"I was never interested in writing about fashion, that was never my life goal. My first job was actually at a law firm in Paris—I moved there after I graduated from Princeton. There was some writing...a lot of memos, some translating. I remember this one case when the French lover of Romaine Brooks, a famous artist from the 1920s, was suing the Smithsonian claiming she had left him some paintings. I had to go to Nice and talk to one of the only people alive from that time period, Natalie Barney's maid. They had all lived in that whole Gertrude Stein world. I was in the same building where they used to dance around the statue in the courtyard. [Laughs]
I came back to New York and worked at Vanity Fair, doing mostly editorial assistant stuff. When Tina Brown moved to the New Yorker, I went with her and wrote about culture. But somebody told me the Financial Times had lost their fashion writer and suggested I write to them. I had written for different fashion publications like Vogue and Elle, so FT said I should come write about boots! I was like, 'If you pay me, I'll write about anything.' I was at the FT for 11 years, and then I moved to the New York Times two years ago.
Effectively, I am much less interested in my image than I am interested in the people I am talking to. So for me, the simpler and more consistent I look, the easier it is for me to get up, get ready, and then go do something else that I really want to do. I think from an external point of view, it is useful for people to have a kind of style, because it does brand them and it gives you a kind of presence or consistency that's useful. I tend to wear the same things every single Fashion Week. The street style photographers must be unsatisfied. I wear Dries van Noten, Alaïa. I love flats. Most of my clothes and my routines are based on functionality and ease.
The thing that interests me most [in beauty] is, to Botox or not to Botox, to facelift or not to facelift. It might be my stage in life. I tend to think that if you can get through middle age, and you develop the face that you were born to have, it usually looks better than the face that you've changed. But it's very weird to sit in fashion shows and be the only person with lines in your forehead. I actually don't use any anti-aging products. I'm not against them, it's more of a laziness. I'm thinking about other stuff. And I love the way Jane Birkin and Charlotte Rampling look.
My own approach to skincare is very lackadaisical, very ad hoc. I started using Eve Lom when I lived in London and I still think it's great—I use her cleanser at night, with Clinique Makeup Remover. I just bought the Bliss Daily Detoxifying Facial Toner and I like that because it doesn't dry me out. For moisturizer, day and night, I use Kiehl's Ultra Facial Moisturizer. It isn't too heavy and it makes my skin feel good. I tried Crème de la Mer, but I don't like thick creams like that because they leave residue. If I try something and it works, I just use it. I don't really worry about it.
When I worked for Vogue, I did some beauty reporting. On one of the stories they sent me on, Kevyn Aucoin was doing makeup, and he told me to wear Nars Lip Liner in Morocco. He told me it was a good color for me. That with Nars Dolce Vita Lipstick—I do the lip liner all over and then the lipstick on top. I've worn that ever since.
And after I lived in Paris I got very enamored with bat-wing eyeliner and I did that for a while, but pretty much for the last 15 years I’ve looked about the same...with a few more lines. [Laughs] One thing I didn't realize about aging is that as you get older, your eyebrows get thinner, and that is depressing. I use this Clinique Superfine Liner for Brows every day, I like the little tip.
I line my eyes with Clinique Quickliner for Eyes Intense in Intense Black, just inside my eye, on the top and the bottom—I don't use the smudge tip side. For mascara, as long as it’s black, I am completely promiscuous and will put whatever on. Mascara makes my nonexistent eyelashes exist. The other thing I always wear is Benefit Porefessional Primer and Powder, because one time my daughter said, 'Mommy, what are those holes on your face?' Big pores.
My hair is naturally brown—by now it's probably gray. I dyed it red for a Vogue story—this is when Linda Evangelista first dyed her hair red—and Anna [Wintour] wanted me to do a story about getting glamorous, because I guess I was very unglamorous back then. [Laughs] She had Louis Licari dye my hair for it. And then to everyone's shock, including Anna's, I looked better. So I kept it. I think it actually suits my coloring. Most people think it's natural.
Every once in awhile I think about cutting it all off, which I did do, after I got married. But I had to get it cut all the time, and if it didn't look good, I had to wash it and start again. That's the great lie of hair—that short hair is less work than long hair—it's not. So I grew it out. I started wearing my hair in a bun after I had kids because I didn’t have time to do it anymore. I wash it twice a week and I use Christophe Robin Shampoo and Conditioner, and the Purifying Scrub with Sea Salt. It gets rid of all the buildup on your hair. I think he works really hard on his products.
I always wear the same fragrance, Escentric 03 by Escentric Molecules. I tend to wear the same scent for years. I wore Comme des Garçons for a long time. Flowery scents don't work for me, I like weird scents. Escentric 03 is a little dark, not powdery and not floral. And I like how everyone who smells it compliments it. [Laughs] That’s a pretty good indicator.
I do trapeze, mostly in Williamsburg at a place called Streb. I started doing it with my kids—I think it's a very good family activity. I go once a week, sometimes twice in the summer. It’s like being on the monkey bars! At this stage I can swing without ropes... It looks easy but it’s very hard, and it makes you really strong. I’m actually in better shape now than I’ve been in my entire life."
—as told to ITG
Vanessa Friedman photographed by Tom Newton at her home in Brooklyn on December 18, 2015.