Today, Lauren Hutton, an icon of all-American beauty since she began modeling in the early '70s, defines aging gracefully. Criticized in her early days in the industry for her famously gap-toothed smiled, Hutton instead embraced the imperfection, turning it into her signature, and in the process defying fashion's elusive beauty standards. In fact, Hutton's always been something of a rule-breaker, which is why she's one of the ultimate Royals featured in W's October issue. As a model, she was the first to demand a contract, scoring a $250,000 deal with Revlon that overnight changed the way models were compensated. "Within weeks, no girl was working by the hour," she recalls in an interview. The Gigi Hadids and Kendall Jenners of fashion, with their astronomical advertising contracts, owe Hutton a world of gratitude. Along the way, Hutton also became one of the first models to successfully transition into a Hollywood career, landing iconic roles in now classic films like American Gigolo and The Gambler. But what she's most proud of, she says, is being out there still—she turns 74 in November—working and making clear that women are beautiful at any age. It's no wonder, then, why brands are still beckoning, from Bottega Veneta, which cast her alongside Hadid in its runway show around this time last year, to Calvin Klein, which featured her in its groundbreaking underwear campaign directed by Sofia Coppola.
When you decide that you wanted to be a model?
I had to get to Africa, and I was totally unskilled at anything. And I wanted to be a painter, which, uh, wasn't going to work out. My eyes were bigger than my stomach on that. And so I wanted to go to Africa next, and then I found out how much money it was gonna cost. And, you know, we didn't have much information back in the '60s. There was no such thing as all the things that are on television about the life now around the world.
So one of the parts of your career that I like the best are your movies, especially The Gambler, American Gigolo and also the movie made with Burt Reynolds, Gator. Quentin Tarantino showed me that movie.
Did he? Gator? Well, bless him. I'll tell you, Burt was one of the best directors I ever had. He was wonderful because he wouldn't tell you what he was going to do if he wanted a particularly surprising effect because I guess he knew I had never studied, ever. So I couldn't really act. It was all sort of au naturel. In Gator, I was a reporter. We have become lovers, and he's out there taking care of the bad guys who are after all of us. In the end scene, I'm crying because I have been offered a chance to be an anchorwoman in New York, so I'm about to blow Augusta or Savannah or wherever we were in the movie. So, I'm saying goodbye to him, crying, snd he's behind the camera, and suddenly he whips out from behind the camera. And he plays this Groucho Marx thing where he walks in this weird Groucho walk and started going, 'La, la, la.' And I started howling, and I'm crying and laughing all at the same time.
That's a great scene. American Gigolo is such a classic now. Did you have trouble doing the nude scene?
Well, the terrible part about it was the the cameraman, who is a great cameraman, was riding the top of this cherry-picker camera, so he was above us. And Richard [Gere] was on top of me in the bed, and, and I had been so unloved for so long with my senator husband that I started crying. It was moving, and, I guess, it was just so sad. And I didn't know enough about movies at the time to understand that [the cameraman] was just on my face and that a hand blurring would be no good in a giant screen. And I tried to get the tears away because I thought it was something bad or wrong. I just didn't know anything about, movies or film or anything.
[Laughs] Who did you have a crush on in the movies? Did you have a cinematic crush on anyone in film?
Probably everybody I ever worked with. And in France, both Isabelle Adjani and Yves Montand at the same time, who wouldn't? I was the go-between for the two of them. They were playing father and daughter, and I was the American mistress to Yves. And on the set they didn't talk to each other. Yves certainly did, who is one of the best storytellers I have ever met outside of Gérard Depardieu and Bobby De Niro.
So I know you don't want to go back in time, but I have to ask you about your Revlon contract because it was an amazing moment for women. Was there a moment where you knew that that's what you wanted to do?
The thing that was good about that, all through the '60s and up to almost the middle '70s, before I did the Revlon contract, we, models, worked by the hour. New York was the place because this is where you got the money. In Europe, you'd have to go get it for yourself or something ridiculous. I don't know. I never worked in Europe, but I heard terrible stories. And so girls who were good came all over from Europe to New York to work. And I was the last man standing, and all the great models had quit or gone. Jean Shrimpton, Veruschka, Twiggy—everybody was sort of gone. And I was about to turn 31, which is horrifying. I mean, no one was anywhere near that age. And I'm reading the front page of the New York Times, and I read this thing about a great baseball player, and he's about to turn 35 or 30 something. And he said 'I'm in a youth-oriented business. I have to have a $1 million contract or else.' I thought, 'Right, I'm in a youth-oriented business.' And I yelled over to my very smart man [former partner, Robert Williamson], and I said, 'I need a contract. What do I do?' And he didn't even look up from his Wall Street Journal and said, 'Tell, Tell Eileen [Ford] you won't do any makeup ads from now on.' She said, 'Are you crazy? You did four this past year. That's more than anybody.' But of course I was getting $400.00 a day for those makeup ads– for the few day jobs that we had. So I didn't do them anymore. And Bob also yelled over and said, 'Tell all your photographers.' So I did tell everybody, and Dick Avedon was the one who got it like that, and he said, 'Make it exclusive.' I remember laughing and saying, 'No one could afford that.' I was probably making $80,000 a year [laughs] or something. And, that's what we did. Well, it changed everything almost overnight. Within weeks, no girl was working by the hour. All the hour jobs left. It took six months to work it all out.
It was brave. It changed the whole industry.
I don't think it was as great as when I fought my way back at 47. I think that was a better thing because I just realized that I was looking at magazines and there was no one over 30 in them. And you sort of felt out and forgotten, and I wasn't even 37 yet and I looked really good. So I called every editor that I had, from every magazine all over the Western world and said, 'You know, we're at this nexus in history where women have got to be allowed to represent.'
All right, one more question. What's your secret skill? What are you good at that people would be surprised?
Mm-hmm. It's an awfully good thing to love and be good at, no? And it goes forever, guys and girls. You should remember that.
Watch: Model Gigi Hadid Reveals the Secret to Her Signature Runway Walk