Christy Turlington Burns: “Kindness is underrated”

Supermodel, charity founder and face of Calvin Klein Eternity Christy Turlington Burns speaks to Entertainment Editor Sophie Goddard about working with husband Ed, her most prized wardrobe staples and the advice she treasures most from fellow 'super' Lauren Hutton...

As one of the original ‘supers’ of the nineties, Christy Turlington (technically Turlington Burns – she’s been married to director Ed Burns since 2003) could be forgiven for taking her foot off the gas. As it happens, she’s doing anything but. Currently global ambassador for Eternity Calvin Klein fragrances (demand for the supermodel shows no sign of waning) she also heads up her own maternal health charity, Every Mother Counts, which has just marked its 10 year anniversary. Her latest Calvin Klein Eternity collaboration – the reason we’re speaking today – feels especially fitting since Turlington actually starred in the first ever Eternity advertising campaign when it debuted in 1988, with husband Burns later joining her as a face of the fragrance (the new campaign is a homage to their love story). Here she explains what it was like working together and answers our most pressing questions…

Your collaboration with Eternity is exciting because you’ve been involved with them since the eighties. How does it feel to have that affiliation with such an iconic brand?

I’m so proud of the relationship over all of these years, I’m not aware of one that has endured as long as this. I started my career with this brand and so to be at this point in my life and still have the association and the relationship, it feels really good.

The new campaign honours the relationship between you and your husband Edward [Burns], how was it working together?

It was actually really nice; we had done one campaign for Eternity a few years ago and that was the first time we worked together in that way. That was slightly more awkward because it was the first time, but we were working with a husband and wife photographer team and they were friends of ours so that made it a little bit easier. This time, it was also easier because we had gone through it once before. And I think there’s such trust in the brand and what we’re doing that it’s much easier to just let go, relax and let the experience take over. So, it was really nice and honestly now that the world is changing so much, looking back at the shoot, it was one of the last getaways we had. So I think I will hold it even more closely because of that.

Did you have any reservations about working together?

Maybe the first time I think, because it’s weird to work with someone you’re married to in any business. And my husband’s a director and he has been in photographs and ads before, but had it been for any other company or brand I don’t think it would have been as exciting or as possible as it was this time. I think having had that trust and then bringing him into that, it felt like a very natural progression. And I’m so happy to have those images and have had those experiences now.

You called it your favourite shoot, why?

I think because I’m very much focused on the present and because it’s us now it feels that much more meaningful and special. There’s so much great work from previous years but who we are now [as a couple] is where I want to be and that’s why it’s my favourite.

We obviously can’t interview one of the original ‘supers’ without asking you to share your best piece of fashion advice…

I’m a very ‘less is more’ person. Basically the way that I am now is the way I dress every day – I’m sort of a jeans or pair of trousers and sweater or a button-up person. I am very low maintenance and minimalist in the fashion area, so I’m not one to set a trend for sure. But I like things that are really well made and last a long time, so comfort and sustainability are really important to me.

What’s the most treasured item in your wardrobe?

I have a great jean jacket that’s Calvin Klein but from probably the nineties. And it’s a mainstay – I use it all year round, every year and it doesn’t go out of style. It’s got really soft over the years, so that’s probably one of them. And then I have little bits and pieces I’ve picked up on my travels. I have a beautiful blanket that I travel with usually, it’s a scarf blanket I got in Nepal. What I love about it is there’s a story to how we found it and the whole experience of choosing it. It still kind of smells like the experience, even though it’s obviously been cleaned [laughs]. It carries with it those memories and that was a very long time ago. I like to hold onto things. And I like things that have meaning or some sense of purpose, it just makes me feel good.

Can you tell us a little about founding your charity Every Mother Counts. What was the motivation behind it?

I started it about ten years ago, this is our 10th anniversary.

Congratulations!

Thank you, it’s a big milestone. I became interested in global maternal health as a subject after having a postpartum complication with my daughter Grace who is now 17. So I’ve been very focused and campaigning on this issue since she was born. I went back to school to get a Masters in public health when she was quite small, after I’d had my son. I made documentary film called No Woman No Cry in 2010. And once the film was ready and I was starting to show it around the world, it became clear that more work was needed and so I started Every Mother Counts as a campaign initially. Then it has evolved into a grant-giving organisation and mobilising campaign.

What does Every Mother Count aim to achieve?

We do a lot of thought leadership and policy work on this issue globally and have about 13 grantee partners across six countries including the United States. We’re really working to make pregnancy and childbirth safer for every mother everywhere. Which means making quality and respectful healthcare accessible to women and families no matter where they are. So we do things like train healthcare workers such as midwives and community-based doulas and doctors around the world to make sure that they are providing the highest attainable standard of care for women, no matter where they live. And we also educate the public – everyone could benefit from having better practices and policies in place to make sure mother and child are safe throughout pregnancy and postpartum.

That sounds like a lot of work…

There’s a lot of advocacy work that’s involved. We try to work with legislators and policy makers here in the United States to improve policies, improve coverage and lengthen the period of time where women are insured postpartum when so many of the complications tend to happen. It feels like very meaningful work and very needed work. In this time of Covid-19 we’ve found our work has been necessary and more urgent than ever. And health disparity is one of those issues that has really come to the surface.

What an incredible cause, it must feel good to know you’re helping make such important changes for so many women?

It does. I wouldn’t even say this is my passion project because it’s so much more than that. It’s my third child basically and it’s what I spend all of my time focused on and working towards. We’ve got a lot of work to do but I remain super committed. And I have a great team of people working with me to make sure we can really reach as many people as we possibly can.

Given how much you have on, how do you find balance?

I think when you work on something that you are so committed to, it makes a difference. And obviously the work that I do as an advocate and leading a non-profit, is really so tied to my family and my children. So it feels very integrated at this stage of my life. I’m a fairly grounded person but I’ve also had a very long practise of yoga and meditation. Generally, I’ve been doing a lot of yoga and because I’ve been home more than I typically would, I’ve been able to have that consistency in my practise. It’s been incredibly beneficial and very grounding which I think is needed right now.

You’re also a keen runner – has that helped keep you sane during lockdown?

Yeah, I run and do yoga on alternate days. I haven’t been running as far lately because no races are able to happen. We did a virtual race recently for Birth Justice and so that was fun, I ran about 10 km. That’s about the distance I’ve been doing. I’ve run eight full marathons in the last ten years and about 15-20 half-marathons through Every Mother Counts, it’s one of the ways that we educate people. I’ve just found that I love it, I love being outdoors, Its not as nice with the mask on certainly, but if I can be outside of the city and have the space to run freely, it just feels good. It feels good in the winter, spring, summer and fall. I just love it.

Besides yoga and running, what makes you happy?

I think being purposeful and feeling useful. That could be caring for my family or doing the work that I do with my team, working towards improving the health and wellbeing of others. Using my voice as much as I can. I really have a sense of the repercussions of my actions and the work that I do, or anything that I say. So I think that kind of mindfulness is very rewarding and makes me feel good.

What’s been your proudest achievement?

My children. Because they are now teenagers so I’m getting to really see who they are as humans in the world. And seeing the passion and the care they have about social justice and issues makes me really proud. It’s the kind of thing you wish for and hope for, but you don’t actually know until you see them start to make choices in their own lives. So being able to watch them at this time generally speak out and use their voices and be really passionate about the world that we live in…that’s my biggest investment of time and who I am, it’s on them. So I love to see how that’s revealing itself.

Perhaps they’ll carry the mantle of Every Mother Counts one day…?

Well my daughter feels like she is the reason that it is, which is true, but I think there’s so much out there to be fighting for. As long as they feel that fire and that passion and conviction to do something, I’ll be proud and happy.

Is there anything you wish you could tell your younger self?

I’m very focused on the present so I can’t say that I regret or would undo anything because all the experiences and choices have brought me to the place I’m at today. But when I look back and think about how young I was when I started to work I just think, what’s the rush? Why are young people in such a rush to be older and to be something they’re not? So, if anything, I think slowing down a little bit, taking a little bit more time before jumping into an adult world and an adult life. Maybe. But then again, I really had such great experiences and really don’t have any complaints from my own experience. So I wouldn’t want to alter too much.

Who are your role models?

I don’t look too far outside of my own family for role models. My mother is a great role model – she has always been very active in her community, doing volunteer work. She was always showing that example to us as young children. My sisters became mothers before I did so they were very instrumental in teaching me what kind of mother I wanted to be. And to make the choices I did around my own birth experience or in those early years. Today, my colleagues at Every Mother Counts are the people I look up to and learn from every day. And midwives, doctors, community health workers, the people who put their own lives at risk to make sure women have the care they need.

Is there any advice you’ve been given that you’re grateful for?

My parents both travelled a lot in their careers, my dad was a pilot for Pan American and my mum was a flight attendant before she had children. They both loved to travel and I grew up with that same passion, that wanderlust. And I found a way to keep that in my life all the way through. I think that exposure to the rest of the world from early on, travelling to my mother’s home country of El Salvador, spending a lot of time in places that were different to the communities I grew up in, showed me perspective. And it has made me feel connected to many different cultures and populations. I feel like that example was really evident.

It’s a great example to set to children…

Then a little bit later when I started to model, Lauren Hutton gave me some amazing advice which was when I had the opportunity to travel somewhere, to stay longer than I needed to. Don’t just go for the job, then turn around and come back – stay. I really took that advice to heart and I’ve always done that no matter where I was. Just to try and make sure I incorporated going to the theatre or seeing an exhibition, or continuing to travel if I was in a country far away. And to make friends in those places so that when I went back I could go into someone’s home and feel what it was really like to be in that place. So, that’s something I continue to do now. I think that’s really good advice.

If you could relive one day of your life, which one would you choose?

Maybe that first birth. Because I had a complication, so much of the experience itself has been coloured by what happened afterwards but everything that happened until that time was so perfect And I had never felt so empowered before. So I guess I would try to relive that and remember the positive sides – I mean it’s all been positive, but that part where I really felt invincible and empowered. I think that’s a great feeling to relive.

How would you like to be remembered?

As kind. I think kindness is underrated and one of the most important things. I treasure it. And it’s something I really see in others and something I am attracted to, and hope to instil in my own children. I hope people remember me as having been kind.

Eternity Calvin Klein signature fragrances for him and for her are available at Fragrance Direct.

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