Carolyn Murphy and I met when we were both starting out in NY in the nineties. I have so many fond memories of us working together with Mario Sorrenti, Testino, Bruce Weber and Ellen Von Unwerth… Carolyn was in the ‘post-supermodel’ generation of girls and although her career began in the so-called ‘grunge’ era, she is akin to her supermodel predecessors who worked hard to build up a solid editorial career. Like them, she is in the league of ‘the perennial muse’.
I was fortunate to get very used her cute little face, smile and easy-going nature, she was a joy to work with and it’s no surprise that she became an American beauty icon for Estee Lauder. We reconnected via twitter recently and she gave me this lovely interview.
Carolyn, tell me a bit about your family life, where did you grow up?
I was born in Florida but only because my father was military, he and my mother are from VA. I was raised between FL, the once desolate beaches of the Gulf Coast, and my families farm and city house in VA. My childhood wasn’t perfect but early on I learned that nature, literature, travel and art would be my saviors.
How did you start modelling and how old were you?
My mother put me in what’s called a “charm school” when I was 16 years old. She thought I was lacking confidence because I was quiet, a tomboy and more into art. In reality, I was just a nerd!
How long have you been modelling? I’ve been modelling since I was 16, I am now bordering 39- over 20 years.
Where are you? I am now bi-coastal, between NY and LA. I “love” NY for the stimulation and sophistication. I “like” LA and use it to gain space, gather my thoughts in nature and recharge.
Where do you live? I live in a very suburban neighborhood, which most of LA is I guess. It terrifies me because it feels mediocre and boring at times. I know I won’t stay here forever and will return to NY full time and stay put.
What are you up to at the moment? At the moment I am seeking balance between self care, motherhood, my career as a model and new adventures. My brain never stops, I am always thinking of new ideas to expand and create but need to “feel” it and let my instincts guide me. I am in the midst of creating a new blog that appeals to both men and women, one that holds space for all things positively and creatively stimulating. Also developing a television show that will help bring the real meaning of “health” and inspiration to the forefront of viewers minds, rather than competition or materialism.
How long have you been an Estee Lauder ambassador?
I have been with Estée Lauder since 2001. It’s a model’s dream to secure a cosmetic contract, the holy grail and I am forever grateful.
Tell me a bit about what the company stands for and what that means to you?
Estée Lauder to me means heritage and luxury, it’s iconic. Estée herself was renowned for saying that every woman is beautiful, but that you just can’t be lazy about it! She created a company that defined beauty by creating products that were quality and she wanted share with women her motivation. I find her to have been a very contagious spirit of a woman and the brands products still prove that- they are timeless.
I’m very quiet about the charity work I get involved with. I tend to work closely with animals and children, and do a lot of volunteer work to keep it hands on. Equine therapy for autism, fostering dogs from shelters and finding them homes, speaking of Rudolf Steiner and the importance of Waldorf education in today’s techno world, the need for natural birth through midwifery and “back to basics” in nutrition. What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wasn’t really specific on what I wanted to be when I grew up because I felt I could do anything and everything- one minute I was a vet, then a bohemian artist, then musician, then a National Geographic photographer, etc…books usually influenced me. The one thing I was sure about was that I would always need to create, to be an artist in some way, to travel the world and gain knowledge through experience. I was a huge dreamer and still am, thank God!
Who were your style or beauty icons when you were an early teen?
When I was an early teen I loved Georgia O’Keeffe, Paulina Porizkova, Jane Goodall, Patti Smith….
What did they represent to you at the time?
These women represented something different, women who weren’t obvious, at least where I grew up. I wanted to create art like Georgia, she was erotic and soulful but I loved her long braid and black clothes. I wanted to look like Paulina with her hair slicked off her face and piercing eyes, she represented a sharp beauty and almost haunting presence. Jane Goodall was serene and adventurous, solid in herself. Patti Smith was quirky, and I could relate to her gawkiness but I loved her edge.
Who are your favourite heroes/heroines of fiction?
My favorite heroines in fiction are Morgan Le Fay of “Mists of Avalon”, Catherine in “Wuthering Heights”, the archetype of Artemis…. I think Queen Elizabeth was an incredible heroine, as was Bella Abzug, Martin Luther King, Diane Fossey, Rudolf Steiner (right), Jane Goodall, Jacques Cousteau and Dalai Lama. Anyone who takes a stand for what they believe in.
You clearly love literature, what are your favourite books and why?
I love, love books and really am grateful they exist, that writers exist. There are so many authors I admire and crave to escape into the worlds they imagine. It’s too difficult to mention favorites but when I opened “Jane Eyre” at 9 years old, it changed my life. I went deep into Austen and Bronte (above left) because I could fantasize about castles and countrysides, feel the characters pain and fall in love. As I got older I wanted the beatniks and self discovery, became obsessed with Anais Nin, Arthur Miller, Tolstoy, Dylan Thomas, then Emerson and Thoreau….the list goes on and on. Of late, to Annie Dillard and Willa Cather.
Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration in nature mostly, imagination and it’s endless possibilities, people with stories to tell, places with layers of history, art and music. I never want to be bored and surround myself with all of the above. My daughter is a huge inspiration because she’s so free and open, the world is her oyster.
What do you love the most about fashion?
What I love most about fashion is the artists that create and every little detail- I love knowing where they came from, what inspires them, their journey and the metamorphosis of the their creations, the references and tactile work. Clothes are a form of expression but for me it’s always the story that makes the connection.
Who continues to surprise/inspire you in the industry? For me Karl Lagerfeld is true inspiration and originality. He’s a very rare breed that continues to evolve himself and his expression in his art and I think he’ll continue to surprise us- I find him mysterious and enchanting, otherworldly.
For those reasons I also love Steven Meisel as a photographer in capturing the essence of the art form- he’s a genius. I do miss Alexander McQueen (Carolyn right in McQueen) and feel that he was a true legend.
What are your thoughts on on aging and what this means today- are attitudes changing for the better? I think you are as old as you think and feel. It’s just a number that marks your years on this planet. Imagine if we didn’t have it and we just existed, you wouldn’t think about it or worse even, compare. I think the stereotypes are getting worse and extreme, it scares me and I try to shelter my daughter from media and pop culture as a result. Beauty comes from within and as my Nana has always said, “beauty is as beauty does”.
What would you like to see more-or less of in the fashion industry?
I’d like to see more passion and less of a corporate cachet. I’d like to see diversity in models ethnicity, shapes and ages. It’s getting too homogenized on the runways. I’d like to see a Hasselblad camera and have long lunches on set….
What creative outlet would you- one day- like to pursue that you haven’t already?
I’d like to pursue architecture. I love home design from exterior to interior. I would like to play classical piano as well.
What quality do you most admire in a woman? I admire a woman who is feminine. Real female strength is remembering the Goddess within, no matter what- women have confused success and work with acting like men. Oh, and that’s another good book- “The Goddess Within”.
What quality do you most admire in a man? I admire honesty. If you’re an honest man, then you live in this world with conviction and aren’t afraid to expose all sides of yourself.
Who do you admire, past or present and why? I admire mother nature because she is constantly giving and forgiving us. Her rhythms and reactions are her way of reminding us that we are only in control of ourselves, our thoughts, feelings and actions. We stupidly destroy ourselves and what’s around us.
In what ways has your life turned out as planned? My life has turned out as planned in that I am healthy, evolving, seeking and enjoying. In this, I find gratitude for those simple things and in a way, they are all a reflection rather than a “plan”.
If money were now absolutely no object, how would you live your life? I’ve thought of this often- I’d feel less pressure to work, and would work less, especially as a single mother. I’d travel more, bring Dylan with a teacher in tow, live in different places for education and experiences, find more ways to give back through philanthropic endeavors.
In one word, what does the world need most right now? Mindfulness.
Favourite Haircare/beauty/health supplements (I remember you used to take Viviscal for your hair!) Hah! I take BioSil and Biotin supplements for my hair, also MegaFood “Baby and Me” supplements, Omega3/6/9….drink lots of alkaline water from my home water system, veggie juices from my Breville juicer.…Oribe Hair Color hair care and moisturizing hair mask.
Exercise..Hiking and yoga…sometimes swimming.
Food. I eat a plant based diet, eat locally and organically raised produce, occasionally grass fed no antibiotic or hormones meat, do not keep processed foods in my house, have chickens for fresh eggs, a massive veggie garden and love “Nourishing Traditions” take on necessity of whole foods, Weston Price and Alice Waters.
Favourite Spas? Best spa in the world is Five Elements in Ubud, Bali.
Any ideas you’d like to endorse? I’d like to endorse the importance of women breaking cycles of being suppressed and living in the fear that the dogma created around us. We are truly so strong and I mean that in the way of the feminine, we are the healers of this planet and must teach our children. Self care through spirituality, nutrition and wisdom is more vital than ever!
Thank you Carolyn. X
Watch Carolyn play with fire… in Ryan McGinley’s beautiful film clip..
Follow Carolyn on twitter HERE
Pictures of Carolyn on the beach with her dog by her daughter Dylan for Rag & Bone.