Isabella Rossellini is living by her Manifesto
By Paula Rath
Advertiser Staff Writer
Isabella Rossellini doesn't consider it a compliment to hear that she looks younger than her 49 years. She has no desire to look like her teenage daughter. And she believes many other women feel the same way.
"Elegance has to do with intelligence," she said. "It's an expressing of your brain, your point of view, your ideas. An elegant woman is somebody who, through her appearance, stimulates our admiration because she seems balanced and correct in her given circumstance." This is a definition that can apply equally to a perfectly turned-out tutu in her pressed holoku, lauhala hat and Ni'ihau shell lei or to a more conventional look: It's a matter of selecting a personal style, taking the time to put it together and then owning it and feeling comfortable with yourself.
Of course, Rossellini is genetically disposed to elegance as the daughter of Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini. But her intelligence is as apparent as her cheekbones. She admits she doesn't think much of the industry she has joined with her high-end cosmetics line, Manifesto.
"The cosmetics industry defines women in a way that I don't identify with myself," said Rossellini, who proved candid, engaging and humorous in a Honolulu interview Tuesday. "Fashion magazines have only young women in them because they assume we all dream to be 20. But I don't think that's what women dream and I don't know where that prejudice comes from."
Rossellini is often told she doesn't look her age and finds this compliment "quite insulting," analogous to telling a black person "you don't look so black." "I want to be happy because of what I am. I don't want to be happy because I disguise myself to be somebody else," she said.
The proliferation of 12- and 13-year-old models is another issue that gets Rossellini's blood pumping. (She began her own modeling career at 28.) When child actors are working, she said, they have union guidelines to protect them and ensure that they eat properly, study, are not overworked and aren't asked to do inappropriate things. These are no unions for the modeling industry, however. So young women of any age can work without restraints or controls. "The models are abandoned by the law because they are beautiful. Why do they allow it?" she asked.
"It's not easy when you're 15 to be away and living in a strange city. They make you up to look 30. And there's no mother to tell you your skirt is too short or to be sure to eat dinner."
Her advice to parents of aspiring models? "Modeling is a great thing but it happens to you. You can't really plan," she said. "So if it happens, it's great it pays well, you get to travel all over the world. But if you get started at 18 or 19, it's soon enough."
Her own daughter, who is 18, just signed on with a modeling agency, but is more interested in pursuing her college degree at Boston University. "If the modeling comes, it comes," Rossellini said.
Rossellini decries the importance women place on weight. "We all feel fat," she said, even those who are not. "Who'd have that something as stupid as weight would have become so obsessive? Every woman you talk to says she feels bad and she has to be on a diet. It's sort of sadistic or masochistic."
This actress, model and mother of two said her decision to become an entrepeneur was driven in part by the tradition of women as the voices and faces of cosmetics companies, rather than male-dominated conglomerates: Estee Lauder and Helen Rubenstein were real women with a clearly defined style, for example. She defines the term "manifesto" as "a set of beliefs and guidelines that you live by."
Rossellini wants to be another voice, and point of view: "Right now there's just this choir with everybody saying the same thing: 'Beauty is to be younger than your age.'"
She rejects the premise that cosmetics should be corrective. "Their idea is that you start the day by looking at yourself in the mirror and seeing what's wrong with you. Then you cover it up, you conceal it. So a lot of products are conceived that way. I would like to steer away from that and create products that will be an expression of your personal taste. I want to stay away from the idea of beauty that is unattainable."
Rossellini injects a little humor into the discussion of looking younger: "Even if you shed five years out of your 50, five years later, when you're 55, you'll look 50, so it's a lost battle. What's the point?"
Like many women, Rossellini admitted that her feelings on the subject take wide swings. One day she'll say to herself, "There is technology, why not use it? The next day I wake up and ask if this is a new form of footbinding for women."
In working with those who design her cosmetics and fragrances, Rossellini said practicality, simplicity and portability come first for her. And, of course, her sense of humor. "There is something men have that I really envy and it's not what you think: It's their pockets," she said. "They can carry everything they need in them."
So she set out to design simple, multi-tasking products that fit into a pocket (or small purse):
- Foundation that comes in one-time-pau capsules.
- Stacking containers that screw into each other, to make a single, space-saving tower.
- Tiny soaps in individual packets.
- Fizzy fragrant bath tablets (she calls them "Alka Seltzers") in individual packets, pulling out like facial tissue.
- Forty shades of eye-lip-cheek color, each having three uses.
- A mirror on top of the lipstick case for touch-ups and transparent tops so you can see the lipstick's color through the cap.
- A closure system on her perfume that reveals itself with a twist, then swivels out of sight, so there's no cap to lose.
In creating the fragrance Manifesto, Rossellini said she tried to translate her ideas, life experiences and memories into the scent, which begins with basil, an herb reminiscent of the Italian kitchens of her childhood. Working with six "noses" (scent experts) from Lancaster, the Paris-based firm that provides her with technical expertise, she underscored the peppery scent with white pepper and mandarin orange, rounded out with sweet pea, pikake and rose for a fresh, green fragrance.
Rossellini's acting career is on hold while she pursues her business interests. She recently completed a mini-series that will air in Hawai'i late next year on the Arts & Entertainment network. She plays Josephine Bonaparte, the wife of Napoleon, who is played by French actor Christian Clavier; John Malkovich also stars.
Her satisfaction in her entrepreneurial work comes in the fact that it is her own, her vision. When she's acting or modeling, the job is to interpret the ideas of others, such as the ad agency creative team or the director. "After a while, you become older, you want to say something," she said. "Manifesto is my statement. I see it as a true evolution of my career. After interpreting everybody else's ideas, this is my manifest, my manifestation."