Older and Better

Feb. 07, 1989
Feb. 07, 1989

Table of Contents
Feb. 7, 1989

  • Here's a portfolio of six new covers featuring your SI models in swimsuit venues of the past

Point After

Older and Better

So what if Cheryl Tiegs is 41. She looks terrific and is doing just great

Cheryl...and Peter Beard, that dynamite duo, spent the Easter weekend holed up in the Carlyle with only Rory, Cheryl's darling dog, as chaperone...For Easter, Peter Rabbit Beard gave Cheryl a soft squeeze-me toy called "Security Bunny," a warm and wonderful crib and traveling companion. Hophophop!
—Suzy, New York Daily News, April 10, 1980

This is an article from the Feb. 7, 1989 issue Original Layout

President Carter entered the Blue Room, where the council was meeting, shook Cheryl's hand, shuffled his feet and said, "Oh God, you 're so beautiful." In a sincere, not a lustful way. Then he blushed, and then Cheryl blushed. Without further ado, the President addressed the meeting—without notes and without blushing. Just thought you'd like to know.
—Suzy, New York Daily News, Aug. 1, 1980

Cheryl...arrived at Xenon the other night on the arm of Sir Gordon White (who used to squire Mary Tyler Moore around town). After dancing with Sir Gordon, the supermodel chatted with Superman Chris Reeve—until she ran into director Stan Dragoti. He remembers her from when she was just a poster girl. She was also his wife at the time.
—New York Post, April 29, 1982

Cheryl Tiegs is alive and swell and coping with the World Beyond Suzy And Studio 54. For an old lady tending to her knitting, she's also in fairly good health. Just thought you'd like to know.

Why, here's Cheryl now, in the midst of a private aerobics workout, walking the back stairs of her new East Side apartment house. Up a couple of flights, down one. Up three more flights, down one. Several different tours of the stairs, just like that. A lot of stairs. Would Tiegs, all sweaty and shimmering in skintight Lycra and rainbow colors, with tiny weights on her wrists and ankles and Elton John wailing in her headphones, be a spectacular vision come to life, or what? Back at her old apartment a couple of dozen blocks south, where she lived until a month ago, Scotty the superintendent, along with the painters and the garbagemen and assorted other maintenance types, just happened to hit the back stairs about three o'clock—"Oh, hi, Miss Tiegs," they would say. "We'll be out of your way in just a sec"—every Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoon when she did her workout. Is Manhattan an isle of joy or what?

"It got to be a joke between me and the workmen," says Tiegs. "Yeah, I guess I look great on the stairs, but I feel like a rat in a maze." (If you're reading this, Minnie Mouse, you're history.)

Just pause for a moment. In fact, if you're faint of heart or susceptible to shock, better stop and turn to the Mexico story right now.

Cheryl Tiegs is 41 years old. Four one. F-o-r-t-y o-n-e.

Read it and weep, ladies. Old enough to be your mom, fraternity guys. Head for the hills or at least to the Golden Door, America the non-beautiful. And better hit those exercise tapes a little harder, baby boomers. One of your very own—that pulchritudinous legend off the dormitory walls and the factory engine rooms whose wildly glamorous yet unthreatening, chameleon looks remain in the time capsule of a couple of faded decades—yeah, the fantasy calendar girl, Cheryl Tiegs, is f-o-r-t-y o-n-e. And never looked better in a bathing suit.

If it seems hardly possible that Cheryl Tiegs is 41, try imagining this: Tiegs, the former dance-all-night disco princess, now low-keys it at home, reading whole shelves of books, taping public service messages for the Wilderness Society and, swear to goodness, practicing needlepoint. Tiegs, the former belle de gossip whose life was defined by columnists reporting everything from crazed suitors shooting arrows onto her hotel balcony to a puma biting her bottom during a photo shoot, now attends power lunches with the likes of Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan and Barbara Walters. Tiegs, the lush, windblown California girl whose ultimate legacy was that she brought the chest back to modeling, has become a monster businesswoman, empress of fashion and the designer of women's wear for the largest retailer in the U.S.

It's amazing what a little fishnet will do.

At the height of Tiegs's modeling career—that is to say, in 1978, when she appeared on everything from the cover of TIME magazine to the lockers of infatuated schoolboys—she was the most recognizable model in all the land. Her demure pose in a simple white (and, um, wet) fishnet bathing suit called forth paroxysms of love, appreciation, fear, loathing and cancellations through the households of SI readers.

"I guess it was a pretty sort of way," Tiegs says of the famous photograph (SI, Jan. 16, 1978, page 43, for those heading immediately to the nearest library). "But I never thought there would be such a reaction. My breasts didn't even show through when the suit was dry. But then I got soaked in there with the iguanas and.... SPORTS ILLUSTRATED had been one of the first publications to use my name. The impact of the magazine was that the male population found out who I was."

Though on the surface a model's existence may seem somewhat frivolous, Tiegs says that in her early days as a teenage model for Seventeen and Glamour, her working day went from 8 a.m. to midnight. But as she moved inevitably from mannequin to "personality," Tiegs's razzmatazz life-style inspired one writer to predict that she was "about to waft off into celebrity, that peculiar state of matter that is like fame, only without responsibility. Celebrities do not have to do anything." And for a while, apart from looking merely fabulous, nothing is exactly what Tiegs did.

Oh, she tried television. A five-year contract with ABC ended in the early '80s by mutual agreement. She tried acting. "But acting was not in my heart," says Tiegs. "Asking me to act was like a person asking me to watch them make butter. Thanks, but I'm not interested. In my heart I always wanted to be a librarian." She tried being married—twice (to Dragoti and Beard). She tried cooperating with the public perception. "I never wanted my life there," she says. "But I left myself open. It was the party era, so I went to the zoos [the discos] just like everybody else. The thing was, they saw my face, but nobody knew what was behind the face. When people dug deep to find out, to dissect me, it was painful. Celebrity, stardom, all that rings a bad bell. I never wanted to be labeled anything."

How about survivor? Though she says she doesn't really model anymore—"I do what we call 'editorial' posing and some other stuff out of loyalty [amen, says SI]," she says—Tiegs has been at the top of her profession for an astounding 23 years. Who else has ever done this? Why, nobody, that's who. For a comparison, not even Kareem Abdul-Jabbar does stairs anymore.

Spurning show business once and for all, Tiegs signed a contract with Sears in 1980 to design a line of women's sportswear. "And I'm still hanging in," she says. "That's what I'm most proud of." At the time, the concept of the elegant Tiegs sharing a catalog with washer-dryers and tractor tires seemed bizarre, even tacky. But Tiegs turned out to be a pioneer. Since she wandered full-force into blue-collar mercantilism, Halston signed with J.C. Penney and Jaclyn Smith with K Mart.

"Every day models and actresses, people you couldn't imagine, come up and ask me if there's another Sears out there," says Tiegs. Small wonder. Her signature line has now expanded to include all sportswear and shoes, and her offices cover an entire floor of a building in Manhattan's garment district; projects for the future might include Cheryl's own lines of home furnishings, cosmetics and perfume. For her association with the 800-store chain, Tiegs earns a smooth $4 million a year.

"And it wasn't luck," she says firmly. "I didn't just bob to the surface. I'm German. A Libra. I always planned out my life, organized it both personally and professionally. I'm not one of these people who wake up in the morning and just let things happen." No, from her girlhood, when she would gaze at the pictures of the glorious Jean Shrimpton sashaying through the pages of Vogue and glide across her bedroom in imitation, Tiegs knew what she wanted.

"I've always had a brain," she says. "I hung in where others failed. I'm glad that people now know I can run a business."

The Tiegs/Sears business was never really a contradiction, either. Cheryl came from a family of farmers who lived in Olivia, Minn. (pop. 2,800), before moving to California when Cheryl was a child. Her father, Theodore, was a mortician; her mother, Phyllis, worked in a flower shop. "My friends were waitresses and gas station attendants, middle-class people," she says. "I sincerely believe in designing high-quality fashions at low prices. There's no reason to spend a lot of money to look good."

Easy for her to say. Tiegs would glow in curlers and a potato sack. Speaking of which, she often throws down a huge plate of French fries at Les Pleiades, a favorite "luncheonette" near Central Park. With her live-in boyfriend of five years, actor Tony Peck (son of Gregory), 32, and two wirehaired fox terriers named Olive and Martini, Tiegs bicoastals her life between New York and a house nestled in the Los Angeles hills.

"You're coping with this, ah, age thing pretty well," a reporter said to her the other day.

"I've never worried about it. Age has never been a deterrent," Tiegs said. "I've never been in better shape. Never been stronger. Never felt better. I eat soooo well. [Flick. Another fry bites the dust.] Things keep getting better and better. And I keep hanging in. The more years you put on, the more knowledge you obtain, the more fun it is."

Recently Tiegs was riding home with the matriarch of modeling, agent Eileen Ford, from one of those luncheons with influential women—Beverly Sills, Ivana Trump and Susan Sarandon were among the usual suspects who joined the power munching—where she could revel in her hard-won status as, in Tiegs's words, "a substantial part of the community."

"Join me at '21' tomorrow?" Ford asked Tiegs.

"Thanks anyway, Eileen," said Tiegs. Then, referring to an earlier conversation, she said, "But I do want to go to Russia next year."

"Russia's premature, my dear. Russia will always be there," said Ford.

In certain respects, kind of like Cheryl Tiegs herself. Implacable...gorgeous...ageless...and still hanging in.