In case you were a little distracted when Christie Brinkley graced the cover of Sports Illustrated a couple of years ago, at 63, it might be surprising to hear the supermodel is eligible for Medicare.
As for how she’s spending her 65th birthday this Saturday? According to Brinkley, who’s not only the record holder for longest-ever CoverGirl contract but also a stealth lifestyle mogul worth an estimated $250 million, she’s scarcely had time to give it any thought.
In fact, she says, if it weren’t for her kids repeatedly asking her the same thing, she might not have had time to think about it at all. “I’m so busy right now that I really couldn’t make up a plan. And my kids kept saying, ‘Mom what do you want to do? What should we do? Should we go skiing, or what?’ ”
What they settled on, she notes, is having two of her adult children attend a work-related party being given in her honor this week, then spending a quieter Saturday at home in the Hamptons. (Her tip for never having a truly empty nest? “It’s all about the real estate. Get a place on a ski mountain or a beach, and they come home,” she half-jokes.)
The birthday fun will extend into next week, too, when her youngest daughter, Sailor Lee Brinkley-Cook, 20, flies in from Australia. “She has a couple of jobs here, so she’s coming back for that,” says the proud mom of her daughter’s recently launched modeling career — one Brinkley finds “exciting” to watch, and one she can’t help but compare to her own. “We’re so much alike in so many ways.”
As in, the blond mane? The insane cheekbones? No, she says, as in, the “hesitation.” Having moved to Paris at 18 to attend art school, Brinkley was famously discovered on the street by a photographer and booked, over a series of rapid-fire transatlantic meetings and lunches, by arguably the biggest modeling house going. But as she tells is, speed did not equal certitude.
“When I started my career, I was a very reluctant model. Like, it was not part of my plan. I really didn’t like so many things about the idea of it, you know? And she’s doing the exact same thing. She’s, like, ‘No, no, I’m not really a model. I’m going to be a photographer.’ And I was doing the same thing. I was saying, ‘I’m going to be an artist.’ ”
But she and her daughter, Brinkley notes, are also alike in their enjoyment of the work. “At the same time that all of that trepidation is going on, for every single job, we arrive and love every minute of it, and have a great experience and a great time.” Brinkley says she still “absolutely loves” modeling but is quick to note that she especially appreciates “what modeling has become, and the ability to build businesses” with it.
So how did she build her own empire — she’s the face of the cosmetic procedure Ultherapy, a frequent QVC guest through her Total Gym endorsements (“still the No. 1 selling piece of home gym equipment in the world,”) and the owner of Bellissima organic prosecco, among many other ventures — without the help, in the beginning, of Instagram or Facebook?
"It’s not the kind of job where you do a ton of planning. It’s more about being ready for the opportunities when they come along, ” she says.
But if fate has smiled on Christie Brinkley, she’s smiled back — and held the expression long enough to ensure a great take. For a day of spokesperson work, spent largely talking to reporters in a swanky hotel suite while a wintry mix threatens slick Manhattan streets outside, Brinkley has not dressed in doyenne-like comfort — in a roomy cashmere wrap, for example, over cozy leggings and booties.
No, this former California girl is zipped into a form-fitting royal blue jumpsuit that shows every still-perfect curve and leaves no real room for any dietary transgression. (She'll change into a metallic mini dress for the evening birthday event scheduled in her honor later.) By the way, that dinner party is sponsored by the makers of ultherapy, the cosmetic procedure she’s paid to endorse.
And sell it she does, talking about her own use of the skin-firming procedure, which she believes can help other women “overcome the restrictions that some of them still feel.” As she tells it, it’s time for boomer women to stop letting “numbers influence the way you’re supposed to behave” and to “reshape those numbers” themselves.
And, of course, it’s always a good time to simply look fantastic. “I think that this generation is a generation that has grown up understanding the importance of nutrition and exercise and 40, 50, 60 doesn’t look like how it used to look. We want to look as good as we feel.”
For her part, Brinkley does this with, yes, a few cosmetic procedures. She uses the product she’s fronting today, which uses ultrasound technology to “create collagen and elastin like you used to when you were younger,” and which purports to offer a critical little lift to gravity-challenged necks, eyebrows or cheeks. She’s also copped in the past to fillers. Beyond that, Brinkley says she really does regularly use another of her endorsed products, the Total Gym. (“Building muscle is so important as you age.”)
And yes, just like modeling, she was initially reluctant to make an infomercial about the home gym and was worried it might “tarnish” her career, or that people would find her “fake.” She’s let those worries go, she says, but holds to a fundamental litmus test for any product she may help sell: She has to use it and love it. And doing so, she thinks, has some value for older women. “A lot of people don’t want to share when they hit upon something that works for them,” she notes. “They want to continue to pretend like, ‘I woke up this way. I was born this way’ …”
Brinkley says that she otherwise maintains her somewhat outrageously toned physique with the help of everything from power walking on the beach to kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, biking and skiing. (“I love all that action stuff.”) But she sees her biggest age-defying health and beauty secret as her vegetarian diet, which she began in her early teens.
Her mom, she says, was the family’s “original health nut,” who even convinced her then slightly “chubby” daughter that she was allergic to chocolate (though she was not), providing carob-covered rose hips in place of chocolate cupcakes. But it was Christie herself who turned the family vegetarian at the ripe old age of 13, with her parents willing participants in reading Adelle Davis’ books on healthy eating together.
“I did it because of good karma of not hurting the animals, but I have been reaping the benefits ever since,” Brinkley says, explaining that she’s especially wary of the side effects of ingesting the chemicals and growth hormones given to animals in what she calls the slaughterhouse system.
But while she’s game to discuss her beauty and exercise secrets, Brinkley seems most excited when talking about her business ventures and projects — she can tell you a lot about how non-vegan prosecco is filtered through fish parts, for instance — and she clearly has no intention of slowing down any time soon.
Having paved the way for models everywhere to direct their own brands, her own has quite a bit more fuel in the tank. “I think the 60s are pretty exciting because you kind of are free of any little voices that might challenge you. And you feel just ready for anything, like, I don’t know … nothing’s gonna stop me now!”