There’s an old image I love of my mother riding a bicycle. She’s young and smiling, and she’s wearing a simple cream turtleneck and a pair of inky denim dungarees. It’s a slice of an old 16 mm home movie, so the colours have a hazy, bluish filter. There’s no sound, but I know my father was the one behind the lens. He was the family photographer. A doctor by day, he was a Gregory Peck-type character. I can’t ever remember him not being smartly dressed under a trilby hat. All the men wore hats in the ’50s. He was passionately in love with my mother, and my earliest memories involve them piling my sister, my brother and me into the car on weekends and heading to the beach, a half-hour drive from our postwar home in the tightly knit community of Roslyn, Long Island. We didn’t have a lot of money, but appearance was always important to my parents: Our hair was always brushed, our shoes were always polished.
My mother, Beatrice, a.k.a. Billie, was incredibly stylish and obsessively collected objects of beauty. She had an antiques shop, she was an interior decorator, she was a sculptress. She had wonderful taste, as did my grandmother and my aunt, so I think it was just by osmosis that I grew up with an appreciation for beautiful things and a keen eye for clothing. Style was always present in our house. The Warholian-style wallpaper (before his famous flower paintings) in our modest kitchen—bold and flowered in black and bright blue—wasn’t like anything in the homes of my childhood school friends. But it was unique and, like the impeccably tailored clothes I’d see my mother wearing, understated in a way that felt independent, confident and always special. She made the trends of the day totally her own.
I lived at home until I was 18, going back and forth into New York City on the train, jumping off at Penn Station and exploring the immediate area around 34th Street, not wanting to stray too far. And then I made the move to Manhattan. I studied liberal arts at NYU, heading home on weekends. My roommate and I shared an apartment on the Upper West Side. The bathroom was royal purple, while the rest was painted a beautiful lavender. It was a funny first apartment. I remember the pride I felt for my olive-green vintage dresser, with its white marble top and beautiful mirror, and my big, roomy bed. It was just charming. When I moved to Italy a year later to follow a boyfriend, I felt liberated and open to anything, like most 20-year-olds at the close of the ’60s.
Looking back on that time, stepping out of the blissful suburban bubble where I had grown up, I suppose my thoughts and views on the world were radically changing. What wasn’t radically changing was my personal style: simple, straightforward and clean. Aside from a brief hippie moment of long, centre-parted hair and dangly earrings and ponchos (we all wanted to look like folk singer Joan Baez) and a fun stage where I channeled ’30s Parisians, I was essentially a shirt-and-jeans girl. What other people were doing, culturally and sartorially, was always interesting to me. I would adopt bits and pieces but remained true to my rather simple style, although my inherited and hopeless need to surround myself with things of unique beauty was an affliction I continued to fully embrace.
By 1979, I was back in New York and opened Linda Hopp, a clothing store that was the first of its kind in SoHo. I was designing clothes, and I was buying Calvin Klein and Todd Oldham early on, before both designers were propelled into fashion’s super league. I had hats and bags—it was an original “concept” store, albeit short-lived. For a time, people would come by to uncover new and different pieces, experimenting and playing dress-up, until the homogenized power uniform of ’80s Manhattan set in.
I left the exaggerated shoulder pads and gratuitous excess to New York’s movers and shakers and channeled my own brand of maximalism into the downtown apartment in the funky pre-war building I moved into 35 years ago (and still remain in today). When I say “funky,” what I really mean is a bit shabby, but in this city’s rental market, once you find a place, it’s wise to never leave. And I love my one-bedroom apartment with windows on three sides. I’ve made it totally mine, surrounding myself with pieces that give me joy. I collect anything and everything: vases, shells, bowls, glasses—whatever strikes my fancy. I don’t have anything that’s contemporary. I don’t look to interiors magazines or shop according to the hottest designer or store. I’m a loner, and I love what I love. If I see a beautiful dish from the ’70s or a faded mirror from 1930, I’ll get it. It’s eclectic, a hodgepodge, things I like to wake up and see.
My choices are mine alone to make. I never did meet the right guy and settle down, and now I live with the love of my life, my miniature poodle, Winky. He weighs nine kilograms, he’s silver, he’s got really long legs and he’s much smarter than I could ever be! As someone said: “Poodles aren’t dogs; they’re people.” I love to have friends over, a few at a time, for a glass of wine and a chat. I’m not a big entertainer. No dinner parties. No space for that. I travel, but I always love to come home to my turquoise velvet sofa and my gorgeous plants and flowers. I’m a true homebody.
I find it hysterical that a 68-year-old, someone who’s wrinkly and worn, has been noticed by the fashion set and they have decided to embrace me. It’s wonderful to be called a “style icon.” First came the Karen Walker sunglasses campaign, then a lookbook for The Row. It’s flattering to think they find my style “cool.”
I don’t have a lot of dresses. I don’t like frilly things. I like being tailored; it suits my physique. While I’d happily saunter around my living room in floor-length ’30s bias dresses, I don’t own an evening gown and I never have. Nor have I ever dyed my hair. It was never an issue when I started turning grey at 35. That didn’t bother me at all. It never has. I guess you could say it’s become my signature—that and the glasses. Everyone says, “Oh, you wear the greatest glasses.” Well, I can’t see! They are, admittedly, a nice, quirky addition and a super-easy way to add flair to my look.
I also collect vintage jewellery, but I only wear a few personal pieces designed by Soraya Silchenstedt. She made long chain necklaces for me and my sister about seven years ago. Mine has a small round diamond charm and a heart on it, and my sister’s just has the tiny heart. When she passed away, I buried her in my necklace and now I wear hers. I’ve never taken it off. On my wrist I have her name, Christine, tattooed in turquoise. I was 62 and didn’t have to think twice. My first and only other tattoo (which I got at 60) says “Nick”—my nephew who was serving in Iraq. I needed him close. (He’s back home and safe now.)
I operate on instinct—I’ve got a lifetime of experience to draw on. I don’t shop by label. If something looks good on me, I’m on board. And I keep some pieces forever. I still have a denim shirt that’s 30 years old and a denim jacket that I’ve had forever. I’m fortunate in that I’ve kept the same silhouette so I can still wear the same jeans—I’m a real denim fanatic. I wear vintage Levi’s 501s almost every day. I have lovely designer jeans as well. I’ve got a pair from Chloé, but it doesn’t matter where they came from or who designed them—I just love denim in any shape or form. I’m waiting for my Ellery jeans to arrive from Australia. I love Ellery and got her wonderful flare pants while visiting Sydney.
Style does not have to rely on money or resources. For me, it’s about personal taste and a sense of oneself. And I don’t think that just because you get older you have to dress older, or younger, or anything. I was never a provocative dresser anyway. I did wear hot pants and miniskirts when I was 18. I guess we all did. But since then, I’ve always been pretty covered up; that’s just the way I feel most comfortable. It has to feel right for me in order to look right. And now when I look at footage of my mother, it strikes me how similar my tastes have become to hers. That simple turtleneck, those great dungarees—there was a simplicity about the way she dressed that allowed her personality to shine through. That and the slick of raspberry lipstick that frames that beaming smile. It’s a shade I’ve recreated today in my own beauty line, Rodin Olio Lusso. It still feels modern, even 60 years on.
I called it Billie on the Bike.