With New York Fashion Week kicking off today, what better time to check in with two-time Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition cover model Carol Alt to get her take on the industry?
Carol Alt, the ’80s supermodel, who has adorned the covers of more than 500 magazines and was nicknamed “The Face” by Life magazine, has expanded her brand to actress, author (she’s written two books on her raw-food lifestyle), and now to TV hosting. She currently headlines A Healthy You & Carol Alt, airing Saturday afternoons on Fox, covering wellness topics.
In this chat, the native New Yorker, 54, gives us her take on the current trend to feature much older icons in fashion ads, the designers she swears by, what she would change about the industry, and her secret to staying youthful, and more.
What do you think about the buzz surrounding Joan Didion and Joni Mitchell in the Céline and YSL campaigns this past January?
I think it has to do with celebrity and, I think, it also has to do with the point that baby boomers are the biggest buying power these days. They’re into retirement, they’ve got disposable funds, and, I think, that people are finally starting to recognize that older people have money to spend. Besides all the kids are on Facebook and Twitter. They’re not buying, they’re just tweeting.
Considering the unbelievable pressure for models to stay young and beautiful, how have you been able to personally navigate those pressures and make peace with it after all these years? Do you have any words of wisdom?
There are no words of wisdom on that. The issue is the media portrays younger women as more desirable. Even older women in the media are guilty of that. When we all change our minds and realize that older women have lives, older women have sex, older women love to look good, older women have buying power, once that idea really starts to take hold, I think we’ll see a change in all of that.
When I got into the modeling industry 35 years ago, the life span of a model was like five years. I remember my father saying to me, ‘Put every penny you can into a bank account because at 25 it’s over.’ I believed it. I thought it every step of the way. I was like, ‘I don’t want this to be over at 25. I’m just having too much dang fun.’
The travel, the people, I never saw my pictures anywhere because I was always working, but you knew your picture was out there. It was just understood that it all came to an end and you accepted that. Then all of a sudden I was 27, and I was still doing it. Then I was 30, and I was still doing it. I was like, ‘You know what? Who said this has to end? Why can’t my career just grow with me?’
As you know, I’ve battled [aging] every step of the way. I went raw to maintain my health; I use chemical free. Truthfully, that’s half for my vanity, as well as for my health. I saw great results in my skin, how I looked, how I felt, and the energy I put out there, so, of course, I’m going to be hooked on something that’s going to prolong my career and keep me looking and feeling younger. For anybody to say they don’t think about their mortality, they’re lying.
In the last decade or so, there’s been a big switch to having celebrities on the cover of magazines instead of models…
It’s very depressing for me.
In addition to the fact that it’s depressing, do you have an opinion on why the focus has changed so dramatically?
I think what happened is reality shows have changed the world in many ways that we can’t even comprehend at this moment. I think people watch these shows because it makes them feel better to watch other people’s lives who are so crazy, so messed up, so immoral and ridiculous, that they feel better in their lives.
So, they’re going to flock to familiar faces on magazine covers. That goes for actresses, as well. They’re now a familiar face. [But] each generation of models changes so quickly… they might not be a familiar face anymore. Some girls become celebrity models, yes. But the bulk of them fall away and new faces come up.
Speaking of celebrity models, what do you think of this new trend of models like Kendall Jenner, Kate Upton and Karlie Kloss who are using social media to enhance their public personas? Do you think that’s a good thing for the fashion industry? Or do you think having more mystery like models used to have is a better thing?
Certainly, I have to say that it was much more sexy in the ’50s and the ’60s when you had models who were mysterious. You were like, ‘Oh, wow.’ You didn’t know who they were sleeping with or what kind of tampon they were using. Now, there’s just too much information out there that we don’t need to know. At the same time, this is a new generation. I get that social media is a completely new way of communicating to people and these girls are using that. They’re smart.
Will you be going to New York Fashion Week?
My show, A Healthy You, films that week. I did say yes to a few shows, hoping that I would be able to attend. I love to keep my hand in the game, of course.
Which designers still excite you? Who do you wear and who do you swear by?
I love Donna Karan, she’s always very, very classic, and Nicole Miller. A lot of these are the designers I grew up with. I support my friends. That’s the big thing. At the same time, of course, you want to see a fabulous, inventive, ingenious show. Why would you not?
Are there any changes you’d like to see in the fashion industry?
I find that designers follow each other a little too much. There’s not much inventiveness or ingenuity. If they find something that works, everybody copies it. That can make it a little bit boring. I’d like to see more individuality.
Your FOX show, ‘A Healthy You,’ is concerned with wellness. Can you define what you see as wellness?
I think wellness embodies not just physical health, but mental and spiritual health. I think it’s very hard to be mentally, spiritually and physically well if you’re not eating correctly and putting the right things in your body because we’re all chemical.
We’re chemical and electrical. When the chemistry interferes with the electrical, you can go a little haywire. I want people to be happy, healthy, in great mental states, and treating each other well. I’m an idealist like that. What I’ve noticed on my show is every guest that comes on says the same thing: It all comes down to the food we put in our bodies. I try to inform people so that they make the correct choices for themselves.
If you could recommend three things that you had wished you had known in your 20s in regard to aging and to wellness, what would they be?
My food, my food, my food! Everything stems from the food, the water and the chemicals you put on your body. Eat the cleanest, least processed food possible. That doesn’t mean pasta, which is totally processed. It means vegetables, fruits and nuts. Eat whole foods.
Drink the cleanest water possible and that doesn’t mean crap from plastic bottles. That means get a really great filter and bring your own water in your own bottles to work with you. And be chemical free. You can’t be chemical free when you’re working on a set, but you can be chemical free in your own life which is at least 2/3 of the time that you’re living.
The only thing you have control of is what you put in your body. That’s the difference between health and non-health. I wish somebody had explained that to me, but who knows if I would have listened?