It took 45 years, one red dress and a desire to educate women about heart disease for Suzanne Somers to walk down a fashion runway for the second time in her life. StyleList caught up with the "Three's Company" icon during a fitting for the Heart Truth's Red Dress Collection fashion show, where she fessed up about her first tragic turn as a model.
"The first time I (walked in a fashion show) was a disaster, so let's hope this one is much better!" the 64-year-old actress said of her catwalk calamity, from designer Ina Soltani's Pacific Palisades, Calif., home. "I was 19 years old and walking in the Daffodil Fashion Show in San Francisco. I did my perfect turn and turned right off the runway -- and fell and broke my ankle! Humiliating! I was mortified and never wanted to do it again."
Until now, that is. When the Heart Truth -- a heart disease awareness campaign sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute -- approached the blond bombshell to walk in its 2011 show, she accepted without hesitation.
"My mother died of a stroke, my grandmother died of a stroke, my sister's had a heart attack and my brother died of a massive heart attack at 42. Heart disease kills my family," Somers said. She added forcefully, "That is not the way I'm going to go."
Her advice? "Pay attention! There are a lot of sophisticated tests you can take, but you need to know about them, so ask your doctor. Empower yourself with information and learn how your body works."
At this stage, Somers not only knows how her body functions, but also what looks work for her. "I am very involved in what I wear, but I wear what's right for my body rather than what's most in style right now. I understand my body, what shapes work and what elongates me," she explained. "People probably wouldn't think of me as fashion forward, but I do. I think my clothes are very well suited to my body."
Take the Ina Soltani number she'll be wearing on Feb. 9, for example. "I met Ina and she made the perfect dress for me. It's the right color red, and I feel cute in it!" she enthused. "(Ina) sent me a sketch and I went, 'That's really cute, but can we do it shorter?' She said yes, and I knew we'd get along!"
Somers knows what looks best on her 5-foot-6-inch frame, and she urges other women to be aware of their own strengths and weaknesses. "Look at your assets and who you are," she advised. "If you like, it show it. If you don't like it, hide it. Because I'm not really tall, I wear shoes that disappear and elongate my legs; nude shoes make my legs look longer."
But forget nude -- this week it's all about red, a color that Suzanne says can make blondes have too much fun. "When you're a blonde and wear red, you'd better be in the mood because it's a very powerful thing!" she warned. "(Red is) hot, sexy, fun, daring, strong, powerful -- all the things I feel about myself at this age." Which makes the red dress the perfect symbol for women and heart disease awareness, as it has been since 2002.
The Heart Truth's Red Dress Collection will open Mercedes-Benz Fall 2011 New York Fashion Week at Lincoln Center on Feb. 9 at 7 p.m. StyleList guest editor Denise Richards, Alison Sweeney, Ann Curry, Archie Panjabi, Audrina Patridge, Camila Alves, Cat Deeley, Dania Ramirez, Giuliana Rancic, Julianne Hough, Katrina Bowden, Laila Ali, Linda Gray, Natasha Bedingfield, Patti LaBelle and Taraji P. Henson are also walking in the show.