"I grew up in Great Neck, Long Island. It’s about a half an hour car ride but about 100,000 miles away emotionally—there wasn't a lot of latitude for self-expression. There was a lot of conformity, and that was difficult for me because I knew I was an artist when I was very young. I walked into the first day of kindergarten, and we had to go around and introduce ourselves, and I said, ‘Hello, I’m Laurie Simmons and I’m an artist.’ [Laughs] My parents made it absolutely 100% clear that I was really weird.
My mother was a homemaker and my father was a dentist, and he had a little office in our house. I would go sit in his waiting room—he had the most phenomenal magazines and a fish tank. Between reading Life and Look magazine, which were gigantic, and looking into his fish tank, everything I needed to know about my work started there. Growing up, art was this egalitarian thing. The drawings on the Lord and Taylor shopping bags were the same as magazine illustrations. I didn’t have a real hierarchy of art. Anything that anybody made with pencil or paint read like art to me.
Even when I went to art school, I didn't think photography was 'art.' I went to school for painting. I'd say the collision of art and photography didn’t happen for me until I came to New York in the early '70s. None of what I was seeing in New York had been revealed to me in art school. Fashion photography was going crazy—Chris von Wangenheim, Deborah Turbeville, Helmut Newton... It felt like everything I was seeing was pointing me towards a camera the way I would hold a brush in my hand. Now, I’ve put close to 700 images into the world. The first thing I got noticed for were the tiny little kitchens. The Walking Objects seemed to strike people, too... They're about how we can so over-identify with things in our life that become important to us. It's so much about your objects becoming real.
Landy Dean and James Kaliardos did the makeup for my last project, How We See. One thing I loved was how the eyelids were like canvases and the makeup was the paint. I feel sorry for makeup artists that have to work on me—when I was in Italy at the Venice Film Festival, L’Oréal was doing my makeup, but I was asking so many questions. I always talk to the makeup artist to find out what they’re using. I’m really interested in it. It’s like painting! I love having my makeup done just because I don’t have to do it but I can totally do it. I can do it well, it’s just going to take some time.
If I need to wear [coverage], I won't use anything besides the Luminizing Moisture Tint from Jouer in Pearl. It's very moisturizing and luminescent—it's the sheerest thing, but it's all I need. I always have it, even if I'm getting my makeup done. If I’m really going fancy I use Kevyn Aucoin Foundation. Other than that, I'll do a lip, eyeliner, mascara, maybe a bit [of eyeshadow]. I kind of have natural eyeshadow because my eyelids are a bit dark. If I do shadow it’s very much the color of my own eye—Face Stockholm in Ash Brown. I used to use the Shu Uemura Mascara but they don’t make it anymore. I don’t know why they discontinued it! My heart broke. My makeup artist recommended Lash Discovery, so I use that. Jenna Lyons told me about the Tom Ford Eye Defining Pen, which is really easy to control. I use both sides. I don’t really know what the difference is.
With women my age or women over 40, it's true that less is more. Even when I was around 27, I never went out without the brightest red, orange, pink or coral lipstick. More natural colors work. The big matte lip just isn't happening. The Edward Bess Lipstick Palette [ed note: discontinued] is great, he makes the best lipsticks. Then I use a lip gloss from Boots. It’s the best!
My youngest daughter lives in Los Angeles, and when I'm there, I try to see Terri Lawton. I don’t get to see her that often because I’m not in LA all the time but anything she tells me to do, I do. I never skip a face wash or eye cream. I get up and wash my face with Sonya Dakar Silver Wash at night. It’s super gentle—everything I use is super gentle. Then I use Terri’s Rejuvenating Serum, followed by the Almost Empty Elixir and Stem Eye Cream. That’s how I keep moisturised. On days where I really need some extra help, CosMedix Rescue Balm is good. It smells like cherries.
My secret is that I try to travel really light. So I get samples everywhere. I love the L’Oréal Makeup Remover. It doesn't make my eyes sting, and it won the Allure award. It’s just something I stuck with for years and years and years. My skin is not super oily or dry, but I’m back in my teenage years—if I’m really stressed I’ll break out. I thought those days were over, it’s really shocking. Pat [Wexler] gave me the Overnight Acne Repair, and I like that.
For sunscreen I borrow my husband's La Roche-Posay Anthelios if he has it, but I keep a big pump bottle of Supergoop where my studio is, and before I go out I put it all over. I found that on EWG—that's a really, really great database. I was shooting once and the makeup artist looked at my hands and ankles and told me to use the Aveeno CC Cream. It’s great body coverage and it’s really cheap. It’s just like putting on a pair of stockings.
Stella at Prive Salon cuts my hair. She is so great! My husband has his hair cut with her almost every other week. I’ve been going to her for years, but Arrojo just opened near me so I go there for color and blowouts. I get color maybe once a month, and every time I go I ask Lucy, who does my color, what percent gray I am. I have this dream to have long silver hair, but I'm at 40% right now. For products, I've used the Shu Uemura Ultimate Remedy Extreme Restoration Treatment for awhile. When I wash my own hair I just glop product onto it so it isn’t frizzy.
Wherever I travel, I get my hair blow out, and I’ll go to any salon and bring Oribe Split End Seal with me. I don’t know what it does but I think it adds moisture. I’ve gone in Japan, India, Chicago—anywhere. I love going and sitting in a salon and watching and talking to women in another country. I love the rituals around that. It’s so different everywhere. When I was in Japan, they were so rough with the towel. I love walking into a hair salon where I don’t speak the language. It’s never ended badly.
I really believe in massage. It's right up there with psychotherapy to me—I wish that it was more integrated into medicine. I'm a total bath person, too. The one thing when I get a hotel room is that it has to have a bath. My favorite bath combination is Epsom salt, baking powder, and hydrogen peroxide. A nutritionist years ago told me to make that bath. It's the equivalent to some of the most expensive bath salts you could ever get. It just feels so great. Other than that, I've stopped eating sugar against my will. I went to the doctor and she didn't like my blood sugar levels. That's been interesting, but I'll have some super dark chocolate sometimes.
I'm never without polish on my fingers and toes. I just need it. I love nail polish. I go through different phases. I was a red nail polish wearer for so long, but now I love silver. I like that it matches my laptop. RGB Factory is a good color, and I use Nailtique, too, which strengthens my nails. I have a really great manicurist in New York. She's at a really funky place called Spa Jolie—her name is Carmen. She’s just the best, at this quiet little place, and I’ve been to so many places. On my toes I use a dark green. It looks like black when it’s on, but I like knowing that it’s green."
—as told to ITG
Laurie Simmons photographed by Tom Newton at her home in Brooklyn on September 28, 2016.