The future is stupid
Interview from Swindle Magazine
Interview by Wendy Worth
W: You originally were going to be a fashion designer, weren't you?
T: That's what the irony is. All those years ago when I was still at school, I was insane, like most teenage girls are, about fashion. Barbara Hulanicki was one of my idols. And I still think she's one of the greatest designers ever. She was the first one really, to do accessibly priced clothes in the high street for young girls. So my idea was to try and go to art school and do design. I love dressmaking, and I still do. That was my hobby. That's what I planned to do. And then fate, obviously, had something else in store for me.
W: What happened?
T: It was literally one of those that things you couldn't plan. Somebody that I knew worked at a fashion magazine, and she was always saying to me, "You should model, you should model." And I just laughed because I was just a skinny little thing. But there was this big youth revolution. Suddenly, the thing to be was to be young. So that was the climate of the time. And because all these designers were designing young clothes, they needed young models, and there weren't that many around, obviously. So this friend of a friend who worked on a magazine said, "Why don't you go see this lady and see what she thinks?" I didn't know anything about that world. Why would I? The lady was very sweet. If I'd have gone to a modeling agency, I'd have been turned away because I was too small. I was only 5'6 1/2", and I was certainly too skinny. I was tiny.
W: Models weren't skinny in those days.
T: They were slender, but they were very, very tall. They didn't take anyone under 5'8". So I wouldn't have got taken on. So it's funny that after me, the next big iconic model is Kate Moss, and she's my height. It's ironic, isn't it?
So anyway, I met this woman, and she said, "I think you're too small, but you've got a very interesting face and maybe you can do beauty shots, but you're hair's too-" I was a teenager, it was a terrible mess, I used to color it myself. So she sent me to Leonard's to get my hair done. It was this really posh salon in Mayfair. And I was really scared; I was really shy. I was just supposed to have my hair styled and trimmed. And he-he obviously had the eye. He saw something. He, without my knowledge, went down and phoned the guy who did his photographs, Barry Lategan. That was a stroke of luck, because he's a great photographer. And he said, "I've got a young girl in here. I think she's very interesting-looking, but she's never had a photograph taken. I want to do my new hair cut on her. If I send her over, would you put her in front of the camera and tell me if she's photogenic?"
So I went on the bus again and went to Barry. Barry was gorgeous and lovely. He sat me in front of the camera. I had already by then had the nickname Twiggy, because my boyfriend's brother called me that because of my skinny legs. I was introduced to him as Leslie, and then at some point I did something, and my boyfriend said, "Oh, Twiggy," and Barry said, "Great name. If you ever model, you should use it."
Anyway, he took some test shots of me, rang Leonard and said, "Yes, she is photogenic, and yes, you should do the cut." I took a day off school, went back to Leonard's, had all my hair cut. It was so exciting-I was in this posh Mayfair salon, and they were doing it for free. I was in there for eight hours. They cut, they colored, they cut, they colored, and I ended up with that little urchin haircut.
Really, Leonard had done it for his salon. He hung it on the wall of his salon. The next lucky break was that one of the most eminent fashion journalists of the day in those days, Deirdre McSharry, came in and loved the photograph. She worked for a national newspaper called the Daily Express. She was a client of Leonard's. She said, "Love the hair. Who's the girl?" And Leonard said, "A young schoolgirl." And she said, "I want to meet her, I think she's got something." So I got this phone call at home. They said this lady wants to interview you. I was so green, I didn't even know what an interview was.
I went to meet this lady; we had tea. They took more pictures of me. She said, "I'm going to write a piece about you." So every day for about two weeks, my dad would buy the Daily Express and there'd be nothing. We thought it'd be a little tiny column. Two weeks later, my dad came in. It was the whole center page. The headline was "Twiggy: The Face of '66." It was the big headshot that Barry took. And that's when my life turned around.
W: Were you shocked?
T: It was ever so exciting-I was in the paper. But none of us knew-it was a whole new world. The phone started to ring. I didn't have an agent. I started to get bookings. And within three months I was in Paris doing the Paris collections. Within a year, which was again the next step to me becoming global, I came to America, to New York, because you can't become world-famous without conquering America.
W: What did you think of America?
T: I was 17. I had never traveled before in my life. I was this funny, shy little schoolgirl, remember? It was wonderful. It was mad. I had people telling me I was gorgeous, whereas I'd always thought I was this ruddy little thing, and paying me money, and I was meeting famous people. I went out to L.A., I met Sonny and Cher, and I met Steve McQueen. Diana Vreeland was a huge plus for me because she was the one that brought me over. She was the one that had the courage to bring me over to New York and put me in Vogue. She was the doyenne of American fashion for all those years. So when she said, "This is the look, this is the girl," that was it. She put me with Richard Avedon, and the rest, as they say is history. What happened to me is a one in god-knows-how-many-million chance.
W: What was Richard Avedon like?
T: Gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous. He did all those leaping shots. You know, people weren't doing that; it was all very static. The reason I love the Avedon pictures is I was very much a teenage model, and in England I had mainly done very teenagery clothes and teenagery poses. When I worked with Rick, he saw me as a woman, and did very beautiful headshots of me.
W: Tell me about the Japan trip.
T: I came back from America. And you've got to remember I wasn't a traveler, I was very much a homebody. We got the offer to go to Tokyo, and I didn't want to go because I was just so sick of traveling. My manager said, "Look, why don't we ask an exuberant sum of money and say we want to take 10 companions? They're bound to say no." I agreed, and they said yes.
But I'm so glad I went, because it was so amazing. It was one of the most amazing trips of my life.
W: You got paid more than the Beatles.
T: I think I might have at one point [laughs]. But the ironic thing is it could have all been over in six months. I think the next great stroke of luck for me was meeting Ken Russell. Because yeah, I was a big model and I could have gone on modeling, I was world famous by then. You know, I was 20 when I stopped modeling and I could have gone on modeling for another 15 years, probably.
W: You're still doing it now.
T: Well, I've gone back to it.
W: You also did Italian Vogue.
T: That was my first time back. I'd always turned everything down-I did photographs, but only if it was to do with what I was working on as an actress. I got a call from Steven Meisel in '93 saying, "Will you let me do a fashion spread on you? It's Italian Vogue." And I happened to love Italian Vogue. So I said yes. And I'm so glad I did, 'cause they were amazing photographs. It was a 10-page spread, I think. It was gorgeous.
Here's a lovely story about Steven. I turned up in New York in '93 to do the shoot, and he came in and I said, "Oh, how lovely to meet you, I'm thrilled." He said, "Well actually, we've met before." And I was really embarrassed, 'cause I didn't remember. And he said, "It's alright, you wouldn't remember. I was about 12, and it was when you first came to New York, and me and my friend, we lived in Brooklyn, and we had seen you on the news and we were obsessed with you. And we decided to take a day off school and find you and we wanted to meet you."
So they didn't tell their mums, they played hooky from school. They came over to Manhattan. At the time, Burt Stern, another incredibly famous photographer, was doing a documentary about my trip to New York for CBS. So there was camera crew and lighting, and we were doing a fashion session.
So these two little boys somehow found out where we were, rang the doorbell of this studio, and the stylist answered, a young lady called Ally McGraw.
T: Yeah, before she acted-isn't that funny? She was the stylist. She went to answer the door, and there were these two kids there, and they said, "We want to meet Twiggy." And she said, "Go away, you can't come in." The cameraman of the documentary crew overheard and thought, Oh, it'd make a great thing on film, and said to Ally, "No, let them come in, let them come in."
So I came out of the dressing room, and there were these two boys-I don't remember this, I have to say, but for Steven, obviously, it was a big moment in his life. I said, "Oh God, I hope I was nice to you." And he said, "Yeah, you were." And he actually brought with him the signed picture that I'd done for him. He said, "We chatted for a bit and you signed a picture for us, and then we left. We ran home, and had to tell our moms that we played hooky. On the train on the way back, I said to my friend, 'I'm going to be a photographer, and one day I'm going to photograph her.'"
Isn't that amazing? So that was in '68, and 25 years later he did.
W: How did you meet Ken Russell?
T: In about 1967, '68. He had a project he wanted to do which was based on a William Faulkner novel. It was called "The Wishing Tree," I think. He asked me to be in it. It never got made, but that's how I met Paul [McCartney]. He wanted Paul to do the music.
W: You never met Paul on the whole scene?
T: I didn't really do the scene. I worked. I wasn't druggy. I was so young. I didn't drink, I didn't party. I worked and traveled.
But that's how I met Ken. Although the film didn't work out, I met his wife at the time, a lovely, wonderful lady no longer with us, I'm afraid, called Shirley Russell who was his costume designer. They did everything together. And she was absolutely lovely. He would have these evenings at home where he'd screen films and Shirley would make a big bowl of spaghetti. That was my education into films. He'd screen all the old Fred and Ginger movies. He had the Eisenstein movies and all the foreign movies.
Ken was the big hot director in those days. He was like the enfant terrible. People either loved him or hated him. "Women In Love" had come out. And he did all those amazing Omnibus specials on television.
Anyway, "The Wishing Tree" never happened, but a couple of years later, I had been to see "The Boyfriend" on stage in revival. Two nights later, I had dinner with Ken and Shirley. I was telling Ken about it, and he, after a few glasses of champagne said, "Oh, lets make a film. You can play Polly Brown. I've always wanted to do a musical." And I laughed.
The next day he phoned me and said, "What do you think?" I said "What?" He said, "Doing the film?" I said "But, I've never acted, I've never sung, I've never danced." He said, "That doesn't mean anything. We're going to do it."
I went off to dance class mainly, 'cause he was in the middle of doing "The Devils" then, so we had nine months to prepare. He fought for six months to get the film company to get me to do it, because, you can understand, they were very nervous. They said, "Yea, she's very famous, but she's never-"
W: She's a model.
T: Yea. So I owe him so much. I do think, certainly in my life, there are key people who do change your life. I'm not talking about husbands, wives, and children. I'm talking about career people. For me it's obviously Leonard, Barry Lategan, then Ken Russell. Because once we'd been filming "The Boyfriend" for about four or five weeks, it was like: this is what I want to do. I love it. So I made the decision at the ripe old age of 20 that I was going to quit modeling. In those days it was very hard. Well, models always have this thing that they're dumb and stupid. In those days it was even worse. So I thought, if I'm going be taken seriously as an actress and a performer, I've got to stop the modeling. And that's what I decided to do, rightly or wrongly.
Love is what you want.
The future is stupid
W: When did you do "Pygmalion?"
T: I filmed that in London. I'm proud of that, actually. I think I was the first working class girl to do it.
W: You had to learn the posh accent.
T: I did. It was quite hard, actually. And I'm not sure I'm perfect in that part of it. But the essence of it certainly worked.
For me, I'm proud of those things. I know the '60s is the big thing, and that's what everyone wants to talk about. But that happened to me. Playing Broadway, I had to really work. I had to learn my craft. Modeling kind of happened to me.
W: You met Noel Coward, didn't you?
T: We met in Jamaica about 1967. He had a house. I went for tea. He was divine and charming. He came back to England a couple years later because he was beginning to get sick. He died of emphysema-he chain-smoked, but that was his choice. I went to visit him in hospital a few times, and I remember at one point, he said something to me, "Oh, you should play Elvira." That's the ghost in "Blithe Spirit." I was so young, I hadn't read his plays. I wasn't a major reader in those days. It was only when I read them I thought, oh, what a lovely part.
When I met him in Jamaica, we had done a little snap shot together. Somewhere in one of my moves, I had lost it, which I was really upset about. All these years went by, and in the beginning of '97, Leigh [Twiggy's husband] and I decided to clean out our bookshelves. I pull out one book and this little picture flips out, and I pick it up. It's my long lost picture. I was so thrilled, and about two months later, I got a call: would you play Elvira in "Blithe Spirit?" Isn't that amazing? I love that story. People remember his plays, but a lot of people don't realize what beautiful songs he wrote. I feel very privileged that I met him.
I met my hero of all time-Fred Astaire. I went to L.A. to promote "The Boyfriend," went to MGM studios, and they said to me, "Is there anybody famous you'd like to meet?" I was 21. They probably thought I was going to pick whoever the young, hot, gorgeous hunk was in those days. The first thing I said was "Fred Astaire!" 'Cause he was my hero. They kind of went, "Well, is there anyone else?" I said, "No, why?" They said, "Mr. Astaire, number one, he's retired. Number two he's very much a recluse. He doesn't meet people. He's very shy." I said, "I wouldn't intrude on his privacy. But you asked me, and he's my hero." And then kind of forgot about it, and went back to the hotel.
Unbeknownst to me, there was a lady in the office, an older lady, who had overheard that conversation. She worked at MGM with Fred and Ginger, and she was still a friend of his. She rang him, and told him the story, and he invited me to go and have tea with him.
W: At his house?
T: Yea. Up in the Hollywood Hills. I was so nervous. Nobody dances like Fred, but nobody walks like Fred. He was just the most divine, lovely, gorgeous, modest man you could ever wish to meet. A couple years later, we went out to dinner in Beverly Hills, and he took us to this-it was like a Polynesian restaurant. It used to be on Rodeo Drive. I remember seeing one of those drinks in cocoanuts go by. I said, oh, what's that. I was told it was a Mai Tai, which I didn't know. I got one, and it went straight to my head. And Fred ordered one, and he didn't really drink, either. So we all got a bit tipsy. When we came out the restaurant to walk to his car, he actually started to tap dance up Rodeo Drive. Which was amazing. He hadn't danced for ages, 'cause he'd retired. He did a little tap dance, ended up in a double turn onto his knees and went, "Hollywood, I love ya!"
I feel very privileged that I've been able to meet people like Fred, like Noel Coward, like Paul McCartney. These are legends.
On the first night of "My One and Only" [Twiggy's Broadway debut], Laurence Olivier was in our audience! That's scary, going out in front of Laurence Olivier. I couldn't believe I had gotten through it and I was still alive, and I came running down the stairs to my dressing room and this person picked me up and hugged me and kissed me-"Wonderful, darling, wonderful!"-put me down, and I looked up and it was Lauren Bacall. I nearly fainted.
There is one person I can think of who wasn't very nice. At the time he wasn't very famous. He's become incredibly famous, and I have to admit he's a very good director. He was a young comic called Woody Allen. When Burt Stern was doing a documentary on me, he wanted somebody to interview me. Woody was this new hot young comic, and he brought him in to interview me. You know, I was 17-years-old. I was very straight, very honest, not incredibly worldly at that point. They had an audience, and cameras, and this man. I was very nervous. I was used to people coming out and asking me, Did I like America? What did I think of New York? How did I get started? How did I cut my hair? Why've I got the name Twiggy? You know, they were the normal questions. So I was used to that.
He came out, and I smiled, and he looked at me, and said "Hi, Twiggy, who's your favorite philosopher?"
You know that really awful feeling where your heart sinks to your stomach. I can remember thinking: Don't cry, don't cry, you've got an audience here. All I wanted to do was run off and just burst into tears. I didn't know any flippin' philosophers. And he probably knew I didn't.
I said, "I don't know any." And he said, "Oh, come on. Everyone has got a favorite philosopher." In my panic, I said, "Tell me some of their names," because I thought maybe I'd recognize them. I was panicking. It was such a cruel thing to do to a young girl. And he went, "Oh, you know, your Greeks and your Romans." And I said, "Yea, but what are their names? What are their names?" I was getting desperate and trying not to cry. But what I'd done is I had turned the tables on him, because he couldn't think of any either.
And then he changed the subject. He said to me, "So I supposed you've read Dickens," thinking I hadn't. So, I said "Yea, we read them at school." Which shut him up. He was trying to get me. And in the end he just fell off his chair like a joker and said, "Oh, I can't interview her," and just left the stage.
I think he's very talented. I can't take that away from him.
W: At the time, your hair cut was boyish, vulnerable-
T: I was very, what do you call it?
T: Yeah. And I was. I looked like a little boy. You have to remember that a little after me, Bowie came along.
W: There was that picture of you together.
T: Well, that was shot, if you can believe it, for English Vogue. Everyone loved it, and the marketing manager of English Vogue said, we have never had a man on the cover of Vogue, we cannot do it. We said, you're insane, you'll sell more copies-at that point he was huge, but they wouldn't print it. So David, while all that arguing was going on, said look, it's a great picture I'll put it on my next album cover, which was "Aladdin Sane."
W: How do you think your look related to mod culture?
T: Well, I was a mod even before I became a model. You were either a mod or a rocker. The rockers rode motorbikes, wore leather gear, and the girls wore leather trousers, leather jackets. And the mods, we all dressed alike. This was before the mini. This was the early '60s. We used to wear pleated skirts and hushpuppy shoes-flat, lace-up, suede shoes-nylon macs, and little grey jumpers. And the hair, which is what I had, was center parting, straight, and long.
So that was the real mods and rockers, and then it segued into the mid '60s, which was when my look happened.
By the end of the '60s, the mods and rockers kind of peaked. Then it became mod fashion, which was different.
W: You were skinny naturally.
T: The obsession with thinness, I think it's gone out of hand-obsession with thinness and obsession with looking unnaturally young.
I get the blame for anorexia a lot of the time. But I always say I always ate healthily. When I was skinny, I used to eat like a horse. I'm much more careful what I eat now because I'm older. I've wised up a bit. I'm happier that I'm heavier than I was, because I was very skinny. But I was very young. I'm very into healthy eating. And I love food, and I love cooking.
I think this obsession with skinniness-it's weird now. It's not just models now: it's gone into that Hollywood thing. I find it worrying, I have to say. The media, I think, should be a bit more responsible. The fashion industry and the magazines push this image, and unfortunately teenage girls are very susceptible to it.
I was the beginning of the media thing starting to happen. We didn't have the intrusion that we have nowadays. I'm glad I'm a boring, married, middle-aged woman now.
W: What's your definition of beauty?
T: [laughs] Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I don't know who said that, but it's so true. I always usually like the more unusual, I think. The classic beauty may not always be the look that I find the most attractive. For me, the most beautiful woman of the last 15 years has been Nastassja Kinski. That's the sort of face I find breathtaking. Ingrid Bergman was a great beauty to me. That's probably why I like Kate, 'cause Kate's very beautiful. Jean Shrimpton was gorgeous. She was different-breathtakingly beautiful. She always looked like a young fawn to me, that long neck and those eyes.
W: You are an icon, whether you like it or not.
T: That word has suddenly become a very hot word. It's nice to do this now, because this is my 40th anniversary this year. 40 years is not bad, and I'm still working. I consider myself very privileged, especially in this business. It does get hard for women over 40.
W: What's an icon?
T: Somebody who has hung in there, and is still doing stuff, and is known throughout the world, I guess. You have to be world-famous. I think what happened to me, I represent a very important time. People love the '60s. I think the reason I've become that is because I represent the look of that era.
Love is what you want.