ARTICLE SARAH CRISTOBAL
PHOTOGRAPHY MELVIN SOKOLSKY
A SIMPLE HAIRCUT LAUNCHED HER CAREER, AND HER MINUTE FRAME LIT THE FASHION WORLD ON FIRE. BUT THERE IS NOTHING FRAIL ABOUT TWIGGY, WHO AFTER CONQUERING THE MODELING INDUSTRY WENT ON THE RULE HOLLYWOOD, BROADWAY AND EVENTUALLY THE HOME SHOPPING NETWORK
Everyone knows Twiggy (née Lesley Lawson), the slight 16-year-old schoolgirl who set the fashion world ablaze with her avant-garde haircut, slender frame, and exaggerated eye makeup. Her four-year modeling stint during the swinging sixties paved the way for a career in which she netted two Golden Globes for her performance in The Boy Friend (1971); Broadway and West End theater roles; and a turn as a judge on America’s Next Top Model. Eponymous collections for Marks & Spencer and HSN are her latest triumph. Calling from her home in London, the hardworking icon with a blue-collar background dishes on the keys to her success.
How did you get started? You were so young!
TWIGGY On paper it shouldn’t have happened. It was one person, Leonard, who saw something and cut my hair. He hung my picture in his salon in Mayfair. I went back to school and a fashion journalist from a daily newspaper came in, saw the photograph, and said, “Who’s the girl? I want to meet her.” So they took some more photos of me and wrote a piece. My dear dad, bless him, used to go out every day to get the papers, but nothing appeared. Then, about three weeks later, it was a whole double-page spread! The headline was “Twiggy: The Face of ’66,” and that’s the day my life changed forever.
And your phone did not stop ringing.
T No, but I was a schoolgirl, so they were ringing my mum [laughs]. Mad! The next major part of the story is Diana Vreeland and her bringing me to America. That’s when it all just went global. I have a lot to thank Ms Vreeland for. She was an extraordinary woman.
What was her reaction when she saw you?
T I mean, she was quite scary! I arrived in their office and this woman walked in, completely dressed in black with just the bright red lips and that mad hair. We got on like a house on fire and I loved her. She changed my career, because when Diana Vreeland said, “This is it,” you know the whole fashion industry listened.
She was influential in introducing you to new photographers…
T She immediately put me together with Richard Avedon, who in my eyes is the greatest fashion photographer of our century. He was also a really lovely guy. I was very young and shy and he looked after me. He would get me dancing on the set. He had quite a small build, a bit like Fred Astaire. One of my favorite pictures was taken by his assistant. It’s Richard and me on set, and we’re leaping in the air. It’s just such a joyous photograph, and it says so much about Richard.
Were you shooting every day?
T During the week, yes. In those days if you were a photographic model you didn’t do the catwalk shows. That didn’t start until the ’80s, really. It was hard work, we were traveling all the time. I think lots of people think the ’60s were all drugs and rock and roll, which it probably was for some. I didn’t drink then, I was so square. I didn’t get into drugs and…well, that’s probably why I’m still here!
Well you had a good head on your shoulders, obviously.
T I think so. Then I met this extraordinary man called Ken Russell who changed my life yet again. He cast me in The Boy Friend. I was world-famous as a model, but I’d never acted or danced. It was like entering a whole new world: it was magical. And of course when the film came out, I won two Golden Globe awards.
It’s rare to have that your first time out of the gate.
T It was bonkers. Suddenly I’m getting off with a record deal, I’m getting off with a TV series, I’m getting off with another film. So I made the decision at the ripe old age of 20–21, that that’s the path I wanted to follow. I didn’t kind of wake up and think, Oh, I’m never going to model again.
And then you transitioned onto Broadway, right?
T Yes. Tommy Tune, who I became great friends with while we were doing The Boy Friend, became a huge director on Broadway in the late ’70s, and he rang me one day. We had been trying to do a film project together, and he said, “I want to do it on Broadway.” And I said, “You must be mad!” And he said to me, “There’s no such word as ‘can’t.’ Pack your bags and get up to New York.” It was called My One and Only and it ran for 18 months.
And of course you had an album come out last year.
T I didn’t do it because I wanted a hit or to top the charts. It’s called Romantically Yours, so they’re all old, romantic songs. I feel very blessed that I’ve had a career that I’ve done lots of different things, because I never get bored.
The best models seem to go on to create empires for themselves.
T Most models do start at a very young age—and obviously your life changes, because you can’t be a young model forever. People are realizing you don’t only have to always use teenage girls. Sometimes it’s better, especially if you’re selling an antique wrinkle cream, you’re going to believe it more if you use an older woman. I just launched my range online for M&S. And I also go to Florida because I do a big clothing line for the Home Shopping Network.
Are you very instrumental with designing the line?
T Oh, totally! I’m a bit of a control freak. It’s my passion. I learned to sew as a kid. I’ve got sewing and knitting machines. I’ve made most of the curtains and bedspreads in our houses. It’s therapeutic.
Fashion is in your blood.
T I only get involved with things I feel passionate about. I launched my first perfume on HSN in July, which was really exciting. The packaging is a shocking pink Union Jack, and it’s called Twiggy!
Do you have a great archive from back in the day?
T Probably not as much as I should. My daughter tells me off all the time, but when you’re 16 you’re not thinking like that. Bill Gibb made me some performing outfits, so I kept those and a couple of coats. Stella McCartney is a dear friend, since Paul is one of my best friends and Linda was one of my best friends. I’ve known her since she was born. My daughter is actually her print designer.
Keeping it all in the family!
T Yeah, Carly works at Stella. And Matthew Williamson is a great mate. I’m a very lucky girl! Chris Bailey [from Burberry] occasionally sends me a gorgeous new trench coat. So I’ve got things like that. From the ’60s it’s mainly the special things, since my day-to-day clothes are long gone. You can’t live in the past. I did it, I’ve been there, I’ve got the T-shirt.