'I went to university in Colorado and studied art history. I did some photography classes there, although it felt really pretentious. But then, I fell in love with a guy who was 10 years older than I was and so I went to work in Boston in a photo gallery. There, I met a fashion photographer and I was like, 'What’s a fashion photographer? How do I do that?' He told me to assist and I realized that was a way to make money instead of waiting tables, so I started assisting.
I was earning under minimum wage, I was so skinny because I’d just eat like a pear every day. But I started testing models, and then I went to visit a friend in Paris, fell in love with Arthur Elgort’s work and started assisting him. A lot of my friends at the time were models and I just started documenting my life there. Arthur told me to keep the photos, that they were good...the rest is history! I just went door-to-door at magazines, saying 'Give me a job. Give me a job. Give me a job.' I think the art directors felt sorry for me. Then, Marie Claire had a cancellation and asked me to come back the next day, for a 10-page beauty story. I guess that was my breakthrough.
It was funny, there weren’t that many female photographers then. There was Sarah Moon, I think Annie [Leibowitz] was doing Rolling Stone, Deborah Turbeville and then Ellen Von Unwerth started. You’d look through Interview and there’d be no women. It was such a boy’s club. Still now, whenever a woman is successful, everyone’s always like, 'They're such a bitch. They're so difficult.' They don't say that about guys. There's plenty of women out there that are doing really cool things, but if women are demanding and expect things, it's suddenly, you know, they're a bitch.
I hardly look at myself in the mirror…I’ll only wear makeup if I need to cover something up. But I’ve recently started caring about my skin. I just turned 60 and was like, 'OK, maybe it’s time to start thinking about it.’ Before that, I would just splash water on my face, put cream on, and then leave. But then I started to react in different ways to things and my skin got really dry, so I went to a dermatologist, started getting facials…things that I’d never done before. Now, I love facials, I think they’re amazing. I have no idea whether it works or not but all I want to say is that everyone’s like, ‘you look great.’ So it must be doing something!
I go to Dr. Colbert, the Face Place, or to see Georgia Louise, who just moved from London. Basically, I get all my information from the models. Gucci Westman recommended Georgia to me—I think Christy Turlington goes to her. That was my first proper, expensive facial but I really like her and I like her products. But the Face Place is great, too, and it’s not too expensive. Then, I first went to Dr. Colbert because Carolyn Murphy and all of the models I was working with were talking about him and I just kept hearing his name everywhere. He does this half-hour laser thing that is great, something with a red light that is supposed to promote collagen. I don’t know how it works. But now I try and do one of those three every month.
My ex-husband used to work for L’Oréal, and he always said that expensive skincare was the same as the cheap stuff, just a different price. So I used to use whatever. But then, after I had an allergic reaction to something, I decided I should look into it all, started using more expensive products and for the first time I was like, 'OK, maybe there’s something to be said for what you put on your face.'
In the mornings, I just splash my face with water because I don’t feel it needs much, and then I moisturize and put on sunblock. I’ve started to wear sunblock every day. I was always…well, let’s just say it was way down on my list of priorities. Now, I wear this Olay Complete Daily Defense that I get from a dermatologist—for some reason, I can’t find it in stores, so she gets it for me. I have so much sun damage. I see kids these days and I'm like, 'Put on sun block. Don't do this to yourself. You'll be spending so much money when you're older and you want to get rid of this shit.'
I have always had really dry skin and I never even used to use a cleanser. Tom, the guy at Face Place, told me that was abominable. So now, in the evenings, I wash my face with the Face Place Face Shampoo and then I use the Dr. Colbert or Georgia Louise stuff. Dr. Colbert does a great Illumino Face Oil, and a great night cream that I use for the day, too. And he gave me these cleansing pads that are amazing, that work as an exfoliator. So I either use one of those or this Vitamin C repair…I can never keep track of everything, so I just try to rotate between it all because I know somewhere they’re like, 'Use this once a week.' Now, I feel like my skin is really moisturized without ever feeling sticky, like how some of the thick creams can make it feel. Georgia Louise just gave me this face roller but I just don’t have time to deal with all that stuff. I do love the idea of it and she uses it during the facials, but it just takes so much time and I’ve got so many other things I want to do. I should start doing it again…
I’ve had Botox. It hurts, a lot, but I like it. That’s another reason I like Dr. Colbert… I’ve been to a bunch of different dermatologists, but I like the advice he gives me. Although, he wants me to do this non-surgical facelift thing…I’ve heard people talk about it, like sonic bursts or something? It sounds super painful. I went to this one dermatologist who told me to do this major peel. But then, I looked it up online and was like, 'No fucking way.' These women who’d had it done looked like monsters, for like three weeks, with scabs all over their faces! What I like about Dr. Colbert is that, even when I asked if I should have Fraxel done, he told me, 'No. Let me just work on your skin a little first and then see how it goes.' I think there’s a fine line between looking your age, looking well and being your age. If you do too much to yourself then you start to look older…like, 'Why do you look like an alien? Oh, you must be old.' I mean, having stuff done is fine, I don’t care what anyone does. But you want to look normal.
It's a weird thing when you don't give a shit. I mean, in high school I wouldn’t step out of the bathroom without makeup. But then I became a hippie and, ever since then, I’ve never bothered. Now, I just tint my eyelashes and eyebrows—either at the Face Place or this woman out in East Hampton that I see when we spend weekends there. In Europe, they do it a lot…I feel like European women know how to look after themselves without looking like freaks. I lived in Europe for a really long time and those women will have a three-course meal with dessert but they don’t eat huge portions and then they exercise, but quietly. They’re not talking about going to the gym all the time. It’s just a different culture.
If I do wear makeup, I like the Maybelline mascara, the old school pink one. And, if I’ve had Botox and I have a bruise or something, I’ll use Nars to cover it up. Then, a makeup artist told me that, if I ever do use foundation, I have to wear this YSL Teint Parfait Complexion Enhancer underneath it, like a primer. If my skin is weird, then I might use By Terry Brightening Serum. It’s a really thin layer, doesn’t look like you have foundation on, has a little bit of shine to it. That, or YSL Le Teint Touche Eclat Illuminating Foundation. And, if I feel a little pale, I’ll use Chanel Poudre Universelle Compacte Naturale…although I’ve just opened it and realized it’s broken. That’s how often I use it. But I like the packaging, it’s so chic. So I'll pay the extra $500.
I also really like hair oil. I only use shampoo once a week, the rest of the time I just wash with conditioner because the older you get, the drier your hair gets. So the Weleda stuff is really good for me. Orlando Pita has been cutting my hair for 30 years, something like that…we met in like 1984 and he's such a great guy. He's got so much integrity, which is something that can be rare.
I’m really into Santa Maria Novella’s products…if I take a bath, that’s what I use, although I think the dogs take more baths than me. And their body lotion is amazing. Basically, I'm basically just about maintenance. Just trying to get through looking halfway decent. The sun is definitely damaging. Smoking. Drinking. All of those things I did. All of ‘em. I met this woman at Eileen Ford’s funeral…she was 90 and she looked amazing. She told me, 'Never had a drink, never had a cigarette.' And I was like, 'Well, you should be the poster child for that.''
—as told to ITG
Pamela Hanson photographed by Tom Newton. Read more of The Top Shelf here.