I remember the first time I set eyes on Linda Rodin — in person, not just in pictures — several years ago at an industry event, where I not-so-secretly ogled her from afar. The stylist, accidental beauty entrepreneur, and, now, icon of agelessness, radiated something beyond great genes and a lit-from-within sunniness. Like some medicinal spritz or elixir, Rodin exudes a special kind of mystery. But the truth is, as you get to know her and discover what triggers that signature movie star smile, it’s not such a mystery after all. Her particular fountain of youth isn’t a fresh pressed turmeric juice or any other trendy potion; it's an abiding quest for newness, adventure...and a life of what could be.
After decades working in fashion as a stylist for big names ranging from Madonna to Harper’s Bazaar, Rodin found herself front and center, perhaps the unlikeliest of It girls, at the age of 65. At a time when most of her contemporaries are taking it easy, Rodin, now 70, is pretty much just getting started. Following a slew of press and photo shoots — including stories in Vogue and a starring role in a now-collectible Karen Walker eyewear campaign — and the 2014 sale of her surprise skincare line, RODIN olio lusso (which she launched at the age of 60 in 2008 and later sold to Estée Lauder for an undisclosed amount), Rodin is already firing up her next business venture, of which the details are still under wraps. “All I can say is that it’s another passion project that feels completely right for me,” she says.
As a woman in my 40s, my own perceptions of aging and cultural relevance are constantly being shaped, and reshaped, by media, history, my peers, and strong, uncommon women like Rodin. Self-made, self-styled, and independent, she's earned the freedom to pursue new skills and obsessions whenever she wants — with no expiration date. And this is probably what I love most about her. She doesn’t just scoff at societal odds and lingering, dusty stigmas; she's living proof that getting older as a woman can and should invite more opportunities and experiences — not less — and that radiance and relevance have nothing at all to do with age. Maybe it used to, but getting older doesn’t scare me so much anymore. In fact, it seems pretty thrilling...and I can thank women like Linda Rodin for that.
Christene: You’ve spoken a lot about how you’ve worn the same pieces and the same denim size for, like, 40 years. But I’d love for you to tell me a story about a time when your style really came into focus.
Linda: “It was probably maybe in my mid-30s when I just kind of got into my groove. I've always had the same silhouette basically, and so I never had to or wanted to radically change. Well, I had to wear like, muumuus (chuckles)...”
You went through a muumuu phase?
“No, but, of course, in the ‘60s we all wore stuff like that. But I think I got the denim thing early on, and I really never changed that. And I've never, ever been showy with my clothes. I was never into low-cut anything…”
Me neither. I dress like a nun.
“Me, too. I cover everything. But when I was 18, we had hot pants and mini skirts, and that was probably the end of it for me.”
Your makeup routine is probably similar to mine: glasses, lipstick, done.
“Lipstick. Yeah, that's it. I should probably wear more, but I, I can't stand it! For the last 40 years, I've been kind of on the same wagon. I was never a big makeup person. Never did much with my hair either.”
I’m not sure if you’ve experienced this, but I find as I get older, I’m more observant and, I suppose, caring of myself. Even if I only wear three products on my face, I make sure they’re the right products and they suit me.
“When I was growing up and aging, we weren't looking at ourselves that way. I didn't notice my neck until I was 65.”
Because we're all getting older in the age of hyper-public social media, I’m always curious to read about other women's experiences. Your particular brand of beauty is so inspiring to me because it feels ageless...I know so many women of all generations who look up to you and, ultimately, feel less afraid of getting older.
“It is flattering and lovely — and kind of odd — you know, to become visible at 60.”
Not just visible but iconic! Speaking of iconic, tell me three things in your wardrobe that you would never, ever get rid of.
“These jeans [pointing to her pants]. I wear vintage Levi's 501s all the time, and I probably have five that I love. I have a denim shirt that I've kept for 30 years. It's probably Levi’s too, and I've had it patched 100 times. It's literally threadbare. I was gonna wear it today, but I said, ‘Oh, my elbows!!’ And, I actually have a pair of shoes that I bought when I was 18 living in Italy. They're orange low-cut ballet slippers that I've had for 60 years.”
How long did you live in Italy?
“I followed a boyfriend when I was 18, and then I stayed and I learned Italian. I worked at a great art gallery in Milan and just became myself, to be honest. You know, I was a small-town girl growing up on Long Island, and it changed my life completely.”
I love that idea of 'becoming yourself'...do you have any philosophies about getting dressed?
“The easier, the better! I don’t like to primp, and I’ll get in a groove where I'll wear the same thing for a week. I really couldn’t care less.”
I do that, too. It's so liberating...
“Yeah, I mean, I just don’t like to dress up.”
I’ve read that your mother loved fashion and getting dressed up to go out. Was there anything that she did, a ritual, that you loved?
“[My parents] went out every Saturday night, and she would take egg whites and do a mask with just the whites.”
I'm intrigued! Have you ever done that?
“I've done it a few times. It's collagen. I never, ever had real products. We had soap and water. An egg. And we used beer to set our hair. I think when I was 16, we would buy lipstick.”
Well, that’s interesting, since you sold a very successful skincare company [RODIN olio lusso] just a few years ago to Estée Lauder...why do you think you wanted to start your own line?
“Oh, I have no idea! I call myself the accidental entrepreneur! Being a stylist for almost 40 years, I've worked with every makeup artist, every hairdresser. And, you sit at a table full of makeup. I wasn’t really interested so much in the makeup, but I was always interested in what they put on first, and I'd buy whatever someone had on their table. But about 10 years ago I decided to make something myself, because I always loved little potions. Whenever I'd travel, I'd collect little oils, so one day I decided to mix them together for myself. And I was just intoxicated by it. I loved the smell. I loved the way it felt. And I started putting it in little bottles and bringing it to photoshoots with no intention of selling it, I just wanted to share it. And everybody loved it. So fast forward, and I did build it on my own for eight years very successfully. I got successful enough that Lauder came knocking…”
What was that like?
“I wouldn't do it again. Sell it…”
“I need to be in the driver's seat. I'm very creative. I need to follow through with everything. I don’t wanna just give an idea and let someone else bake the cake. You know, it's not gonna taste right."
Switching back to style, did you ever experience an episode of “fashion fate,” where a piece or a new way of wearing something came into your life and changed everything? I remember the first time I found my first pair of high-waisted, wide-leg jeans at a thrift store in Austin in the early 2000s. I started wearing them, and it was just like when I first started wearing a center part, and everyone was like, ‘Eeeeh, what are you doing???’”
“Yeah, I love a center part. For me it was deciding to wear sneakers all the time. Mostly for the past five years. It made sense because I have a really bad back, and I can't wear heels. But, in one of your pictures, I'm wearing platforms, which I love!”
Those are yours, right?
“Yeah, I have to bring my own shoes, because nobody has my size.”
So here you are, a woman in your 70s – what do you love most about being where you are at this phase of your life?
“I love the fact that I'm happy.”
Never, ever take it for granted...it's really a practice, you know?
“Oh, God no. No. I mean, I'm the oldest one alive in my family!”
Well, high-five to that! It might sound weird, but I have to credit my plants as providing a real source of well-being for me. Aren’t you a plant lover, too?
“Yeah, [they are] the greatest thing. But they’re a lot of work. I mean, you have to talk to them...‘Are you thirsty? Today you get more water…do I need to move you?’"
[Laughs] I know! It's a lot of work but I always sense they really appreciate it. So, what's your take on how the fashion industry speaks to older women? Do you observe it or have any feelings about it?
"I think it's a trend, you know, when Prada and Céline were using Joan Didion and Joni Mitchell...you know, another thing I'll tell you that I’ve realized. Thinking back, I was really cute...but then, it never occurred to me. I think I always took that for granted. I mean, I never had a boyfriend. I was just like a nerd. Very studious and all of that."
But, did you ever want a boyfriend?
“Oh, yeah. I had a million boyfriends when I moved to Italy. But I haven't had a boyfriend in three years, and I couldn’t care less.”
Hah! Okay, is there anything that you think is just dead wrong about dressing as you get older?
“Well, you could just walk around and shuffle your feet and wear sack dresses, you know, because you're giving up. And I think that’s dead wrong, or trying to look too young. But you know, look at me! I'm wearing sneakers and jeans, so maybe people think, ‘Ugh, she should really give that up.' You know, I just don’t know!”
Tell me about your closet. I imagine it’s like a shrine, but I always seem to be wrong about these things...maybe it’s a mess! Give me a visual image…
“I've been living in my building for 40 years. And I've been living in the same apartment for 25. So, I have three closets. One is like a vacuum cleaner closet. One is underwear, sweaters, and folded stuff. And then the other one is for everything that’s hanging. Up until two weeks ago, I couldn’t even get into it! I could only wear what I could kind of see at the edge because it was so packed. I mean, I'd have to go and feel around, ‘Oh, that feels like the black coat!’ I mean, insane! You could barely open the door!”
I have to tell you, that would drive me bananas. I wouldn't be able to sleep at night knowing that was happening behind a closed door.
“Twenty-five years of shoving stuff in there. And one day, I woke up and said, ‘this is it.’ So, I went to the Container Store, and I said, ‘Can someone please come and figure out a system for me...a cheap one?’ I'm never going to spend money on that kind of stuff. So, they came, they measured. I took everything out, and I had piles, so many piles…a lot of stuff that I hadn't worn, but that I still don’t want to give away. When the closet guy came back over, he said, ‘I just want you to know that this shit is NOT gonna fit back in there, just so you know.’ So, that was it...I just had to figure it out."