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NEW YORK — Having helped define fashion in the Seventies and Eighties with her distinctive eyebrows and striking good looks, Brooke Shields remembers a world of style that was larger and more original.
“Everything was very big,” she said, at a recent photo shoot for Jones New York. “Photographers all had their own studios and the clothes were always fabulous. There was nothing deconstructed about it. It was all Polly Mellen and Richard Avedon.
“Now, I notice that people are always trying to be something else. We’ll be putting on stuff and they’ll be like, ‘Oh. So Jil,’” said Shields, referring to her stylists. “Sander? Is that who you’re talking about? I’m out of the fashion loop.”
Despite epitomizing feminine beauty for many and showing up at numerous red-carpet events decked out in designer duds, Shields doesn’t seem to have ever been in the fashion loop.
“I would put on the clothes, go take the picture and get back into my jeans and sweatshirt and do my homework,” she said of her younger days. In that regard, not much seems to have changed for Shields, who wore a grey thermal top and jeans during lunch at the shoot in the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
“I never really, truly developed a sense of style just for myself,” said the model. “I just didn’t pay attention. I didn’t watch when they put my makeup on. I didn’t watch how they accessorized. I was sort of in two separate worlds. In a way, it kind of saved me because I was sort of encapsulated in education.”
Shields said she stressed her own education as an escape from the frenetic pace and subjectiveness of fashion and film.
“I could just go into my books and that was totally mine,” she said. “It didn’t matter what you looked like. It didn’t matter what you were wearing. I think I feared being wrong. But I could be right in math and I could be right at my French lessons. I knew I could be right if I worked hard enough.”
Not at all immune to hard work, Shields has a degree from Princeton in French literature and no doubt has the equivalent of a doctorate in modeling, given her years of experience.
During the shoot, she stood as still as the Egyptian bust she was pretending to examine, the collar turned up on the lime green trenchcoat draped over her slender six-foot frame.
After a few quick flashes from the camera of Carter Smith, Shields came to life, blinked several times, reset in a slightly different pose and repeated.
Approaching her 40th birthday and still striking, she was the center of attention at the shoot, surrounded by stylists, a dozen or so onlookers and movable walls that catch the light streaming through the windows of the museum.
Though perhaps better known in her earlier days when nothing came between her and her Calvins, Shields is not quite ready to take her place in the museum of pop culture. She is still active professionally, starring in “Wonderful Town” on Broadway and entering her second year as the face of Jones New York. Her biggest role is as proud mother to her 17-month-old daughter, Rowan.
Shields got the Jones gig not just for her lean good looks and big name, but for her station as a new mom juggling the pressures of work and home, said Stacy Lastrina, senior vice president of marketing. Ads featuring Shields have no doubt helped the line perform well in the increasingly crowded field of better sportswear, which has seen numerous launches this year, not all of them successful.
Jones is betting on the resonance Shields carries with the broad swath of the populous feeling the pressures of work and home, even as advertisers are increasingly challenged to grab the consumer’s attention.
“Women are all trying to achieve that kind of balance, but we don’t have to do it in the public eye [as Shields does],” Lastrina said.
Shields is still working on keeping that balance after spending most of her life in the spotlight.
She dotes over Rowan, who ran through the museum, under the supervision of a nanny, generously doling out what Shields calls “The Bronx Squeeze” — a hug as big as one can get from such a small child.
Acting is also still a big part of Shields’ life. Broadway is rewarding, challenging and “the Olympics” of entertainment, she said. Despite all the billboards and magazine covers, having her name in lights on Broadway is one of her crowning achievements.
“It’s just so exciting,” she said. “That’s the ultimate. They write songs about it.”
But being an entertainer isn’t a life she wishes for her daughter.
“It’s based on insecurities,” she said. “It predicates itself on categorizing people. In Hollywood, it’s all about rejection. It’s really hard to just be who you are and have that be enough.”