Nothing Comes Between Brooke Shields and Her New Line for QVC


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As Rachel Ungaro, the vice president of fashion merchandising and design development for QVC said, “she transcends the decades”: fixed firmly in home viewers’ imaginations as paradoxically tough and alluring but approachable.

“Our customer is going to love her,” Ms. Ungaro said, “because to their minds she is very real.”


Some of the pieces from Ms. Shields’s line. Credit Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

From ‘Pretty Baby’ to Menocore

Still, the notion of Ms. Shields tweaking hemlines and adjusting seams seems a bit improbable.

True, during his first season as creative director for Calvin Klein, Raf Simons resurrected her famous jeans-clad image on a series of T-shirts. And last year a taut, preternaturally youthful Ms. Shields modeled Calvin Klein lingerie in Social Life magazine. But full lips and furred brows aside, her influence on fashion is debatable.

Unlike many models who are over 50 or performers parlaying their celebrity into late-life fashion careers — Jaclyn Smith and Marlo Thomas come to mind — Ms. Shields, surprisingly, has never put her name to a fashion line.

Still the QVC partnership seems promising. Her new label, Brooke Shields Timeless, is trend free, as the name suggests. It is aimed unabashedly at the “menocore” crowd, a cohort archly defined by Harling Ross on Manrepeller as “like Normcore, if its inspiration were women of a certain age.” (Its members venerate role models like Diane Keaton in a Nancy Meyers movie, or Blythe Danner in any number of roles — women who, like Ms. Shields herself, are white, rich and thin.)

But Ms. Shields will tell you she is not all that readily typecast.

Members of the 35-to-65-year-old QVC demographic may recall her as the paradoxically chaste pinup who courted notoriety playing a preadolescent prostitute in Louis Malle’s 1978 film, “Pretty Baby.” They may also remember her the demiclad nymph cavorting on a desert island in “The Blue Lagoon” (1980), her breasts curtained by nothing but her waist-length hair. A disconcertingly sultry naïf, she made her mark on a culture skittishly poised between prurience and an uneasy Puritanism.


Left, Ms. Shields in “Pretty Baby,” 1978. Right, Ms. Shields in “The Blue Lagoon,” 1980. Credit Left: Paramount/Getty Images; Right: Bettmann/Getty Images

“I think in my life I’ve really embodied both the sexy and the wholesome,” said Ms. Shields, a tutor’s pet on her early movie locations who eventually attended Princeton University. “In school I was a goody-goody. I would do all my homework. But if I’m in a rock ’n’ roll setting, I want to be able to channel whatever it is that’s behind it.”

Still, as she’ll also tell you matter-of-factly, she remains a work in progress. Days after introducing the QVC line at the Beekman, she gusted into Maison Kayser, a friendly West Village bakery near the townhouse she shares with her husband, Chris Henchy, a television writer and producer, and their two daughters, who are 11 and 14. Seasoning her eggs with a vial of Tabasco she produced from her purse, she was easygoing but reflective.

“At the end of the day, you’re sort of asking yourself, ‘Who am I?’” she said. “Am I honestly O.K. with being more than just one thing?”

And yet her variability is arguably what has extended her appeal. Recurrent gossip column fodder, the youthful Ms. Shields dated John Travolta and crushed on a baby-faced George Michael. Later in life she found herself deflecting the advances of Donald Trump, who had suggested that they date, telling her, as she amusedly told the talk show host Andy Cohen, “‘you’re America’s sweetheart and I’m America’s richest man.’”

She was briefly married to the tennis pro Andre Agassi, who portrayed her in “Open,” his 2009 autobiography, as a socially ambitious gadabout to his off-the-courts homebody. They were a mismatch, not least because, as he writes, when friends appear, “It feels as if we’re actors and our guests are an audience.

“She playacts,” he adds, “even when the audience isn’t here.”

Protected From Predators

In her 2014 memoir, “There Was a Little Girl: The Real Story of My Mother and Me,” Ms. Shields confides that she pulled away from Mr. Agassi by degrees, their rift widening after she learned of his former substance abuse. “I feared our life together was not based in absolute truth,” she writes.

Throughout her marriage and well into Ms. Shields’s adulthood, Teri Shields, her notorious hovercraft of a mother, was both her bulwark and her bane. Energetic and capable, but often drunk, the senior Ms. Shields is portrayed in her daughter’s memoir with an unlikely blend of solicitude and pain. (Teri died of Alzheimer’s disease in 2012.)

Teri Terrific, as she was known among friends, was much maligned in the film industry as a harpy who exploited Ms. Shields and turned her into an unprotesting meal ticket. She encouraged Brooke, who was scarcely out of puberty, to act as camera bait, strutting provocatively at movie premieres and Hollywood galas. And she looked on, apparently unfazed, as her daughter danced the night away at Studio 54.

At the same time, Teri Shields made certain no drugs or whiff of scandal would ever taint her charge. But if she guarded Brooke’s virtue with a gorgon-like ferocity, it was partly in the interest of a payoff.

You may expect the mature Ms. Shields to claim the status of poster woman for the #MeToo movement, calling out a long line of predatory studio honchos who beat a path to her trailer. She does not.

“There were no Harveys or James Tobacks in my life,” she said evenly. “My mother absolutely was the barrier between me and all of them. They couldn’t get to me. They were not going to get through because it was too much work.”

Her already formidable celebrity was an additional hurdle. “Going after me,” she said, “may have been too much of a risk.”

Her real harassers were a prurient media and psychically assaultive public. “There seemed to be no boundaries,” she writes in one of her memoirs. “The sense of obligation and the fear of losing a fan’s devotion were often too much for me to take.”

To the hordes of autograph seekers nipping at her heels, “I could never say no,” she recalled. “I felt as if the world owned me. It was the feeling that everybody wanted to take a piece.”

Over the course of her somewhat patchy upbringing, Ms. Shields acquired a robust armor. Teri Shields spent part of her girlhood in Newark, cleaning other peoples’ houses. Divorced when Brooke was a toddler from Frank Shields, a well-born and glamorous business executive, she and Brooke spent summers in Southhampton, N.Y., in a relatively shabby part of town, so that Brooke could see her father.

“I was the person who was living above the hardware store and was fine with it,” Ms. Shields said. “At the same time, I was going to day camp with all these extremely wealthy kids and, you know, I could fit in there.” Learning to straddle the class divide was liberating. “I found that I could put on these different hats and thrive,” she said.

That duality is reflected in the QVC collection. Priced from $29 to $109, it veers in tone and style from classically upscale to breezily accessible. The company had planned to introduce the line at the Beekman in a setting the designer dismissed as not quite up to snuff. In a misguided play on the “Timeless” label, QVC had installed clocks on every available wall.


Ms. Shields at her clothing event. Credit Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

Ms. Shields wasn’t having it. “I wanted the space to feel inviting, not kitschy,” she said. That meant, in her words, “lighter furniture, darker woods on the floor, and Aubusson rugs, a mixture that’s very much what my house looks like.”

Ms. Shields and her manufacturing partner, the KBL Group International, had approached QVC, a move that she said took courage. The prospect of fusing her country club-inflected aesthetic with something a bit more democratic was daunting at first.

Even simply getting dressed has sometimes proved a challenge. “I was afraid that I didn’t have a through line to my style,” she said, “that when I went into my closet I was too many people, that there was no continuity there, no order.”

She struggled to make sense of her more than 50 pairs of jeans and more rarely worn high-end togs from labels including Carolina Herrera, Rodarte and Saint Laurent.

“I had nice things, but I was afraid I was going to sweat in them and spoil them,” she said. Instead of picking up fancy labels, she said, “I would buy 10 identical pieces from Uniqlo.” More pointedly, she said, “I didn’t want to seem better than anyone else.”

Her egalitarian tendencies gave rise to a collection of discreetly striped shirts, tank tops with jeweled necklines, trench jackets, tunics and wide leg pants, a wardrobe that highlights and simultaneously downplays the signifiers of wealth and class.

When she is not overseeing the placement of zippers, buttons and seams, Ms. Shields is shuttling between New York and Los Angeles, where she is taping “Jane the Virgin,” parodying herself as an actress and supermodel called River Fields.

Off set, though, she plans to stay sharply focused on Brooke, the brand. “At first I shied away from that,” she said. “I didn’t want to be a commodity. I wanted to be real. But the flip side was that I wanted to sell. And you can’t have it both ways.”

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