Brooke Shields: Iconic
By Devorah Rose
Photography by Gian Andrea di Stefano
Jewelry provided by:
Leibish & Co.
Today’s celebrity culture has become a modern religion and its roots can be found in the human tradition of hero worship. From ancient Egypt to the Roman Empire, gods and their trysts have enthralled the imagination of man. Heroes and the tales they’ve inspired have been the central theme of minstrels, historians, sculptors, and painters through the ages. And when the gods went out of fashion, there were royals and generals whose tales of victory lifted people out of the mundane and into spheres larger than life. “So long as man remains free,” Dostoyevsky wrote in The Brothers Karamazov, “he strives for nothing so incessantly and painfully as to find someone to worship.” In today’s society, we have become a culture that voraciously worships and devours the famous. In America a celebrity is built up, idolized, ripped down, and replaced with whip-lash quickness. Few survive the test of time, and those select individuals are considered icons. Brooke Shields is one of the few.
Unlike Athena, Brooke was not born from Zeus’ forehead, fully grown and prepared for battle with a spear and an innate prowess. Brooke’s life has been a collection of intense bursts of fame that she has survived and built upon. Both the Calvin Klein jeans she wore in a much-discussed ad as well as controversial images of her as a child have been exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She wasn’t just the girl-next-door crush of the ’80s. Time magazine immortalized her face by branding it the look of the decade. Unlike tremendous moments that can be captured on film or commoditized on magazine covers and through the sales of products, a person is a dynamic and ever-shifting being. And so, I sat down with Brooke at Buvette on two separate occasions to discuss what it feels like to be a real person who happens to be famous, what projects excite her, and what she has learned and taken away from her journey up to this point.
In the back of the tiny French bistro, over two steaming lattes, it’s hard not to ask about the new Calvin Klein jeans label, which is an image of Brooke Shield’s iconic 1980s campaign. I ask, “So how did it feel to get back into your Calvins?” Brooke smiled, “Well the funny thing was, when I went to the Calvin event, I was wearing a Calvin Klein outfit but not the jeans. After the show I went back to my house and looked through all my jeans, and I realized that I don’t own one pair of Calvins. So during a call with my agent, I mentioned that I didn’t have any Calvins, and a few days later a bag filled with jeans came to my house. I took them to my room, alone, and I tried them all on. They gave me an array of jeans. I sat on the floor going through the jeans . . . and yes, it was an emotional moment for me and I didn’t want anyone else to be in the room. I wanted to have my own experience. Don’t worry, I didn’t get on the floor and do the pose. If I had done that, I would have had to be sent away.” She laughs and takes a sip of coffee. “But I did look at myself in the mirror and I thought: Okay, okay, this is good . . . you look good. And then a really cool thing happened. I got to give two pairs of the jeans to my daughter Rowan. She is fourteen years old. That’s close to the age I was when I shot the ad. I didn’t say anything when I gave her the jeans, and we didn’t talk about it, but it was definitely a full-circle moment.”
During the cover shoot, on a top floor of the Four Seasons Downtown, overlooking the Twin Towers Memorial, and the Statue of Liberty a speck in the distance, Brooke got back into her Calvins. It was a decision that happened organically on set, but the air crackled with excitement, and an assistant was sent to the nearest store that sells Calvin Klein underwear.
Just shy of her fifty-second birthday, Brooke Shields looked absolutely stunning. She walked onto the set, casually and comfortably, like it was the most natural thing in the world. And you know what? It kinda was. Reflecting on that day, Brooke says, “Right now I’m proud of where I’ve gotten with my body because getting in shape is something I’ve worked really, really hard at. I have trained hard and it feels great. I’m finally confident and comfortable in my skin. I’m definitely more comfortable now than when I first shot Calvin. I never had physical confidence; I had to work for it. And now I feel energized by it. It’s everything I’ve never been in my mind. But I still shocked myself when I got into Calvin Klein underwear 37 years later. I trusted you and Gian, and I’m glad I did it. I’m happy with who I am and where I am and what I look like. This is me.”
I remark, “The last time you were in Calvin Kleins you were a fifteen-year old girl, and now you are a mother. You have changed both physically and emotionally. What’s it like to make this decision at this point in your life?” Brooke nods, then says, “I thought to myself: You have to take this step because it’s an important step for you and it’s an important step for your age. It’s been months and months of very hard, grueling work, and I’m proud of being and looking healthy. I think it’s a good image for children, teenagers, and women to see. We shouldn’t just see fifteen-year old bodies. I don’t want a fifteen-year old body. I don’t want to look like a little boy. I have curves. and I’ve worked on my strength. It’s nice to grow into this moment.”
Having finished plates of scrambled eggs, asparagus smothered in béchamel, and toasted baguette slices dappled with olive oil, we start to talk about Brooke’s daughters Rowan and Grier. I ask if she will encourage or allow her daughters to go into the arts. Like an instant knee-jerk, Brooke raises her eyebrows and responds, “Well, my older one loves musical theater and really enjoys doing school plays. And then my younger one has people coming up to her encouraging her left and right. But, listen, it’s a cutthroat and demoralizing business. Plus, they want you when they want you, and you have to be there for auditions and work, and my kids aren’t missing school. After college, if they still have the bug, they can pursue it then, but school is first.”
“Why is education important to you?” I ask. “My intellect was the only thing that got me out of the craziness and gave me perspective. I always knew I wanted an education. Also my mom was smart because she didn’t have a formal education past high school but she valued it. It’s been an important part of my life. Graduating from college was the first time I felt like I had a real hold on my life. Having that was so helpful because I was in for a decade of not being in a great place in my career. If I hadn’t had the intellectual piece as my friend, I would have been more devoured by an industry that has no loyalty whatsoever. You do think because you’ve been in the industry all of your life it will be loyal, but it’s the antithesis of that. An education is grounding and it gives you control over your life.”
There are experiences that give you control over your life and others that are more disempowering. In a culture obsessed with fame and being seen, does being seen bring about riches, happiness, and success? When Time magazine placed an image of Brooke Shields on it’s cover with the caption “The ’80s Look,” it made Brooke Shields the face of the decade. And so I ask her what was the experience like for her. What is the personal and professional outcome of being put on a pedestal, selling hundreds of thousands of magazines, and becoming — at the time — one of the most recognizable faces on the planet? “It’s odd to have a face that Time magazine says is the face of the decade. It’s not like God is the creative director of Time. It’s weird. It’s supposed to be an honor, but it objectifies; it makes you this thing, this symbol, and what do you do with that? For me, the accolades became barriers. It became hard for people to get past me. I couldn’t blend. It was harder to get roles. It didn’t help; it hindered.”
The next time I see Brooke, she is wearing oversized sunglasses, a messy bun, and is incognito. We sat down at the back of the same French bistro to talk about Daisy Winters, an independent film that is close to her heart. It is a project unlike anything Brooke had worked on before. “I didn’t want to do it,” she confesses. Brooke told Beth LaMure, the writer-director, “There are plenty of other actresses. Serious actresses. You don’t want me. I’m funny.” The more Brooke insisted she wasn’t right for the part, the more convinced LaMure became that Brooke was the perfect fit. Eventually Brooke took the part.
Brooke shared a story that happened during the early days of filming: “One day LaMure said, ‘I have to talk to you. We are going to reshoot yesterday’s work.’ I told LaMure that she didn’t need to reshoot. She needed to recast. I kept saying, ‘I told you so,” until LaMure said, ‘Stop talking. What I want you to do is relax your face. You are too talented to have your face get in the way.’ I asked how I could get away from my face and Beth said. ‘Don’t do anything. Just relax your face — no expressions, just let the words come out. The minute you start to express, I see Suddenly Susan or Lipstick Jungle.’ ” Brooke shook her head with a smile and confided, “It was so uncomfortable for me because I rely on those expressions for safety — they’re my go-to. That’s the show person that comes to the rescue. When I was doing Pretty Baby, I would make the other girls laugh on set during downtime. In Daisy Winters I got to explore what’s behind the expression that might be enough. It was frightening. She stripped away the theatrics. I had nothing to fall back on, but it just worked.” The two formed a close bond. They would go antique shopping and enjoyed spending time together. Unexpectedly, Beth LaMure had a sudden death and the film has not yet found its home. Although Brooke mourned her dear friend, she treasures the experience. For someone who has enjoyed a life of recognition, she now values experiences and Daisy Winters is not just a film she worked on, but was a labor of love and growth. Brooke said, “I needed Beth to learn how to move past the theatrics. The experience taught me that I can do a serious piece and I am glad I have that. I will always treasure the experience. For a long time, being just a comedic actress made me feel like I wasn’t enough, but with this film, the work and growth allowed me to transcend that.”
And what is there now? What is left after hit shows, iconic fashion campaigns, timeless movies, and personal experiences immortalized in controversial bestsellers?
“I feel that I’m on the precipice of something new. My life has always been very cyclical, and I feel as if I’m at the begging of a new cycle. For the first time, I feel really in control of my career. I’m working on a one-woman show and a couple of other projects. I’m most excited about being really involved in my work and generating my own work.”
As we discuss favorite books, two flutes of Champagne arrive at our table. “Happy birthday drinks from two fans at the bar,” the waitress announces. We both look at each other surprised. Brooke had walked into the bistro incognito and rushed past the bar — how did anyone recognize her? Brooke, who is kind and warmhearted, immediately wonders what could be the proper protocol to thank a stranger. After a lifetime of having fans, Brooke Shields is still an authentic person who wants to repay kindness with kindness. Eventually, the two fans from the bar, students visiting New York from Korea, approach the table in order to chat with Brooke. Instead of talking about herself, she asks about them. After a brief conversation, the pair are happily on their way to explore the city. And I can’t help but notice who Brooke Shields really is. No matter how many images and movies the American celebrity machine has created of her, Brooke Shields remains simply, authentically, just herself, a real person … who just happens to be an American icon.
Producer: Devorah Rose
Creative direction and concept: Devorah Rose with Gian Andrea di Stefano
Photography: Gian Andrea di Stefano
Wardrobe stylist: Ashley Pruitt
Stylist assistant: Valeria Leonova
Hair stylist: Tim Nolan
Makeup artist: Meredith Baraf
Location: 30 Park Place Four Seasons Private Residences New York Downtown
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