Christy Turling­ton Burns chats about par­ent­hood, her non­profit, and mod­el­ing ’80s-in­spired fash­ion

InStyle (USA) - - Directory - by SARAH CRISTOBAL pho­tographed by CHRIS COLLS styled by JU­LIA VON BOEHM

there’s so much go­ing on here,” says Christy Turling­ton Burns, ges­tur­ing at the over-the-top, ’80s-in­spired Dolce & Gab­bana coat adorned with be­jew­eled crosses she is wear­ing on set in New York City. Upon sur­vey­ing the racks of clothes ear­lier, she made an ed­u­cated guess that a puff-sleeved polka-dot num­ber was by the de­sign house of Emanuel Un­garo. She was cor­rect, of course, not only be­cause she un­der­stands fash­ion but be­cause she’s also worn these styles be­fore, at the time of their orig­i­nal in­car­na­tion. “These pieces are maybe a lit­tle shorter than the ones in my hey­day and have even big­ger shoul­der pads, but it’s def­i­nitely an homage,” Turling­ton Burns says with a laugh. “A lot of it re­minded me of ’80s de­sign­ers who were even be­fore my time, like Gior­gio Sant’an­gelo, Antony Price, and Arnold Scaasi.”

And yet can we even re­call a time when she and her fel­low su­per­mod­els ( yes, the orig­i­nals—naomi Camp­bell, Linda Evan­ge­lista, Cindy Craw­ford, and Clau­dia Schif­fer) were not dom­i­nat­ing the fash­ion and pop-cul­ture ether? Their col­lec­tive power—in­dus­try folk still re­fer to them by their first names only—con­tin­ues to carry weight. In the past year alone Turling­ton Burns has ap­peared in cam­paigns for mar­quee brands such as Ver­sace, May­belline New York, Bio­therm, H&M Sus­tain­able Con­scious Col­lec­tion, and Cole Haan.

Though she ap­pre­ci­ates all the ad­ven­tures of her epic mod­el­ing ca­reer, re­hash­ing the past is not her fo­cus. “It’s funny how re­moved I feel from it,” she says, hav­ing slipped into a much more com­fort­able sweat­shirt and black trousers. “It’s not some­thing that I think about at all on a daily ba­sis.”

Nor does it seem to im­press Grace, her 14-year-old daugh­ter with ac­tor and direc­tor Ed Burns (they also have a 12-year-old son, Finn), who hasn’t re­ally asked about her mom’s leg­endary fash­ion sta­tus. “A lot of those things are just com­ing into her aware­ness now,” says Turling­ton Burns. “She’ll prob­a­bly have more ques­tions. Even peo­ple she’s met through me, she mostly doesn’t even know who they are or what their sig­nif­i­cance is. I re­mem­ber when my niece, who is 21, tran­scribed some­thing for me, and Basquiat came up. She didn’t know how to spell it, didn’t know who he was, and then a year later was like, ‘Oh my god.’ ”

In a way Turling­ton Burns has al­ways had this kind of du­al­ity. She’s an iconic beauty from Northern Cal­i­for­nia who prefers not to wear makeup; a high-fash­ion dar­ling who went on hia­tus at the peak of her ca­reer to be­come a stu­dent at New York Univer­sity; a truly fa­mous per­son who likes to live a low-key ex­is­tence. She’s able to tol­er­ate dis­cussing the glit­tery mo­ments in her life, the ones she’s most of­ten asked about, as long as the con­ver­sa­tion can even­tu­ally be redi­rected to her great­est pas­sion, the non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion Ev­ery Mother Counts, or EMC, which she founded in 2010. Her in­ter­est in ma­ter­nal health ini­tially stemmed from per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence: Fol­low­ing the birth of her daugh­ter, Turling­ton Burns suf­fered a hem­or­rhage, which, had she not had the proper care, could have proved fa­tal.

Ac­cord­ing to the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion, more than 300,000 women die each year due to preg­nancy and child­birth is­sues, and, says EMC, 98 per­cent of these deaths are pre­ventable. Shock­ingly, the United States has the high­est rate of ma­ter­nal deaths of any de­vel­oped coun­try. Low­er­in­come com­mu­ni­ties are the most greatly af­fected, par­tic­u­larly African-amer­i­can women, who are four times more likely than Cau­casian women to die from child­birth- and preg­nancy-re­lated com­pli­ca­tions.

“I would say sys­temic racism is at the heart of it,” says Turling­ton Burns. “Why are there dif­fer­ent out­comes for women [ based on] whether they’re ed­u­cated or not, whether they have ac­cess to health care or not?” She sighs. “We’re just try­ing to im­prove the qual­ity of life for as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble.” (So far that num­ber is 600,000 and count­ing thanks to the $4 mil­lion–plus in grants EMC has pro­vided world­wide.) Her lat­est trips on be­half of the or­ga­ni­za­tion have in­volved open­ing a mid­wifery clinic in Gu­atemala and de­liv­er­ing so­lar kits to an en­ergy-de­prived hospi­tal in Tan­za­nia. She is also the ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of an on­go­ing doc­u­men­tary film se­ries, Giv­ing Birth in Amer­ica, which spot­lights the plight of preg­nant women and fam­i­lies all over the coun­try.

Her pos­i­tive in­flu­ence is reach­ing her most im­por­tant au­di­ence. Turling­ton Burns lights up upon re­veal­ing that Grace’s re­cent eighth-grade-grad­u­a­tion so­cial-jus­tice project was on ma­ter­nal and baby health. “When you don’t tell your kids what to do, when you don’t say, ‘ You should do this, and you should be thank­ful for this,’ they get it them­selves.”

Turling­ton Burns is also de­ter­mined to set an ex­am­ple on self-im­age. Peo­ple have been ask­ing her since she was 15 if she was plan­ning to have cos­metic surgery, she says: “I guess it was an early sign about the way our cul­ture was go­ing, but I don’t find it at­trac­tive. I don’t find it healthy. I would never want my kids to be raised by some­one who is ner­vous about the way they ap­pear or to put in that much time and at­ten­tion.

“Maybe my mom set the prece­dent of not re­ally be­ing that fussy,” she con­tin­ues. “Even to­day I didn’t shave my legs. [When I got here] I was like, ‘Oh god.’ ”

She re­calls once be­ing seated across from a glis­ten­ing Jen­nifer Lopez at a Marc Ja­cobs show when Grace was 6 months old. “Her skin was shiny, glowy, not

“It’s Prince, it’s Lacroix, it’s El­ton John, it’s Dolce;

a blem­ish. She had per­fect toes, ev­ery­thing,” says Turling­ton Burns of Lopez. “I just re­mem­ber look­ing down and think­ing, ‘I should not be here.’ And I’m sure I started lac­tat­ing too.”

As for her fel­low su­pers, she sees Evan­ge­lista from time to time. Their sons are the same age. And she re­cently jumped at a last­minute re­quest from Camp­bell to ac­cept a life­time achieve­ment award on her be­half at the Black Alumni of Pratt’s an­nual Cel­e­bra­tion of the Cre­ative Spirit gala. Turling­ton Burns says she’s never that spon­ta­neous but threw on a dress by Zero + Maria Cornejo, her fa­vorite de­signer for red-car­pet ap­pear­ances, and stepped out. (“When a sis­ter calls and asks you to stand in her shoes, you say yes, and so I am here,” Turling­ton Burns said at the podium.)

“It’s kind of like child­hood friends, right?” she adds. “So I might not see them all the time, but when­ever I’m with them, I go right back into a fa­mil­iar­ity and a com­fort. I’m proud of all of them. They are awe­some women.”

In a dream world there is a su­per­model text chain that keeps them all con­nected, but Turling­ton Burns in­sists such a thing has yet to ex­ist—though she’s not op­posed to start­ing one. One thing is for sure: She can ex­pect to be the re­cip­i­ent of a flood of In­sta­gram trib­utes and mes­sages when she turns 50 in Jan­uary.

“There will be no party. I’m not a party per­son,” she says. “I just wantmy fam­ily around. It’s the day after New Year’s, so to me it’s a per­fect time to re­set. The only thing I don’t like about this birth­day is I like odd num­bers bet­ter. I don’t know why. I think of my 49th birth­day as my 50th birth­day. So in my mind it’s al­ready kinda hap­pened.” n

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