Blessed by beauty

''I don't look and say 'mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?'.''

''I don't look and say 'mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?'.''

FOR one of the world's most beautiful women, Isabella Rossellini has a surprisingly prosaic relationship with her visage.

''When I look at myself in the mirror I make sure my face is clean,'' she laughs.

''I don't look and say 'mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?' I am blessed with not an enormous vanity.''

Yet Rossellini is blessed with a mesmerizing face.

It has been photographed by the likes of Robert Mapplethorpe and Richard Avedon, immortalised in celluloid by David Lynch (Blue Velvet) and in 1988 had an entire exhibition of images devoted to it at the Musee d'Art Moderne in Paris.

Over more than three decades the arresting looks of the daughter of Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman and Italian director Roberto Rossellini have helped her forge a diverse career spanning acting, modeling, directing and writing.

''I guess that if I hadn't been a beauty,'' she laughs, ''if I had been coming from a different background I could easily see myself being a biologist or something like that. Only coming from the world of an artistic background, I remain within that world because I like it.''

Her latest project - creating a range of handbags for Italian luxury brand Bulgari - unites Rossellini's passions for fashion, film and ecology.

''When you are little you think that you are not consistent, that you are going everywhere, because you are a model, an actress, a filmmaker, these different things,'' she said. ''But all of a sudden when I see the bag … everything seems to make sense; things are not disconnected and there is a wholeness.''

Referencing her model's appreciation of fine fabrications and design, and her series of Green Porno ecological films through the whimsical snails printed on the bag lining, the collection - on sale in Sydney and Melbourne - also evokes Rossellini's earliest memories of shopping in Bulgari's Rome flagship store as a little girl accompanying her mother.

''I can remember going with my mother to look at jewellery to wear to an opening night,'' she said. ''It was a magic moment but it was also the intimate moment of being with your mum and dreaming of being grown-up and one day being able to make the same selection.''

Now a mother herself, Rossellini's starring role at the age of 60 in the accompanying advertising campaign for her bags is an anomaly in an industry dominated by youth.

''The models now have just turned 16 to begin with … most advertisement wants to show a beautiful girl that is arresting, and you say 'who's that gal? she is sexy','' Rossellini said.

''But with me there is the idea of a sense of history. You think of me, but then you think of my mother, you think of Rome, you think of a whole culture. You make a lot of associations, and this is an association that is unusual in advertising.''

Using celebrities such as Rossellini in luxury advertising is far from unusual. Actor Angelina Jolie and directors Sofia Coppola and Francis Ford Coppola have appeared in campaigns for Louis Vuitton, Versace has used Madonna, Demi Moore and Halle Berry and Chanel has used Brad Pitt and Nicole Kidman.

The advantages are obvious: celebrities wield enormous power in fashion and their influence and perceived endorsement can make or break brands.

But things don't always go according to plan. Christian Dior designer John Galliano was sacked last year following an anti-Semitic outburst in a Paris cafe. Tiger Woods was dropped by Buick and Gatorade following his indiscretions, and Kate Moss lost deals with brands including Chanel, H&M and Burberry after a drug scandal in 2005.

In her early 40s Rossellini was deemed too old to advertise cosmetics, and was unceremoniously dumped by Lancome after 14 years. At the time she criticised the French makeup brand as ''ageist,'' and remains outspoken on issues such as plastic surgery and botox.

''It feeds into your insecurity,'' she said. ''It leads you into a path of always looking at yourself critically, instead of saying, 'this is what I was given, this is how I was born, now what to make of it?' And to me, what one makes of it is what is interesting.''

Georgina Safe travelled to Milan courtesy of Bulgari.

This story Blessed by beauty first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.