What does eternity mean at any given moment? Is it the diamonds-are-foreverness of true love, or the hollow certainty of life without parole? Is it what the weeks before Christmas feel like to a six-year-old, or the uncomfortable months before the due date to a first-time mother? Forever is a hard thing to wrap your head around when a person’s time on earth is finite—when the state of the planet as we know it may be too. Is it a subject better left to poetry and song and smell?
“I think of the word continuum a lot, in that sort of intergenerational [way],” says Christy Turlington Burns, reflecting on Eternity, the Calvin Klein perfume she has fronted since its launch in 1988. The model was then a 19-year-old breakout talent, having made her runway debuts with Marc Jacobs and Michael Kors the previous fall. By the time George Michael’s “Freedom! ’90” music video took over MTV, the world was on a first-name basis with Christy, who lip-synced alongside fellow supermodels Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, and Tatjana Patitz. Three decades later—now at the helm of her maternal-health nonprofit, Every Mother Counts—Turlington Burns appreciates how cyclical things are. “My daughter’s about to be the age that I was at the beginning of my relationship with this brand and this fragrance,” she says by video call from Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood, seemingly bare-faced in a simple black sweater. “I find it all interesting, all the different phases of life, transitions in life. It’s cliché, but it is all interconnected.”
A quintessential 1990s muse, Turlington Burns could as well be speaking about the decade’s ongoing reverberations. Skinny brows and low-rise jeans are inching back into view. Spiceworld is being reissued; a Whitney Houston biopic is on deck. Right-wing lawmakers are scrutinizing children’s books (and, worse, children’s health care). For a fragrance like Eternity, whose sillage wafted through the ’90s, Turlington Burns turns out to have been a prophetic embodiment of its testament to love. It goes beyond her husband, Ed Burns, who has appeared alongside her in campaigns since 2014, and their children, Grace and Finn. Turlington Burns’ work with EMC puts her among a cohort of organizations and activists working to support mothers and families—a vital part of that aforementioned continuum, bridging generations in the linear sense but also globally linked communities.
When we speak, the nation is in a disquieting stretch between the Dobbs decision and the midterms. Every Mother Counts tweeted out an Election Day alert, reminding supporters that maternal health was at stake. Now, on the far side of those elections, we have seen ballot measures successfully safeguard abortion rights in California, Vermont, and Michigan; in a similar vein, people in Montana and Kentucky voted against restrictions around reproductive care. As Turlington Burns explains in the below conversation, there is hope embedded in the hard work.
Vanity Fair: When you signed on with Calvin Klein Eternity in 1988, you were just starting out. What do you remember about that first campaign?
Christy Turlington Burns: Everything about it was epic. I had gotten to know Calvin Klein himself, so I got to see it even before I signed on to represent the fragrance, what the bottle looked like. He was so excited about everything to do with this launch. I remember all that very vividly. And then the first campaign was a series of about 10 commercials that Richard Avedon shot. I had worked with Richard Avedon, but to spend that much time with him—I mean, we spent literally a month in his studio—it was a little bit like making a movie. Everyone that was involved—from the director of photography, who was Sven Nykvist, to the set designer, Santo Loquasto—every person involved was at the top of their field. So being a 19-year-old person, fairly new to the industry at this point still, I was learning so much, every day. Then we did a separate campaign for the ads, which was shot by Bruce Weber. That was the beginning of setting the brand in that kind of ethereal black and white.