CANNES, France — There aren’t many women like Aimee Mullins, a recently named L’Oréal Paris global ambassador.
After graduating from high school with honors, Mullins was one of just three students in the U.S. to land a full academic scholarship from the Department of Defense. Then at age 17, she became the youngest person in the country to hold a top-secret security clearance at the Pentagon, where she worked as an intelligence analyst during summer vacations.
It was while studying as a dean’s list student at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University that Mullins, who since the age of two has used prosthetic legs after having both amputated below the knee as a baby due to a medical condition, set as her goal to compete as an athlete on the U.S. team in the 1996 Paralympic Atlanta Games.
She made it, going on to set world records there for the 100 meters, 200 meters and long jump events outfitted with state-of-the-art woven carbon-fiber prostheses that were modeled on the hind legs of a cheetah.
Mullins went on to wow the fashion world in 1999, when she donned carved wooden prosthetics to walk the runway for Alexander McQueen. Mullins made her film debut in contemporary artist Matthew Barney’s acclaimed “Cremaster 3,” which premiered at New York’s Guggenheim Museum in 2003.
Her latest role, as a L’Oréal Paris global ambassador, is a pretty glamorous one. WWD caught up with New York-based Mullins, 35, at the L’Oréal suite atop the Martinez hotel in Cannes:
WWD: Is this your first Cannes Film Festival?
AM: First time. You know, it’s kind of mythic. It’s funny, I’ve done hundreds of red carpets in my life but there is a particular thing about this one. And it’s not at all to do with the red carpet. It’s to do with the processions up there [along the Croisette] in the cars, and when you get out there are thousands of people who are screaming your name and everyone has a camera. So you think it’s just, ‘Okay, I’m going to get to the red carpet and do my thing’ — no, no, no, no. It starts from when you exit the hotel. That’s when you get this great adrenalin rush.
WWD: What did you choose to wear to the festival’s opening night “Midnight in Paris” premiere?
AM: I wore a couture gown by Stéphane Rolland. It was black and long-sleeved, almost like Morticia Addams. It fit me like a glove, really hugging the curves with a little fishtail at the bottom and this piece that started here on the waist and came out like a half of a heart. It was very 1960s classic French film diva.
WWD: What about the makeup?
AM: It was kind of a homage to somewhere in between Sophia Loren and Cleopatra. It was the complete antidote to my jetlag. We went with this major black eyeliner, a great flick of the eye, just everything up. I was revived. And then we did a major gold shadow on the inside from L’Oréal’s [L’Or, L’Or, L’Or] gold makeup line that comes out in September, which echoed this sculptural piece on my belt. I felt like an amazon, with Wonder Woman’s cuffs on my wrists. And that is exactly how you want to feel before you confront a phalanx of photographers.
WWD: I imagine being here as a l’Oréal ambassador that you have the world at your feet, that it’s opened up a lot of doors in terms of who wants to dress you.
AM: When it comes to fashion, I’ve been lucky in that arena for a long time. I started 13 years ago with Alexander McQueen. What is amazing is that I’m so used to doing my own hair and makeup for the red carpet and so to have literally a whole team of people making sure that you look your best is, gosh, you know, you feel so taken care of — so spoiled in a way. And in that regard, yes. There is a sense of having the world at your feet.
WWD: How did walking for Alexander McQueen affect your life?
AM: Well, it was my entrance into fashion, working with McQueen and Nick Knight.
WWD: How do you feel about having been chosen as a global ambassador for L’Oréal Paris? Do you think we will continue to see a move away from standardized perceptions of beauty by the beauty and fashion worlds?
AM: Look at [L’Oréal Paris ambassador] Jane Fonda. She’s 72 — how common is that? It’s exciting that the biggest brand in the world is doing that. It’s a beacon for what consumers have known for a long time, that beauty is a very personal thing and the most beautiful people in the world have created their own sense of self. I’m talking about lasting, iconic beauty. Yes it is a cultural milestone that I signed with l’Oréal, but I’m not surprised by it. Thierry Mugler just used [South African double-amputee sprinter] Oscar Pistorius [in a campaign]. You know, it was 13 years ago that I started with McQueen. It’s been a long time. I think that in the 15 years since I’ve been in the public eye, the world has made a shift over the past few years. I feel like, whereas maybe even 10, 12 years ago I would have people say, ‘God, it’s such a shame because you’d be beautiful if it weren’t for your legs,’ today or even in the last few years that would sound as ridiculous as it is.
WWD: What projects are you working on?
AM: I’m working with Matthew Barney. I’ve been really privileged in my life to continue collaborations with people over long stretches of time. With Matthew Barney we’re making “Ancient Evenings.” It’s the story of the seven stages of a soul’s journey from death to rebirth. And it’s, of course, told under the umbrella of the Egyptian creation myth. Osiris is played by Matthew, and I’m playing Isis. There are seven stages with seven chapters and each one we’re filming. But then we do a one-time live performance. We just did a live performance of “Khu,”the second chapter, [in October] in Detroit. The film is being edited right now. It’s coming in at a little over two hours and it will be released next year.
WWD: Where do you get your energy from?
AM: Sleep. I’m an eight- or nine-hour-a-night girl, except when I’m in Cannes.
WWD: What are your beauty secrets?
AM: The best beauty secret, besides sleep and plenty of water, is do whatever it is — before you go out, before you need to feel beautiful — do whatever makes you feel confident. If it’s putting on a great dance record and rocking out in your apartment, do it. If kissing someone for 10 minutes makes you feel confident, do it. What you want to do is the thing that makes you get into yourself and feel like your best self. Because then anything you do, a great eyeliner, a great lipstick, all that will be just icing on the cake. It’s really about feeling good.