At the Saks Fifth Avenue “Want It!” shopping event Wednesday night, we were wandering around, lazily stalking celebs, when a hand grabbed us. “Hi, I’m Lauren.” Hi, Lauren Hutton, we said, startled to be bum-rushed by the sixties supermodel. Why are you talking to us? She thought we were from the Times. We corrected her. She insisted we were from the Times. We went with it, and, boy, are we glad we did.
Have you been going to many shows?
I flew in last night from Flat Town, which is what I call L.A. Now I’m in Tall Town. It refers to both the architecture and the people.
Because L.A. is so spread out.
It’s become one giant suburb. And what’s interesting to me is that flying to Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, which used to be all these scattered villages surrounded by vast tracks of land, has become like flying into L.A., where you start seeing buildings 25 minutes outside the city and it’s just this continuous wall of construction until you land. If you understand the difference between a million, a billion, and a trillion, you’ll understand what’s happened to the world’s population.
I was sitting on a plane, and I saw a Nobel Prize winner. And I recognized him, and I said to him, “Explain the difference to me between a million, a billion, and a trillion.”
Wait. You recognized a Nobel Prize winner?
Well, he’d just won a Nobel Prize, and I’d seen his picture.
Did he recognize you?
I don’t remember. This was ten years ago. But he was very happy I’d asked him about math. Anyway, I asked him, “What’s the difference between a million, a billion, and a trillion?” And he said, “Well, that’s easy. You understand time and money, don’t you?” I said, “Well, yeah. I used to work for a dollar a minute.” And he said, “Great. If I gave you a million dollars and you spent a dollar a second 24/7, you’d be out of money in less than 11 days. If you had a billion, you’d be out in 30 years. And if you had a trillion, you’d be out in 30,000 years.” And I thought, Kids should know that by the second grade! And then I thought, Maybe that’s why we’re not taught that, because that’s the national debt.
You go to Africa a lot. Why?
I used to see Tarzan movies. That’s why I came to New York. I’ve been going to Africa for two or three months ever since 1965. The first time I went to black Africa was 1967. I’d been going to north Africa at first, and then I’d go every year for two or three months. What’s interesting is seeing Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, on opposite ends of the Serengeti and just how big and spread out they both are.
Can you get the fashion girls to talk about Africa?
I haven’t tried. I was trying to see Narciso last night, but I was just too tired when I got in. And I want to see Zac tomorrow, and I want to see Calvin just so I can see Natalia walk. I just met her now, and she invited me along.
Is it weird for you to watch shows, having once been in them?
When I was a model, a photography model wouldn’t be caught dead doing runway. As far as I know, I was the first photography model from my time to be in a show, and I only did it because I knew Halston and he asked me to model his clothes onstage for the CFDA Awards. He was getting lifetime achievement.
Was runway modeling seen as gauche?
No, it was just they had different agencies. Listen. It was a different world. It wasn’t gauche. It’s just that the photography girls made much more money. It wasn’t an idea about what was déclassé. It was artificial, arbitrary. You went where the money was.
— Jada Yuan