The summer before my 12th birthday, I got to spend two months in New York City with my aunts, uncles, cousins and my paternal grandmother, Dulce—her name, which is Spanish for “sweet,” is an apt moniker for the kindest woman I’ve ever known. Just prior to my Manhattan dream summer being over and having to return to Miami to the daunting task of entering seventh grade, my older cousin, Vivian, convinced me to watch an “old” movie, Barefoot In The Park, starring the very young duo of Jane Fonda and Robert Redford. I loved the movie, particularly all the NYC settings showcased, but, mostly, I remember not being able to take my eyes off this dazzling actress I had never heard of. Even then, I think I recognized the soft/hard, push/pull sexiness that has made Jane Fonda Hollywood’s most polarizing sex symbol-meets-talented actress for so many decades.
From Fonda’s mind-blowing role in Barbarella (her costumes are still being discussed at many not-so-polite brunches I’ve attended over the years in the Hamptons), to her current role in Netflix’s comedy-with-a-bite hit Grace And Frankie, where she portrays Grace, a monied, not-quite-retired businesswoman, Fonda has always been the seemingly accidental leader on numerous high-impact, cultural fronts: Hollywood royalty (her dad was the venerable movie god Henry Fonda); sex kitten (Barbarella); divisive political activist (the Vietnam War); unrivaled exercise mogul (Jane Fonda’s Workout Book); perennial red-carpet “best-dressed list” icon (Cannes Film Festival, Academy Awards) and, finally, simply being the hottest 81-year-old on the planet.
But it’s her movies that showcase Fonda’s knack for finding excellence within her roles, as diverse as they are indelible—Klute, 9 To 5, Julia, On Golden Pond, Monster-In-Law. The two-time Oscar and four-time Golden Globe Award winner—who graduated in 1955 from Emma Willard School in Troy, NY, and would go on to Vassar College in Poughkeepsie—married (and divorced) three high-octane men: film director Roger Vadim, political activist Tom Hayden and media titan Ted Turner. The fallout from a public, roller-coaster ride of a life? Jane Fonda, somehow, became the elegant, sartorially savvy Hollywood survivor we didn’t know we needed in our lives right now. Funny how life has a way of surprising even the most discerning among us.
So, accidental or not, Jane Fonda may still stop traffic on a dime on any red carpet in the world—there’s no controversy about that—but no dress alone can define this A-List actress’ incomparable style. Anytime, anywhere, I still can’t take my eyes off this living legend. Not even for a second.