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‘They thought I was too old to represent beauty’: Isabella Rossellini on rekindling her relationship with the beauty industry

‘They thought I was too old to represent beauty’: Isabella Rossellini on rekindling her relationship with the beauty industry

While many of us have been improving our skills in the kitchen or pursuing other endeavours during COVID-19, actress, beauty icon and face of Lancome, Isabella Rossellini, 68, who has been holed up on her organic farm an hour outside of Manhattan, came up with the idea for her theatrical show, Sex and Consequences.

‘They thought I was too old to represent beauty’: Isabella Rossellini on rekindling her relationship with the beauty industry

This 40-minute absurdist comedy, in which she will co-star with some of her four-legged friends, is about biodiversity and the multiple ways in which animal reproduce.

The show will also feature videos from her award-winning series of shorts: Green Porno, Seduce Me, and Mammas. She talks to MiNDFOOD about this unusual project – and tells us about her rocky relationship with Lancome.

How on earth did you come up with this concept?

My agent called me and he said, ‘Would you consider doing a 40 minute monologue?’ Because I do monologues based on animals (Green Porno, Seduce Me, Mammas) and I have a master’s degree in Animal Behaviour and Conversation. And also, I wanted to get back to work during COVID-19.

Which of your animals will feature in the show?

There will be my lambs, chickens and dogs.

And it will be centred on their reproductive and sexual habits?

Yes, but it’ll also include new studies that are very interesting. When we think of evolution, we think of survival of the fittest, and I always imagine that the fittest means the strongest or most aggressive animals. Well, now they think the fittest might also mean the most friendly, the most cooperative of the animals. And they looked at domestic animals which are much more docile than their wild ancestors.

They also found advantages in Darwin’s theories and I talk about Darwin, saying that maybe altruism and empathy is also involved. Those are not things you think are associated with animals, but they are.

The new science discusses how individuals that are more cooperative and friendly will mate and have babies. They will also transform themselves. So, the wolf becomes the dog, the mouflon becomes the sheep.

With domestic animals, I’m talking about how sexuality among those that are docile and not aggressive eventually changes them and makes them domestic and kind to us. With sex, everybody thinks pregnancy, but this is much more interesting because it can change a species.

You’re with your children on the farm?

Yes. We have a big extended family, Italian style, with not only brothers and sisters, but also half-brothers and half-sisters.

Both my parents were married three times, so they have children from three different marriages. We are all very united, all very loving, but occasionally it’s complicated, and we are many.

And one of your kids helps you run the farm?

Yes. My daughter is the manager. And in the months of March, April, May, the toughest months of the virus, we all came here. My son Roberto is back in New York City, and it was relatively easy for us because on a farm there’s a lot of outdoors and we live by the sea, so we also could go to the beach. We are a little bit worried now that it’s getting colder because a lot of the walks and outdoor activities will be diminished.

Also, I have a grandson who is two-and-a-half, who is very sporty, so it might be harder for him. But for the moment it’s been pretty good.

Once we decided to do live theatre from my house it gave me the satisfaction of going back to work. At the beginning I didn’t mind not working and taking a break, but after two months I felt very nostalgic for acting and reconnecting with my audience.

You’ve had an interesting relationship with Lancôme. What can you tell me about it?

Lancôme is a cosmetic company with whom I had the longest relationship, and it’s quite a saga.

I worked for Lancôme for 15 years, very successfully and they let me go in the ’90s because when I turned 42 because they thought that I was too old to represent beauty. They rationalised it to me when I asked them, because I was very successful, and women said they were very happy to see a model that was 42 and not 19 doing anti-age creams.

How did they justify it?

They said to me – an advertisement is about the dream, it’s not about the reality and so you cannot represent a dream because women dream to be young.

So, 20 years later, I received a call from the new CEO of Lancôme, a woman, called Francoise Lehmann, and she said, ‘When you were let go I was a junior at Lancôme and I took such offence to that. What they did was not only terrible to you but to all women and as I rise to the top at Lancôme I want to do right. I want all women to be represented from all races, all ages.’

I said to her, ‘Why don’t you get Helen Mirren or Meryl Streep? Why do you want me because that story will come back.’ It was controversial when it happened. But she said, ‘No. I want to make it right. You are the one who has to come back.’

It has been an enormous pleasure to work with them again.

I know that you’re not doing Botox or fillers. What’s the reason?

I cannot reconcile in my head how to run an organic farm and then do Botox shot? (laughs). Some of my friends do it.

I have a sister who does it, so if they’re happy with it fine, but I don’t see how I can eat organic food and then something that’s poisonous. But I’m not against it for other people.

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