Read an Excerpt
A Life in Fashion
I've never been really good at talking about myself. I think actions speak louder than words, and ever since I first started gaining notice as America's most famous Teenage Fashion Model I've always tried to put my best foot forward. Leafing through this book, a photo album gathering together the fabulous fashions I have worn through the years, I suddenly realize how much has happened during my lifetime. It's been a high-flying roller coaster ride, and you, my wonderful friends and fans, have enjoyed the thrills and chills with me--all the time inspiring me, confiding in me, caring for me. I couldn't have done it without you.
Today, models have become big business. Like actresses and entertainers, fashion models are superstars with incredible incomes. But when I began my modeling career in March 1959, the world was a different place. The stars were up in the sky--and in our eyes. After I answered yes to my first photo assignment, I hung up the phone and jumped for joy. When I floated back down to earth, I went straight to my desk to look up the word "model" in the dictionary.
"A miniature representation of something; an example for imitation; an ideal." That definition in Webster's told me almost more than I wanted to know about the career path I'd begun. Of course it was thrilling to be the first girl in high school to earn a real live paycheck--simply for wearing the most beautiful clothes in the world! But now all eyes would be watching me. Girls I didn't even know would look up to me. I decided I wasn't going to let them down.
Right from the start, I was known by just my first name. In fashion, this is a time-honored tradition. If a model is lucky, hername will be a perfect match for her look and character, almost symbolic. In my first decade of modeling, the 1960s, there was huge Veruschka, an endlessly exotic Russian, and skinny Twiggy, a tender British shoot. As you can see, compared to these, Barbie is a rather ordinary name. But it turns out that I was in the right place at the right time, because fashion was ready for a girl who could represent all-American can-do and enthusiasm.
There's no question that my full figure caused a sensation. Some people say I was America's answer to France's ye-ye girl, Brigitte Bardot. But I've always been more apple pie than cheesecake. In 1959, the year I debuted, the hourglass shape was the ideal, and the many minutes a girl spent on her appearance each day were considered an important part of self-image. Eyeliner, lipstick, and a powdered nose, undergarments that smoothed and shaped the body into predictable curves--these were the foundations of an ensemble. An ensemble style was the key to elegance. And elegance was the result of discipline. In 1960, all a teen had to do was look to America's First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, to see that only out of effort came effortlessness.
When I first began modeling, makeup was a bit more emphatic. Eyebrows were carefully sculpted, and for two years mine arched in a cool, sophisticated manner. Eyeliner, especially, required a super-calm hand (I took a deep breath before drawing each line), and for many years I preferred an almond-eyed tilt, very Sophia Loren. Suntanning was definitely not in, and my skin was an ivory bisque. Early in the sixties, though, my makeup artist relaxed my brows and toned down my lip and nail shades to a pale pink (a sort of strawberry ice cream), and we began highlighting the rosy tones in my complexion. In 1971, during a trip to Malibu, I got my first tan.
If you look through my portfolio, you will notice a softening of rigid rules in makeup. I see a transformation from a very exact and formal self-presentation, an almost theatrical stress on perfection, to a more informal, natural kind of beauty. When I look at my early self, I see a young woman who seems to be keeping secrets. The way I look today--smiling so much you can see my dimple!--strikes me as more direct and ready for anything.
Even my hairstyles reflect the trend toward brush-and-go preparation. Once I let my hair down in the late sixties, I never really went back to fancy coiffeurs. From the seventies on, I've worn my locks long and wavy, and have settled on blonde as the color that suits me best (though I still love to experiment). But for years I had a handful of classic colors--White Ginger, a creamy platinum, and Titian, a Renaissance auburn--and distinctive hairstyles that came to be identified with me. Many people still remember my very first "do"--that famous swing ponytail with the poodle bangs.
Some people cringe when they catch glimpses of their old selves, but I adore how a hairstyle or cosmetic color brings back the atmosphere of an era. Chocolate Bon Bon and Cupa-Co-Co are not just guilty pleasures that test my waistline, they're two of my haircolors from 1969, and they conjure up the plain-spoken sensuality that started the seventies (remember, Hair didn't hit Broadway until 1968). An even better form of remembrance is the touch and sight and even sound of the clothes one wore. The feel of the fabric. The character of the construction. The line, the length, the look. Boy, did I wear some beauties. Say "Barbie" and people will describe fashion favorites from as far back as '59, as if it were yesterday!
As I said earlier, my timing couldn't have been better. When I took my first--dare I saw nervous--turn down the runway, fashion was still measured in the magical, manicured hands of this century's great international houses: Balenciaga, Chanel, Dior. It was a time of couture classicism and my early ensembles spoke with a daring French accent, and sometimes with a bit of Italian.
And yet change was in the air. Ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev defected from the Soviet Union in 1961, the Twist untwisted decorum in '62, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman launched into outer space in '63, and in their collarless suits, the Beatles blasted off on Ed Sullivan in 1964.
Everyone, everything was getting aired out. My beautiful ensembles of the early sixties, such a pleasure to wear, yet requiring such planning and unflinchingly perfect posture, gave way to kickier, more youthful designs. The "ensemble" as we knew it (coordinated shoes, gloves, handbag, and hat), loosened its grip on our lives. And we began to move differently. British and American designers gave us clothes that danced--the Frug, the Pony, the Mashed Potato--and I wore, or rather danced, them all. The Mod years were here.
Am I upsetting anyone if I say that the 1970s weren't my favorite decade for design? The force field fizzled, and the seventies saw a regrouping, a rethinking, a return to grassroots and groundswell. Ecology and economy were the bywords of the time and in fashion terms that meant knits, linens, wools, in league with synthetics of all kinds.
In 1980, the movie 10 (as in "a perfect 10") came out and, to my mind, set the tone of the decade. Women were ready to do and have it all. To be or not to be perfect wives, mothers, and career professionals, all at once--that was the question. The women characters on popular nighttime soap operas like "Dallas" and "Dynasty," whether they were CEOs or MRSs, glittered in glamorous gowns and power suits, examples of a new female elite. This stress on grasping and sculpting our own destinies went hand in hand with the fitness trend, which set a new standard for female strength and shape. Muscle was in, indolence was out: "definition" was the watchword. It wasn't just upper arms and midriff that we were redefining, but our place in society.
A curious thing happened to me in the 1990s. I became an "icon." That's a fancy word intellectuals use when they want to say something or someone is both famous and symbolic. Which is what happened to me in 1994, when I reached the thirty-fifth anniversary of my modeling career. Suddenly everyone was writing books and articles about me: remembering my debut in 1959, analyzing my figure and my fashion influence, and honoring my amazing popularity and staying power. Parties were thrown for me all around the world. It was exciting and touching. Dazzle has always been a part of my mystique, but as you can see in looking through this book, the sparkle has usually been in my step or on my dresses. Oh, on occasion I have worn a diamond or two, and in the 1980s I went with the flow and wore fun faux jewelry (I'm absolutely mad about the little green palm tree earrings that went with my polka-dot bikini in 1988). My first gold hoops are now classics, and I would hate to lose one. But of all the gems one might choose from, pearls have been my constant companion. I treasure their modesty, their mystery, their luster, their life. If I were a jewel, I like to think I would be a pearl. A pink one.