Brooke Shields Shares the Secrets of Her Success (and Admits One Funny Misstep) in an FIT Commencement Speech

Fashion Institute Of Technology Commencement 2015
Photo: D Dipasupil/FilmMagic

Although she's spent decades in the spotlight, Brooke Shields was visibly nervous before addressing the Fashion Institute of Technology’s class of 2015 as their keynote speaker earlier today in New York City. She took quick sips of water, crossed and uncrossed her legs, and jokingly made motions of scribbling up the notes to her speech before taking the stage. “Thank you so much for inviting me here. What was I thinking? I was staring at the exits. There are eight of them," she began. "Many times [I] thought about running right through them.”

Before the model, actress, writer, and mother’s 17-minute speech was over, however, it was apparent that her mix of sound advice and hilarious anecdotes had grabbed the graduates' attention. Shields opened up about her fears, business ventures, early failures, and even past relationships. Below, a few of her most memorable remarks.

She still has to overcome fears—especially today.
“I was thinking you [students] are so creatively intimidating. I thought, ‘I can’t do this. Why can’t somebody else do it? Isn’t somebody else available? What about Kelly Ripa? Christy Turlington? Or Sarah Jessica Parker? I can call her!’”

Her career wasn't always on the rise.
“When I graduated from university, I thought I would be welcomed back into the movie industry with open arms and countless opportunities. I did not get such a homecoming. I could not get a movie, a play, a TV show or even an ad campaign to save my life. I felt so lost and derailed because all I had ever known was working and suddenly nobody wanted me. And the only thing that I knew, though, was that I was dying inside to be creatively active. So, I got real busy. I tried to find work in any way that I could. I always believe in continuing to work while you don’t have a job.”

Photographer Richard Avedon inspired her confidence.
“He was the one who taught me how not to have fear and to hold on to your convictions. He epitomized this. He epitomized how to not allow others infringe on his artistic vision. It didn’t matter what we were shooting for… He would close this massive iron, factory-like door and nobody else was allowed in… He wasn’t afraid of being wrong and he never let anybody interfere with his vision. So here’s what you do when others start to doubt you, or when they start to want to change your creative vision: Just know it’s OK to do like Avedon and shut the big metal door.”

She refuses to rest on her laurels.
“For a while, I was famous for my eyebrows. And then I was famous for being a virgin! It took a lot of hard work...and sex! No, just kidding. It took a lot of hard work to get people to stop focusing on those things and pay attention to my actual accomplishments… Trust me when I tell you that success comes in a myriad of different packages. Don’t ever be fooled into thinking that it does not always entail continuous hard work and tireless tenacity.”

Her makeup line for MAC was way more successful than her first foray into beauty.
“I was approached, a few times actually, in the past, to create my own perfume line…but when MAC approached me, it took years to create the line. I learned from the best, obviously, but I was a part of every single detail from the packaging to the texture to the fragrance and the powders to the whole palette. And it was very, very successful. In the first hour it actually sold out—unlike the Brook Shields hair dryers from 1986. I [have] about 1,200 of them left in my garage. So, eBay! They’re collector’s items at this point.”

She knew her now-iconic Calvin Klein ads were the start of something big.
"I did do a little Calvin Klein ad campaign. You might have heard of it. [poses] I was 15 and that was a firestorm to be put into but it was wonderful and we knew we were a part of something that was important.”

She embraces her mistakes (even dating George Michael).
“Make mistakes, grow, make more mistakes, grow more, make fewer mistakes. I’ve had too many to list and most on a very public scale. Why did I date George Michael? Ah! I didn’t know. You’ll never do anything unless you try. It’s all forward motion. How can I be mad?”

Her key to success is found in the letters FLEW.
“I want to remind you, though, to remember who you really are… That voice, that authentic self, it’s what has engaged you throughout your entire life so far, and as your careers come into focus, please recall that voice and perpetually embrace what I call ‘four to score.’ Four major concepts that I apply to my life: Fear... Lineage. Expectations. Work ethic. And if you can’t remember those just remember the acronym FLEW.”

She thinks that fashion can make the world a better place.
“You not only represent the pulse of the present but you are the future of style. You are the future of art. You are the future of creativity…I hope you never stop aspiring to do what you love and you continue being your unique selves. The world out there is a mess, but maybe you can fix it by making everybody look fabulous.”

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