The term ‘super’ doesn’t quite do justice to modeling legend Carolyn Murphy’s stellar career. Scouted at just 17 years old, Murphy has now been at the forefront of the industry for three decades, fronting campaigns for the likes of Prada and Tom Ford, not to mention holding the record for longest-ever Estée Lauder contract – currently clocking in at 20 years and counting. It might come as a surprise, then, to learn that this year marks the first time Murphy has dabbled in design, as she celebrates the release of an upcycled collection with cult Los Angeles-based denim label Mother.
It goes without saying that Murphy, with her Midas modeling touch, has been approached for countless collab offers throughout her career, but as a passionate environmentalist, it had to be a project with purpose. “Most models have these opportunities when they’re at the height of their careers, as I did; whether it was a swimsuit collaboration after I did Sports Illustrated, or something else, I never really wanted to do that because I thought the world just doesn’t need more stuff.”
I wanted [the collection] to have a kind of whimsy and playfulness to it, with pieces that every woman could style differently”
Born in Florida and raised between the Sunshine State, a family farm in Virginia and the bucolic English countryside, Murphy was a self-confessed tomboy: “I never thought I would be a model.” But despite her own misgivings, Murphy has become one of the most enduring faces of American fashion. Behind the lens, however, she is a keen painter and sculptor, so this collaboration also represents one of the first times she has revealed that creative side of herself: “I’m really stepping out of my boundaries.”
This sense of adventure and daring is something that is subtly woven throughout the capsule collection, too. Although it’s perfectly in keeping with Murphy’s signature “classic, wearable and elegant” aesthetic, she was also eager to ensure it had edge, offering a sort of sartorial rebellion and escape from the tedium of lockdown dressing. “I wanted it to have a kind of whimsy and playfulness to it, with pieces that every woman could style differently,” she adds.
Murphy is also a keen advocate for various environmental and animal charities, so the project’s philanthropic angle was important to her – through the collection, Mother is donating $50,000 to the Sierra Club for its 30x30 program, the mission of which is to protect 30 percent of US lands and water by 2030. It’s a thread that runs through the responsibly created capsule and the Americana theme of the collection.
Read on to discover more about Murphy’s career, covetable new collection and style secrets…
“My mom enrolled me in finishing school when I was a teenager. I had recently discovered Patti Smith and The Cure, and I was really into art – I wasn’t your typical Southern belle. That’s why, at the final presentation, when modeling agents showed an interest in me, I assumed it was a joke. The next thing I know, I’m spending my last year of high school flying back and forth to Paris. I was always getting in trouble for hanging out with artists instead of going to my appointments. And when I did go, I wouldn’t wear tight, short skirts. This was 1991, so the look was still very ’80s glamazon, which just didn’t resonate with me at all. A few years later, when I was in college and grunge came along, with new faces like Kate Moss and Emma Balfour, it was so exciting. I was so inspired by that scene and really related to it – that’s how I got back into modeling, and when my career really took off. It was such a great time; I think it was fashion’s last golden era.”
Make meaningful connections
“I think experimenting and finding yourself is a really important part of your twenties. Some of the people who came into my life then, like Christy Turlington, had a huge impact on me. Christy is a true friend and was a real mentor to me; I feel so fortunate to have had her to lean on. The best piece of advice she ever gave me was to make my physical, mental and emotional wellbeing my main priority. She’s the reason I first became interested in yoga. I always felt very different from my peers and my generation – I wasn’t a partier, so it was easy to feel like a bit of an outcast, and I think she felt the same. It comes down to really knowing who you are and remaining true to that.”
Find your signatures
“My style has stayed consistent throughout the years. I love channeling Anjelica Huston’s ’70s style, and Lauren Hutton, who is actually a dear friend of mine. We met up for breakfast a few weeks ago and she arrived wearing a navy pencil skirt, a white tee, white sneakers and a baseball cap – she’s still so chic at 77. I take a similarly pared-back approach to beauty. I just love clean, dewy skin and I’ve had the good fortune to work with a great American beauty brand for years, so I have access to all the best products. For a night out, I’ll add a pop of red lipstick, just like my nana used to.”
I think experimenting and finding yourself is a really important part of your twenties. Some of the people that came into my life then, like Christy Turlington, had a huge impact on me. The best piece of advice she ever gave me was to make my physical, mental and emotional wellbeing my main priority”
Embrace new challenges
“Denim is a huge part of my wardrobe, and I wear Mother a lot. So, when the team proposed we work together on an upcycled collection, I got super-excited. Going to the rag houses and seeing piles and piles of ‘waste’ was a real learning experience; you know what they say: ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’. The most challenging part was figuring out how to translate these pre-existing pieces into a cohesive collection, but we had so much fun along the way. There’s a lot of greenwashing when it comes to conversations about sustainability and circular fashion, which is why I’ve always been hesitant to get involved. However, the Mother team is so well-versed on the challenges the fashion industry faces and how we can all do better.”
“The creative process behind this collection was totally exploratory. I started out wanting to do so many things and had tons of sketches; it wasn’t until the second or third edit that I realized there was a real theme emerging. Jay [Steiner, Mother’s art director] and I were going through the rack when I realized that the whole collection felt very Americana. Of course, you have the denim in various forms, but also the quilting – I’m obsessed with Gee’s Bend, a community based in Alabama that’s famous for its quilts. We also embroidered some of my own sketches of flowers and birds onto the pieces as a kind of logo. Jay agreed with my comment and added that it all felt really homegrown, so that’s how we landed on the theme, back to front.”