Brooke Shields Says Being Sexy Is Just a Job

The last time Brooke Shields modeled denim, it was 42 years ago. The actress and producer—then 14—was the new face of Calvin Klein, and her murmured tagline (“What gets between me and my Calvins? Nothing”) was the ‘80s equivalent of a total serve.

“I love seeing girls my daughters’s age, you know, teenagers, getting into ‘80s fashion as if it’s this cool new thing,” Shields laughs. “But also, I’m not surprised. The style from back then is great, and it translates very well to now. Just look at the Jordache campaign.”

“The Jordache campaign” is Shields’s latest fashion shoot, where she models denim for photographer Cass Bird. In some shots, she’s topless; in all of them, she’s airbrush-less. “I am 56,” she says. “I think that’s very cool. I think that’s very sexy. And before I took this job, I said, ‘If you want to hide that, I’m not your woman.’”

But Shields is very much Jordache’s woman—vintage but also now, casual but also expensive, and always floating inside the periphery of fashion’s current vibe. Here’s what she says about being sexy as a teen versus being sexy now, whether coolness is even the point anymore, and what happened to all those old Suddenly Susan episodes, because you know you’ve been wondering.

You’re already a denim icon. Why do a Jordache campaign now?

Fashion has a really lasting effect on me, and even brands I liked as a kid, I still have an emotional connection to them now. Jordache is one of them. I remember the women they put on TV and in magazines were so confident and independent. They felt like real people with real lives—but cooler, at least to me! It was like watching an early rock video. The women were so in control—they were almost always driving some hot car, making their own decisions, looking the way they wanted to look. As a kid, I was almost…not jealous, but excited? These women were independent and confident; they were beautiful, sexy, strong. You didn’t want to mess with them. I wanted to be just like that, living my own life and driving my own car.

When did you get your first pair of Jordache jeans?

When I was 12. I begged my mother for them. I wore them for so long, I grew too tall for them, so I turned them into cutoffs. I wore them with Frye boots.

And when did you get your first car?

Well, I got my permit when I was 15, and I had to drive to New Jersey to go to high school. But my friends would make fun of me, because I’m a very cautious driver. My hands are always at ten and two, still. I’m not aggressive enough to drive in New York; I’m too much of a rule follower! Even now, my husband is like, “Brooke, you can go a little faster in that other lane.” And I’m like…but…what if I have to turn soon? [Laughs.] It’s not great.

When you’re famous, and you’re stuck in traffic, do people notice you in the window?

Ha! You know, you can look very cool in a car. You can give someone this really casual head nod, and you feel so cool. And then you’re in traffic, and you see the same person like 10 times, and then it’s just funny.

Okay, back to jeans. Your Jordache campaign has some echos of your early Calvin Klein ads. Was that intentional?

You know what? I think just out of respect for all the parties involved, nobody even brought it up! But nobody was walking on eggshells, either. There was no elephant in the room…it was really refreshing because we could separate the past from this shoot, and do our own thing. Of course it’s a bit of a wink to the past, but it’s also just a really cool Cass Bird shoot. She really celebrates women. She does amazing things with light. It was just so good on set.

Do you think having a woman behind the camera, and getting that female gaze, is part of the magic?

I want to think that, but the truth is, only sometimes. It’s so dependent on the individual and it really depends on the energy of the person. I’ve never found it to be gender specific; I think talent is about the person’s energy and artistry, and that’s what makes great work.

This shoot—like a lot of your campaigns!—is built on sex appeal. “Sexy” can mean so many different things, obviously, but is it easier or harder to channel that kind of energy at this point in your life?

So the secret is—are you ready?

Yes.

It’s not about you. I think that the problem is we’ve been taught over the years to become more self-indulgent. But you don’t get to say “I’m not feeling it” during a photo shoot. You’re there for a job. People are spending money, and they hire you; they’re paying you. You either fake it ‘til you make it and you get the shot, or you don’t take the job! My best advice to anyone trying to look “sexy” in a photo is the same advice I’d give to anyone about any photo shoot: You show up, you’re on time, you’re clean, your nails are done, you’re in, and you don’t make your emotions anyone else’s problem. That’s the secret to a successful career. Honestly, I even tell my girls that. I’m like, “You need to respect the fact that money is involved and people’s jobs are on the line. [Fashion] is a business.”

I was actually going to ask if you’d encourage your daughters—who are still teenagers, right?—to pursue the same kind of work.

I never wanted them to do it! Not because I was miserable as a child in the industry, because I wasn’t! But I was working in a different era and I had a mom whose sole focus was on me and my career. I have two girls, and I have a husband, and I have a career. I wouldn’t be able to be on set with them 24/7. And if I’m not able to protect them, I’m just not sure. Who will care as much as I do?

Right.

The flip side is, I do have one daughter, my youngest, who really does want to do it. She’s 16, and if I say “no, no, no,” she’ll dig her heels in and rebel. Plus, there are labor laws now. There are all sorts of built-in protections that weren’t there when I was a kid. But it’s one thing to be with your mom in a campaign; it’s another to be on your own and feel the constant rejection of the industry and think it’s personal. That’s the stuff I don’t wish on my children.

Do your teens want your old ‘80s clothes for their TikToks and stuff? It’s considered very cool now.

You try saying to your teenage daughter that you were cool! [Laughs.] They just roll their eyes.

What’s your best advice on letting go of being “cool”?

It’s amazing to be the hot woman, though. I swear.

Go on…

In terms of what’s “cool,” just be patient, because it all comes back. My daughter came with me to my archives recently, not because she wanted to, but because she needed me to drop her off and I was running an errand. So she walked in with me, and she was incensed. She said, “Mom, you never told me!” She didn’t know all the movies I was in and the fashion things I did, all the magazines I shot for. She said, “Why didn’t you tell me!” And I said, “Well, I kind of tried, but you never believed me. And I’m sorry, but I was your mom. I wasn’t going to put you to bed watching episodes of Suddenly Susan every night.

That’s fair. But is Suddenly Susan coming back?

Oh, man, you know, I would do a reboot of Suddenly Susan in a heartbeat. But we never made it into syndication. You start getting syndicated with 100 episodes. They shut us down at 98! And when that happens, everything kind of disappears…same with Lipstick Jungle. It’s very hard to get the rights to a project like that back. You’ve just got to let it go and get ready for the next one.

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