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Talk about a knockout.
In addition to being jaw-droppingly beautiful, Christy Turlington Burns is an avid boxer, too.
Although her devotion to yoga is best known, spend 15 minutes with Burns and it’s clear why her prowess in the ring is as great as her onetime domination of the runway: This is a woman with a core of steel.
“Boxing has made me so much stronger in my yoga,” says Burns, who started practicing pugilism after the birth of her son, Finn, now one year old. “It has a great meditative quality—the repetition, hitting the speed bag. Could I knock someone out? Oh yeah!” she laughingly continues. “For sure. But luckily my temper doesn’t get to that point.”
In fact, since reaching the heights of the supermodel world, she’s propelled herself from strength to strength, driven by her desire to be more than just a pretty face. Burns earned her degree in comparative religion and philosophy at New York University, then proved herself to be a forward-thinking entrepreneur by launching the Ayurvedic skin care line Sundari and the yoga-inspired activewear line Nuala. Along the way, she met and married writer/director/actor Ed Burns, and had two young children, Grace, three, and Finn.
In 2003, Burns and her partners sold Sundari—but the experience taught her plenty about both beauty and business. “As much as we were talking about people taking responsibility for their own health and well-being, women weren’t quite ready for it,” she says. “Women want to be told by brands that are doctor-led that a product will stop aging, promises that are impossible.
“My philosophy,” she continues, “was you had to create the lifestyle and our products will help you look better. You have to do the work—eat well, work out, take care of yourself. There was no promise of ‘use this and you’ll look younger.’ It was contrary to my personal philosophy to be in an industry where you have to do that to succeed.”
That’s not to say that Burns has shunned the beauty world altogether. Last year, she inked a contract worth a reported $1 million with Maybelline New York, a brand she was a spokeswoman for during the Nineties. “I didn’t have to sacrifice anything to go back to work with them,” says Burns, who’s been outspoken about the lack of intellectual and emotional satisfaction she found in modeling. “They were pro my being a mom and they’ve also become a very philanthropic company, particularly with educational issues. I was kind of shocked that I’m 38 and they were coming to me for a beauty campaign. Not that I feel like I look that different, but after this many years in the business, to have them coming back around—it’s a little bit of flattery, too.”
Though she also appeared recently in campaigns for Versace and Chloé, she describes her personal style as less is more. Today, she’s wearing a Marc
Jacobs grey cashmere thermal sweater, skinny jeans and chocolate brown Michael Kors shearling boots. “I love Marc Jacobs’ cashmere and evening pieces, but I’ll also mix Nuala with Chloé. I go with classic stuff that I’ll have in my closet for a long time.” Burns doesn’t work with a stylist (“That would be so nice—not to have to do my own shopping”), and when she does hit the stores, it’s most likely in her TriBeCa neighborhood. Beauty-wise, her regimen is equally as laid-back. She loves Sundari’s Neem Night Cream, as well as products by Ren and Jurlique. “I have very dry skin,” she says, “so I like really rich products. The more oil, the better!”
As blessed as she’s been with her incredible bone structure, Burns has devoted herself to giving back as much as she receives. Good friends with U2 frontman Bono (he gave her away at her wedding in 2003), she, like him, is driven by philanthropy.
“For me, business and philanthropy are completely intertwined,” says Burns, who credits the exposure to different cultures she received while globe-trotting on myriad modeling assignments as the catalyst for her involvement. “When you travel as much as I have and see how the rest of the world affects where we are, you feel a certain responsibility as a human being.”
Currently, Nuala partners with ONE, which aims to make poverty and AIDS history; in the past, organizations such as CancerCare, Adopt-A-Minefield and Unicef have benefited from the brand’s largesse. Burns is most drawn to causes that impact women and children. “Anything to do with children being hungry or not getting the medication they need. The idea of a mother not being able to keep herself alive to give her kids medicine. Those are the things I’m most passionate about,” she says. “I find that sometimes while money is enough, usually it’s time, energy and hands-on work that make the most impact.”
When asked if she’d ever go into politics—her drive to help others and innate intelligence would seem to make her a natural—Burns demurs. “With government, there’s so much bureaucracy,” she says. “I’m a good diplomat and a good listener, but somehow the system gets in the way and people can’t do as much as they should be able to when they’re that involved. I feel like I have more effect doing my philanthropy than in an elected office.” Her tone takes a turn from the serious to the devilish as she adds, “Besides, I may have too many risqué photographs out there.”
Despite being a hands-on mother, Burns also finds the time to be a hands-on businesswoman. Since launching Nuala in partnership with Puma in 2000, she’s currently searching for a new
partner to help her realize her vision of achieving a more meaningful presence in stores and within a larger overall corporate structure.
“Puma had the guts to understand the vision when I first brought it to them,” she says. “We’ve had a great partnership, but you wonder how far certain partnerships are meant to go. Sometimes with big companies it’s hard to get them moving. It’s hard to get everybody to follow you.”
Currently, Burns is looking for a new partner, preferably one with its own distribution structure, where the brand can be fully represented. “We’ve been partners for seven years. If Nuala is going to get bigger or go to the next level, I need to find another partner to do that,” she says. “Women today want to shop in a more intimate way. Not every [retailer] we sell to is like that, and many cherry-pick from the line. We don’t have enough of a representation. It’s hard when you’re a company within a company to have your own way of doing things.”
She’d also like Nuala to follow the model of organizations such as Project Red. Created by Bobby Shriver and Bono, Project Red raises awareness and money for people with AIDS in Africa by partnering with well-known brands like Gap and Apple to create special products whose proceeds are funneled directly back to the cause.
The supermodel-turned-magnate credits her entrepreneurial prowess to yoga—”It puts you in closer touch with yourself and what you want”—and she’s taking the same mindful approach to the next phase of her business. “My focus right now is on my family and on seeing Nuala through as best I can in its current form and being ready and prepared for another opportunity,” she says. “That requires focus and preparedness and seeing what else is out there so you get things in the right moment. I’m a big believer in being prepared and putting it out there in the universe.”
In the meantime, she and her husband are currently penning a pilot for a one-hour fashion-related drama for Dreamworks Television, which
is scheduled for a spring showing on Fox. “The characters are all amalgamations of people I have known in the industry,” says Burns, “but we’re setting it as young people just starting out, so hopefully there’ll be a big arc if it all goes well.” Steven Spielberg is producing, with Ed Burns slated to direct.
If it all sounds like a lot, it is. But Burns has proven herself to be a master at achieving balance in all aspects of her life. Despite how effortless she makes it look, she’s the first to admit just how hard it really is. “Like anybody, you tend to go off the rails a little bit in trying to find balance, because it’s not a place you fully arrive at,” Burns says. “I had the good fortune to interview His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and I asked him about balance. He said he, too, deals with losing his patience and getting annoyed sometimes.
“It’s good to know that an enlightened being has the same struggles as ourselves,” she says. “It gives you the ability to put things into perspective.”