a little extra, I add an extension from my line. With three little clips, I get a youth infusion. I also accumulate fat in my belly in a way I never had before, but that could be a result of cortisol, the stress hormone. As you get older, you accumulate more responsibilities in life, and more stresses that produce it.

How do you eliminate stress? 

In today’s political climate, it’s not that easy to do. I’m a newshound, so I have to pace myself on my CNN consumption.

Does it make you sad when you see other celebrities who have gone overboard with anti-aging treatments? 

I don’t think anyone goes into a treatment and says, “Overdo it.” It’s just that you are not 100 percent in control of the process. Ninety-five percent of people get the results they want.

Christie Brinkley
Striped top and pants, La Ligne.

Photo Credit: Gian Andrea Di Stefano

What treatment would you never do?

The time I tried Botox in my forehead I got a droopy eyebrow and I’ve been afraid to try it in my forehead ever again. It took three months to wear off. But Botox in the right hands is fairly harmless. I’ve tried Fraxel. I grew up in Malibu, so I was exposed to the sun a lot when I was growing up and also during my modeling days.

What’s the most important advice you can give anyone contemplating various treatments? 

Find a qualified doctor. Do the research. I write about this in my book. There are hacks out there who take advantage of women. Whatever you choose to do, try to do the minimum. I get comments on social media saying my cheeks are so fat that I’ve got to stop with the fillers. But those are my cheeks. My British friends like to call me “fat face.”

What 50-plus beauties do you admire?

Jane Fonda, not only for the way she looks but also for her energy, curiosity, and involvement with the world. She really is an inspiration.

Despite retaining your model-heyday looks, have you experienced ageism?

Definitely. There was a point when my work slowed down somewhat. My contract with Cover Girl ended (it had run for a record 25 years), and there was a period when demand was only for younger models. It took the industry about 10 years to catch up with me. Then Cover Girl rehired me and started talking to women in my age group, which was smart of them. We are a demographic the market should be looking at and catering to; we’re a financial force to be reckoned with. After my last divorce, I couldn’t believe what I was reading in the media online—in the comments sections after an article—about my age. It was as if being in your 50s or 60s was a terrible affliction, a terribly negative thing. I felt like saying, “I am sorry I am still alive. Would you prefer that I had died?” People would write, “Oh, she is so fugly,” or, “Of course, you would leave her, she’s fugly.” I didn’t know that world existed and had to ask friends. That’s when I decided to go online and actually be me—a woman of my age with interests, feelings, and a life; someone chasing dreams, making dreams happen just like everybody else. I also tried to raise awareness that the Internet can be whatever we make of it, so let’s make it a tool to support each other and lift each other up, rather than be some dark, horrible place.

You did the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue this year at 63, photographed with your daughters (Sailor Brinkley-Cook, 18, and Alexa Ray Joel, 31). Is your goal to keep doing this? Can we expect to see Christie Brinkley in SI when she’s 70?

I know many men look at the issue, but I hope women get inspired by it too. I didn’t have a lot of time to get ready for the photo shoot, but I challenged myself to be more fit next year. I find it interesting how many people think you reach a certain age and you can’t get better, but you can.

But at some point, age catches up with you. 

Over the years I’ve had a number of injuries. In the book, I devoted a double-page spread to them. I did that on purpose. The common thinking is, Well, I hurt my shoulder, or my hip aches, so I’ll sit it out. But you can’t sit it out! You have to check with your doctor, of course, go to physical therapy, and learn how to move. Have them show you how to work around whatever pain you have in your body and improve it. My physical therapist did. I was thrilled that I got better even after three different doctors told me I needed double-hip replacement surgery and rotator cuff surgery. At my age, sitting still is the enemy. You’ve got to keep moving or you rust. So grease those joints!

Christie Brinkley
Top, Solace London. Jeans, DL1961.

Photo Credit: Gian Andrea Di Stefano

How often do you exercise?

My plate is pretty full, but I incorporate exercise in one form or another every day. I really do use my Total Gym—that is one consistent exercise. Some days, it’s just going down to the beach with the dogs and running. As I recommend in the book, work exercise into your everyday routine. As I’m drying my hair, I do some squats, or lean forward and work on my glutes. When I have a moment, I’ll drop and do some push-ups.

On a personal level, you’re now 63. Would you like to marry again? 

Marry? No, not at this point. I would like to fall in love again.

So what’s dating like for you?

Dating in your 60s isn’t easy. It’s difficult to meet people at this age, for sure. I don’t go on those (dating) websites, so what am I going to do? It’s sort of a conundrum. When you’re younger, everyone assumes you’re not married; when you are older, they just assume that you are. I think I am going to order some T-shirts that say, “I’m single!”

You’ve launched a lot of business projects in the past several years. What news do you have for the rest of 2017?

In terms of the “beauty empire,” we’re dramatically expanding our skin care line and expanding eyewear and hair extensions too. We’ll be saturating the U.S. with Bellissima prosecco and taking it global. I just did a TV show for Nightcap (a joint venture between CBS and Lionsgate; the comedy show was created by Ali Wentworth), which will air on Pop TV. I get to play a version of myself that’s nothing like me, so it was quite a stretch. I’d love to do more of that kind of stuff.

What are your go-to labels?

Lately Saint Laurent, but I also wear a lot of jeans: Rag & Bone and J Brand. Victoria Beckham cuts thing so beautifully. It’s Gianvito Rossi for shoes; pair them with jeans and you’re done.

What’s the most and least expensive items in your closet? 

A dress from Tom Ford that I just got is the most expensive, and the least are my Havaianas.

From your vantage point of more than four decades in the business, what advice would you have given to your twentysomething self?

Buy Apple stock! Just relax and enjoy the ride. No matter what you do, if your intentions are good, you can’t fail. You know, go forth with good intentions and live life to the fullest. Carpe diem, baby!