It began in the bathroom, with vials of essential oils lined up on the sink. Linda Rodin mixed them meticulously, incrementally, with the precision of a laboratory scientist—five drops, two drops, sniff, repeat—until she’d concocted enough of the sweet-smelling stuff to rub all over her body.
Rodin had been working as a fashion stylist for 30 years when, in 2007, she applied the same fastidiousness and creative sleight-of-hand to skincare mixology that she’d deployed while dressing celebrities and supermodels (Cher, Madonna, Halle Berry, and Gisele have all been given the Rodin treatment).
Make-up artists snatched up her homebrewed moisturizing elixir at photo shoots; Hollywood royalty clamored for vials of her liquid gold.
Despite the growing demand from the professionally beautiful, it wasn’t until her nephew, poking around her apartment and taking stock of her bathroom lab, asked how much she charged for a bottle of her artisanal moisturizer. The lightbulb went off. A small empire was born.
Today, the rest of us can douse ourselves with Rodin Olio Lusso (which means “luxury oil” in Italian), provided we’re willing to plunk down $170 for a one-ounce bottle—smaller than a shot glass—of the coveted facial oil.
“It was very grassroots and word-of-mouth,” says Rodin, who has since grown her eponymous beauty line to include body oil, hair oil, lip balm, cream, perfume, and candles.
Beauty giant Estée Lauder acquired Rodin Olio Lusso for an undisclosed sum in October, calling it the “ultimate ‘insider’ beauty brand” and noting its “potential to be a high-growth global skincare brand that strategically enhances our portfolio.”
It helps the skeptical buyer that the 67-year-old Rodin could easily pass for 57. This despite spending summers in her teens and twenties on a bed of aluminum foil, slathered head-to-toe with another potent concoction: baby oil, iodine, and Coca-Cola. “We roasted like chickens. It was heaven!”
I met Rodin at the Gramercy Park Hotel, in a room with wild bouquets of peonies, ranunculus, and passionflower sprawled along the windowsills.
The ambrosial display was fitting for the occasion: the re-launch of her fragrance, Rodin Bis, inspired by her mother’s distinctly ’50s scent, with whiffs of her powder puff and lipstick—as well as Juicy Fruit gum and tobacco.
“Everybody smoked in the ’50s,” says Rodin, wearing her signature oversized black Celine sunglasses and bright orange lipstick.
Her wavy, silver hair is pulled back into a loose, pinned-up ponytail, framing her sharp cheekbones and exceptionally beautiful face.
She is wiry and petite, with spindly fingers weighed down by a cluster of gold rings and pastel-colored baubles that look like gumballs.
Rodin was a model and photographer before she became a stylist, spending several years assisting Swedish fashion photographer Gus Peterson, a contemporary of Richard Avedon and Irving Penn. Peterson hired Rodin when she showed up at his studio, uninvited, on a Friday evening.
“I wasn’t a very good photographer, but people said I had a good eye for clothes. I thought, ‘That’s not a job.’”
At her sister’s suggestion, she opened a clothing boutique, “Linda Hopp,” in SoHo. “It was very Bauhaus,” she says. “I had a lot of Oskar Schlemmer-type mannequins with ball-jointed arms. My brother was an architect so he designed it to be all concrete. It was kind of the first concept store.”
Linda Hopp was ahead of its time and gained a devoted clientele among those in the know (Annie Leibovitz and artist Jennifer Bartlett were both regulars), but the boutique closed after only one year.
“I had no idea how to make a profit,” she says, laughing at herself. “I would buy fabric that cost $50 a yard and $100 buttons, then I’d sell the shirt for some absurdly low price!”
And despite inhabiting a world where excess was expected and nightlife was a religion, Rodin never inhabited the New York party scene, preferring the company of the intelligentsia. She claims to have visited Studio 54 once, though only remembers exiting as fast as she entered.
Susan Sontag, Claes Oldenburg, and Roy Lichtenstein were all friends with her then-boyfriend, Frederic Tuten, a writer and professor (who was 10 years her senior).
But she still felt slightly out of place, a creature of the fashion world among the intellectuals. “And I wasn’t an intellectual by any means,” she says.
When I ask Rodin why none of her many boyfriends became husbands, she dismisses the idea. “It just wasn’t for me,” she says, adding that she’s “a bit of a loner, so I don’t really get lonely!”
Her two great loves of the past 15 years could be difficult but provided relatively uncomplicated relationships. A large basset hound named Billie was slightly emotionally unstable. “I had to put him on Prozac. He was a total mental case, but I loved him.”
And now she shares a bed with Winky, a 5-year-old poodle with curly silver hair like hers.
Most days she is home by 6 with Winky.
“I make myself dinner. I take a bath. And I get in bed. I’m the most routinized person—like a 3-year-old but without a mom. I sleep nine hours a night. Sleep is my secret weapon.”
Does she ever go to dinners or cocktail parties?
“Of course!” she says with a sly grin. “The ones that start before 6.”