ISABELLA, THE VEEP
Byline: SARAH RAPER, with contributions from Alev Aktar, Paris
NEW YORK — After a two-year job hunt, model and actress Isabella Rossellini has landed herself a new career and a corner office.
But she’s still getting used to the idea.
“My friends are going to laugh,” she confided to journalists earlier this week at a news conference to announce her appointment as vice president for product development at Lancaster Group Worldwide.
The press was prepared to snicker, too, as Rossellini moved from her 14-year stint as the face for L’Oreal’s Lancome division to what at first appearances seemed like a camouflaged greeter-and-hostess post. What else can 42-year-old spokesmodels do?
But Peter Harf, Lancaster chief executive officer, was adamant that he had not hired a flak.
“This has nothing to do with having a new spokesperson for the brand,” he said in a joint interview here with his newest employee Tuesday. Instead, Harf said he expected Rossellini to concentrate on “brand imagery and brand positioning.”
And eventually products might be developed under her own name, Harf added. “My dream would be to develop a line that’s as inspirational, as powerful but as unthreatening as Isabella herself.”
Also, Harf said Isabella might eventually appear in advertising. However, he insisted that no decision on either issue would be made until consumer research had been carried out.
Lancaster has a year to make up its mind, because Rossellini’s lingering obligations to Lancome prohibit her from any promotional activities for Lancaster until Jan. 1, 1996, when her exclusivity clause expires.
In addition, Lancome retains the right to use all Rossellini advertising photos and films through 1997. Rossellini will continue to be paid by Lancome as long as they use her.
She spoke frankly about her breakup with Lancome, describing how she had been told politely but firmly two years ago that the company planned to replace her. But she declined to discuss widespread press reports claiming that L’Oreal had dropped her because of her age and that she felt bitter and abandoned.
After back-and-forth negotiations to see if she could expand her role at Lancôme, Rossellini said she began in early 1994 to search for a new job by calling chief executives for interviews. Talks with Lancaster began last May.
Now, just as the career front has taken an unusual turn, there are other changes at home, Rossellini said. She’s moved uptown from her TriBeCa apartment to be closer to her 11-year-old daughter’s school.
And she said that she and Gary Oldman, her co-star in her new film “Immortal Beloved,” were together. “He just moved into my apartment.” As for the question of marriage, she replied, “One thing at a time.”
Rossellini, who was accompanied to the interview by her attorney, Loren H. Plotkin, declined to discuss compensation. She did say that the oft-reported $2-million-a-year figure for her Lancôme work was incorrect. “Let’s say I’m rich,” she responded when pressed on the salary issue.
Harf said that she would be on the payroll as any other employee, but he stressed that Lancaster had worked out an innovative contract. Rossellini has her office — nice view with morning sun, but still empty — and a personal assistant who will report to work every day.
However, Rossellini will not have a required number of days’ appearance at the office and will be free to continue her modeling and acting.
“Lancaster has taken Isabella for her ability to go out into the trenches and bring back the trends the next day,” Harf said. “We’re notoriously late with the trends in this industry.”
Plotkin said she will work “in much the same way that a major [Hollywood] studio will finance a powerful actor to develop new projects. Sometimes the actor is in the film and sometimes not.”
Harf remembered that when Rossellini had first called him nine months ago for a breakfast meeting he had not been convinced that she would be useful to Lancaster.
“At first I never thought about it as a serious possibility. She was associated with a major competitor, and that was limiting,” he recalled.
But as Rossellini explained that she was looking for more than a licensing contract, Harf became more interested. “This was a fantastic opportunity for us. This was too good to be true.”