Linda Rodin likes to sit in the bathtub in her small one-bedroom apartment in Chelsea, New York, with the door wide open so that she can look at all her beautiful objects. Just beyond the tub is a sterling silver Mexican folding screen that once belonged to Doris Duke, a Brancusi-esque pencil sketch done by her dentist father, and piles of seashells. There are shells everywhere - tiny mother of pearl shells in frames, giant fluttering conches, and Murano glass shells, accumulated over years of combing beaches and the 25th Street Flea Market.
"I'm a Pisces and I love the ocean," Linda says, dressed in a denim-on-denim cowboy tuxedo. "I always thought I was a mermaid - that was my fantasy as a kid. That's why this apartment appeals to me. I feel like I'm underwater with all my things. It's my own little grotto."
With its turquoise colour palette and shiny white painted floors, this grotto is home to Linda and her beloved poodle Winky. A devoted dog person, Linda has nonetheless had the nine lives of a cat: 1. NYU student. 2. Italian expatriate. 3. Model. 4. Art gallerist. 5. Bookseller at Rizzoli. 6. Original Soho concept retailer (Linda Hopp). 7. Harper's Bazaar magazine editor. 8. Stylist. 9. Beauty entrepreneur. In her most recent incarnation, she has become something of a paragon for ageing gracefully, which seems to surprise her more than anything. Of her newfound attention, she says, "It's absurd, actually! I wasn't in the public eye before. It's great, and I embrace it all and think it's really interesting that people would be looking at me for anything."
A collector and a wanderer, Linda has spent her 66 years seeking out beauty, from her native Long Island to more distant shores. As Diana Vreeland famously said, "The eye has to travel." At 18 years old, Linda took her second plane ever to meet her then- boyfriend in Italy, staying several years to study and learn Italian. She pulls out a framed black and white photograph of her young self, with thick dark hair laced through with a peroxide streak. "I was American, so that was a thrill for Italians," she says. "I looked pretty groovy in those days. I was wearing maxi coats and over-the-knee boots. I met Twiggy. It was a different time. I remember going to Biba in London and everything was $10. You didn't need any money. It was 1970."
I'm here, I'm alive and I'm healthy. Getting older is a blessing!
Back in the States, Linda began working for fashion photographer Gosta Peterson, who she calls "the best photographer that nobody has ever heard of." As Peterson's assistant, she took pictures, but it was not meant to be: "My sister said one day, 'You know, you don't really take great photographs, but you always get good clothes to put on the person you're photographing. Maybe that's a job?' I said, 'What kind of job would that be?' I had never heard the word 'stylist'. I don't think any of us had. So one thing lead to another." Linda went on to be a stylist, working with the likes of Madonna and Halle Berry.
Styling was a way to keep seeing the world. Of those years of endless shoots, she says, "They were just fun because they were in a place I'd never been to, or at a beach where I collected shells that I probably wouldn't have known about. I don't think the people are as memorable as the places for me." Olio Lusso, the cult face oil that made her a beauty icon in her sixties, came about through accidents and wanderlust. Shopping in flea markets around the world, she had sourced calendula in South Africa, and argan oil in Morocco, and began experimenting with oils on herself. She brought her homemade concoctions to the shoots she was styling, and it took off from there. What began as a fragrant home concoction of jasmine, neroli, evening primrose, and other essences mixed in a coffee cup became a line with lip balm, cream, and hair oil (created with legendary hair stylist Bob Recine), sold in stores around the world.
And now? Linda is a poster woman for personal style and embracing contradiction. You'll never meet a more low-maintenance cosmetics queen. Beauty-wise, she uses only her oil, along with a swipe of hot pink lipstick. Having experimented with fillers a few years back, she is now a hundred percent pure Linda. "It's so hard to be natural," she admits. "But I think the philosophy is you just have to do the best you can. Whatever makes you feel happy, whatever makes you feel confident, then you have to follow that on your own. I don't know how else you could do it without just feeling so sad all the time! Right? There's enough pressure in the world."
Yes, Linda is the face of a beauty company that sells many of its $170 oils on the allure of her artful chignons and inventive outfits. But she's also telling it like it is: "Ageing gracefully is not so graceful! You can look graceful on the outside, but when you get up and look in the mirror, 'Oh, God, when did that happen?'" Linda is a rare beauty industry realist who admits that there are no miracle creams, that nothing stops time. And ultimately, it's about more than just looking great. As she says, "I'm here, I'm alive, I'm healthy. Getting older is a blessing."
The realities of building a business are ever-present. Although she no longer physically mixes the oils in her tiny retro kitchen (with its 1950s white cabinets, hundreds of seashells, and a poster of her beloved Bob Dylan), she carefully monitors their production at her factory in New Jersey. "It's hard work, but I think my nose was good enough to follow the scent. No pun intended," she says. A natural marketing whiz, she Instagrams up a storm, chronicling her objects, her travels, and her friends. After nine fabulous lives, what's next for Linda and Winky? "I want to move to a village in Italy," she says. "A village where there are no stores, just a fish market and a wine shop, cheese shop, and tomatoes. Then I can get on a train and be in Rome in two hours. That's my dream."
Text Rory Satran
Photography Jeff Henrikson
Styling Stella Greenspan
Hair Melisande Page
Make-up Emi Kaneko using Kevyn Aucoin
Styling assistance Arizona Williams
Model Linda Rodin
Linda wears dress Céline. Dress (worn underneath) and sunglasses Linda's own.