Christie Brinkley Makes Animal Activism a Family Affair
Christie Brinkley, with children Sailor and Jack Brinkley-Cook
Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, Cover Girl spokesperson, and the inspiration behind Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl,” Christie Brinkley is undeniably a global success. However, at 59, she’s proving she’s much more than any one of her accomplishments; more specifically, she’s a leading activist for environmental issues both in the Hamptons, where she’s lived for nearly 30 years, and abroad. This past summer, Christie was honored by Andy Sabin at the South Fork Natural History Museum for her work, and in September, she and daughter Sailor, 15, traveled to Africa to help bring awareness to the problem of elephant and rhinoceros poaching. “I thought it was amazing for my daughter to see activism in action and really experience for herself how people can unite and make a difference,” Brinkley says.
The two were exposed to both the heroes in the fight to end poaching—including conservationist Dex Kotze and his wife, Jenna Clifford—as well as many of the villains, including the Somali-based terrorist group Al-Shabaab, which attacked the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, just a day after Christie and Sailor visited. Their guide’s pregnant friend was killed in the mass shooting. “That created a reality to the whole situation,” Sailor recalls.
Here, Christie and Sailor, who just signed on with IMG Models, are joined by Christie’s son, Jack, 18—a freshman marketing/entertainment student at Emerson College in Boston—to talk with Andy Sabin about life in the Hamptons and how they are making environmental activism a family affair.
Jacket, Free People ($348). Walt Whitman Shops, 160 Walt Whitman Road, Huntington Station, 271-2360. Sweater, Marc Jacobs ($1,295). Similar styles available at Hirshleifers, Americana Manhasset, 2060 Northern Blvd., 516-627-3566. Ring, Sara Weinstock ($2,120). London Jewelers, 2 Main St., East Hampton, 329-3939. Maria jeans, J Brand ($213). Similar styles available at Intermix, 64 Main St. Southampton, 283-8510. Boots, Belstaff ($1,295). Similar styles available at Saks Fifth Avenue, Walt Whitman Shops, 350-1100
Andy Sabin: You just returned from Africa, why did you go?
Christie Brinkley: I was in New York City during the time I was in the show Chicago, and I bumped into [communication strategist] Richard Greene; we went to school together, and he has a radio show where he talks to celebrities about all their causes. He called me up and said, “We’ve got this tour to help the elephants and rhinoceroses to support the first lady of Kenya’s Hands Off Our Elephants campaign.”
PHOTO DIARY: Christie Brinkley's anti-poaching mission in Africa
AS: Where did you go?
CB: We first flew to Johannesburg and went to a reserve called Entabeni, and we stayed in a private home in the Legends resort, which has one of the only rhino orphanages. We got to see firsthand how they are rescuing the babies, and it’s so heartbreaking. The mother and baby rhinoceros have a bond so strong that the babies will fight off poachers. When the poachers come [to take the rhino’s horn], they mutilate these animals in the most horrendous, cruel, hideous way that makes you ashamed to be a human. Poachers take an ax or a machete and just start hacking at the horn as if it were a tree branch, and when a baby [tries to] attack the poacher, they just take the machete and shoo them away. If it slices the baby rhino’s face a little bit, they don’t care. Then it usually takes two or three days for the mother to die, and the baby won’t leave its side, so they’re being found next to the dead mom, dehydrated, starving, and traumatized—if they’re found at all.
SAILOR: I learned a lot about poaching. Before going, I really didn’t understand the concept of poaching until my mom explained it to me and we watched really emotional videos about it. I think we are going to go on more trips in the future to continue to raise awareness.
ON SAILOR: Dress, REDValentino ($795). Saks Fifth Avenue, Walt Whitman Shops, 160 Walt Whitman Road, Huntington Station, 350-1100. Stud earrings, Vita Fede ($150). Intermix, 87 Main St., East Hampton, 907-8025. Hoop earrings in 18k gold with diamonds, Tiffany & Co. ($6,500). 53 Main St., East Hampton, 324-1700. Ring, Khai Khai ($450). London Jewelers, 2 Main St., East Hampton, 329-3939. Booties, Gucci ($995). Americana Manhasset, 2060 Northern Blvd., 516-365-0994. ON CHRISTIE: Shrug, Michael Kors ($695). Americana Manhasset, 516-365-3512. Gown with belt, J. Mendel ($4,980). Hirshleifers, Americana Manhasset, 516-627-3566. Bracelet ($16,250) and Legacy Collection earrings in platinum with diamonds ($4,200), Tiffany & Co. SEE ABOVE. ON JACK: Jacket, Ralph Lauren Black Label ($1,495). 31-33 Main St., East Hampton, 324-1222. Shirt, Jil Sander. Brinkley-Cook’s own. Pants, Saint Laurent, Brinkley-Cook’s own. Pocket square, Brunello Cucinelli ($165). 39 Newtown Lane, East Hampton, 324-3400. Watch, Rolex. Brinkley-Cook’s own. Shoes, Christian Louboutin, Brinkley-Cook’s own
AS: In some cultures, using rhinoceros and elephant horns as status symbols or for superstitious purposes is something that’s been done for hundreds of years—that’s the problem.
CB: Many Chinese people vow that as they get a higher standard of living, part of their tradition is to buy rhino horn as medicine and ivory as a status symbol, and now there is too much demand. Even if you could harvest [horns and tusks] without hurting the animal, you’d never [meet the demand]. The only thing we can do is try to get everyone to understand that there is no status in owning ivory, and that rhinoceros horns have no magic powers. It is keratin—the same thing as if you grind up hair and toenails and put that in a pill.
SAILOR: They talked a lot about the statistics while we were there. More elephants were poached last year—36,000—than are left in Kenya right now.
AS: Who are the heroes in the fight to protect these animals?
CB: Anybody who responds to the message can be a hero. When I went over there, I posted information on Instagram and Facebook; anybody who pushed that “share” button, they are a hero in my book. They are spreading the word. We’ve had, at the very least, 75 baby elephants that have been adopted by people on my Instagram thread alone.
AS: What can people do to help?
CB: People can sign a petition to say no to ivory on multiple websites: iworry.org, sheldrickwildlifetrust.org, or stoprhinopoaching.com. There are a lot of different ways to come at this. The government in South Africa needs to adopt strict anti-poaching laws that punish the poachers, and they’re not doing it, so shame on them. Right now in South Africa, a person who is caught smoking in a no-smoking zone pays a bigger fine than a poacher. The other day, I marched from one river to the other in Manhattan with an elephant on my head—floppy ears, a trunk—and not one picture in the paper. But a fake story about me selling a little house I own or doing some sort of revenge tactic on an ex... Google that, and there are like 45,000 links.
Christie Brinkley and daughter Sailor with their Masai guide in Kenya.
>>Click here for more photos from Christie's trip to Africa
AS: Not many people know you as an advocate for conservation. How did your interest in saving animals start?
CB: When I was a teenager, I picked up a book my mom was reading, and it opened to this page that had a very graphic description of the stockyards in Chicago. I read that, and my stomach just turned. I closed the book and said, “Well, that’s it. I’m never eating another bite of meat for as long as I live. I don’t want to be a part of a process that hurts animals.”
AS: When I first met you, you were very involved with Standing for Truth Against Radiation. You were fighting to close the Shoreham nuclear power plant...
CB: It wasn’t Shoreham; it was the Brookhaven High Flux Beam Reactor. Long Islanders needed to be alerted to the fact that we are still living in the crosshairs of several old, troubled, leaky reactors like Millstone Nuclear Power Plant, which is about 14 miles from East Hampton. It is one of the dirtiest nuclear power plants, with a really bad record. And now with the Fukushima disaster illustrating exactly what we’ve been screaming about for all these years.... I don’t eat fish anymore. Between the BP oil spill and Fukushima, we are poisoning our food supplies, we are poisoning our air, and we are living with reactors that are very dangerous. We’re still passionately involved in trying to raise awareness and get people to demand they be shut.
AS: How long have you lived in the Hamptons?
CB: I moved out here with [then-husband] Billy [Joel] when I was pregnant with [older daughter] Alexa. I grew up in Malibu, and he grew up in Hicksville, New York, and that’s all we knew about raising kids: Open the door and let them go run and play. We actually took a car and drove from Maine to Maryland, sticking to the coast the whole way down, and we kept falling in love with little places. When we got to the Hamptons, we were just like, “Wow, this is gorgeous; this has it all.”
ON CHRISTIE: Coat, Alexander Wang ($875). Hirshleifers, Americana Manhasset, 2060 Northern Blvd., 516-627-3566. Sweater, Thredline. Pants, Brunello Cucinelli ($3,720). 39 Newtown Lane, East Hampton, 324-3400. High boot, Chanel (price on request). Hirshleifers, SEE ABOVE. 1815 white-gold gray-sliced diamond and rose-cut diamond ring, Sutra ($15,900). London Jewelers, 2 E. Main St., East Hampton, 329-3939. ON SAILOR: Sweater, Theory ($295) and shorts, Theyskens’ Theory ($1,295). 46 Newtown Lane, Ste. 5, East Hampton, 324-3285. Earrings, Vita Fede ($150). Intermix, 87 Main St., East Hampton, 907-8025. Tights, DKNY ($14.50). Macy’s, Walt Whitman Shops, 160 Walt Whitman Road, Huntington Station, 427-7200. Short boot, Chanel ($1,195). Hirshleifers, SEE ABOVE
AS: In those days, you lived on Further Lane.
CB: We rebuilt that old house for just about the entire course of our marriage, so we mainly lived in a little house in the yard that we also bought after purchasing the old Potter Estate. In the early days, we kept our apartment in the city, but pretty soon we thought, What do we need that for, so we moved out here to live full-time.
AS: What was it like growing up in the Hamptons?
Jack Brinkley-Cook: I really liked it because you have your space out here, but at the same time you have the ability to go into the city. When you’re a teenager, you want to have the active city life. In high school, I would go once or twice a month.
SAILOR: I don’t really know anything different, so I think it’s great. I love all the nature and green; I don’t think I would be able to live in the city.
AS: Here in the Hamptons, you are involved in the Ross School, you do a lot for Ellen Hermanson, SoFo, and others. How does it make you feel to be so active in all of this?
CB: I’m really proud of my scholarship fund at Ross. It started when I was honored by Ross; they gave me a scholarship fund in my name, and I’ve since endowed it. I do what I can, and it feels good. Having been out here before Ross even existed, I used to wish for a school like that. I could not believe my dreams were answered and then some. Courtney Ross is a visionary who poured her heart and soul into that school, and all my kids are thriving with their Ross educations, so I’m so grateful.
ON JACK: Overcoat, Dior Homme ($4,100). Saks Fifth Avenue, Walt Whitman Shops, 160 Walt Whitman Road, Huntington Station, 350-1100. Tee, SCP ($42). Scoop Beach, 51 Newtown Lane, East Hampton, 329-6800. Watch ($7,500), Carl F. Bucherer. London Jewelers, 2 Main St., East Hampton, 329-3939. Jeans ($168) and boots ($798), John Varvatos. 54 Newtown Lane, East Hampton, 324-4440. ON SAILOR: Jacket, Helmut Lang ($1,195). Saks Fifth Avenue, SEE ABOVE. Sweater, Theory ($375). Bloomingdale’s, Walt Whitman Shops, 425-6700. Leggings, AG Adriano Goldschmied ($245). Scoop Beach, 51 Newtown Lane, East Hampton, 329-6800. Earrings, Vita Fede ($150). Intermix, 87 Main St., East Hampton, 907-8025. Boots, Prada ($950). Americana Manhasset, 2060 Northern Blvd., Manhasset, 516-365-9700
AS: Do you want to make philanthropy a family affair with Sailor and Jack?
CB: I really believe in the power of the individual to make change, and our family is a real collection of individuals. When I hold a benefit here at the house, everybody is supportive. The opportunity in Africa was amazing because Sailor has just started modeling, and when I started, it took me years before I got my first offer to help. And as soon as that happened to me, it made my job meaningful. When they asked if Sailor would come on this trip, I thought, if she can go and develop a passion for this cause, she could bring people together on this issue and make a real difference.
AS: How does your mother influence your choices?
JBC: She encourages me to do the right thing, but doesn’t ever tell me what I have to do, which is really important. I get to make my own decisions; it was my decision to go to Emerson. My mom encourages me to follow the right path.
AS: What advice did you give Sailor when she signed on with IMG Models?
CB: With kids, you just shout little snippets here and there when you can, so it ranges from “Have fun with this job but always be professional” to “Show up on time and be respectful of everybody else’s time.” Nowadays, you also have to be aware of the dark part of modeling that comes along with the shiny, light, bright, happy part. I told her, when you’re in a magazine, buy the magazine and look at it like 90 percent of the people who are going to see the story on you; don’t look online because the story will roll right into a comments thread, and those comment threads are an invitation for the bitter and disenfranchised to hide behind a fake name and try to tear you down—and nobody needs that in life.
AS: Sailor, how has being the daughter of a famous supermodel affected your career?
SAILOR: It hasn’t really changed my life in a way that people would think. I go to school; no one sees me differently. I’ve never been followed by paparazzi, except when I’m with my mom. It got my foot in the modeling world, but otherwise it’s pretty normal. As much as people say we’re twins, I don’t think I look like my mom that much, so I think I can make my own identity in the modeling industry.
AS: And Jack, what do you want to do after you graduate?
JBC: Something that has to do with media relations because I enjoy that part of the business. I’ve been exposed to media my entire life just growing up around my mom, my older sister, and now Sailor is getting into that world, too.
AS: You’ve been a wonderful mother to your children, taught them great ethics and values, so what is it like to see them follow in these footsteps of activism?
CB: It makes me proud. I always say to them: To whom much is given, much is expected. I also let them know when bad things happen to you, which they always do, the best way to overcome them is to help someone who is in more need than you. That way you forget about your own worries quickly. The more you give, the more you get—it’s a cliché, but it’s really true.
photography by jim wright; Styling by Wayne Scot Lukas for thredline.com (Christie), Lauren Finney (Sailor), and Connor Childers (Jack); Retouching by bestshotdigital.com; Hair by Peter Butler for Wella Professionals/abtp.com; Makeup by Denise Markey for abtp.com; Manicure by Aleyda Ceri at 27 Hampton Salon; Flowers by The Bridgehampton Florist