Monday, October 12, 2015

Twiggy: Then and Now

The story of Twiggy is the story of a girl who became a top model very quickly.  It’s also the story of the London pop scene - a scene set, in the beginning, by the Beatles . . .

- Vogue Magazine 

At sixteen, I was a funny, skinny little thing, all eyelashes and legs.  And then, suddenly people told me it was gorgeous.  I thought they had gone mad.

- Twiggy

Twiggy is called Twiggy because she looks as though a strong gale would snap her in two and dash her to the ground.

- Vogue Magazine, 1967

In 1965, U.S. country singer Roger Miller scored a hit with the song "England Swings (Like a pendulum do)"  Those sentiments fit the mood of the times because England was definitely swinging in the mid-1960s.  This, of course, was the height of the "British Invasion" with the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, The Who and other British bands taking the music world by storm.

Britain didn't only dominate the music scene, though.  It was also a fashion leader, and stylish Carnaby Street in London's Soho district set the trends.  With its funky shops and courtyard restaurants, Carnaby Street was a hot spot for the ultra chic and increasingly influential younger generation.

No one personified the youthful image of the mid-1960s more than a rail-thin, doe-eyed teenager with the unlikely nickname of Twiggy.  She was a perfect fit for the age of flower power, mini-skirts and go-go girls.  With her short, blond hair and her triple-lashed eyes, Twiggy was the "it girl' of her generation.  The "Twiggy look" was all the rage in the psychedelic 1960s.

This waif-like teen from working class London was right for the times and the times were right for her.  As Encyclopaedia Britammoca put it, "Twiggy’s adolescent physique was ideal for the rising hemlines and unisex patterns that were then in vogue, and her overall look distinguished her from the curvaceous, glamorous top models of the era."   "Her face" wrote journalist Polly Devlin in Vogue magazine, "might have been conceived by a computer to match the requirements of a face of the sixties,”

Teens on Carnaby Street circa 1966

Twiggy was born Lesley Hornby on September 19, 1949 in a area of northwest London known as Neasdon.  She was the third and youngest daughter of William Norman Hornby, a carpenter from Lancashire, and his wife, Nellie Lydia (née Reeman), a factory worker for a printing firm who worked a Woolworth's counter to earn some extra income.  Twiggy's parents were married in Willesden, North London in 1933.  Her sister Shirley was born in 1934 and Vivien in 1942.

As a 15-year-old student at the Kilburn High School for Girls, young Lesley had a Saturday job at Mr. Vincent's, a local hair salon. While working as an assistant at the salon in 1965, she met hairdresser Nigel Davies (later known as Justin de Villeneuve).  Justin, ten years her senior, became her boyfriend, advisor and eventual manager.  It was he who referred to Lesley as "Twigs," because of her slight frame. When she decided to quit school to pursue a career in modelling, he helped her find her way.

In January of 1966, Twiggy made an appointment to have her hair cut and coloured at House of Leonard, a posh salon located in Mayfair, an area of West London (Leonard Lewis, born 1938, is one of the most prominent hairstylists in Britain).  "I had long hair at the time," she told Vogue magazine, "and those drawn-on lashes I became famous for which I wore on non-school days. I mean, I was a mod back then.  Leonard saw me and he said: 'I'd like to do a new haircut on you, would you be up for that?'"

Twiggy was given a whole new look as her hair was cropped into a short, boyish style. Renowned photographer Barry Lategan was then called upon to to take some shots of Leonard's creation. At the Focus on Imaging Ad Shoot in 2010, here's how Lategan described his first encounters with Twiggy:

In 1966, in London, I was based in a studio in Chelsea, Flood Street.  I received a call from a hairdresser, whom I worked with, who said a friend of his had found a girl in a hairdressing salon, whose a shampoo girl and would like to be a model.  This young lady came to my studio accompanied by Justin de Villeneuve.  And as we sat, he talked me into an interest in her. She was walking around the studio looking at all my work and he turned to her and said, "Stop biting your nails, Twigs."  I said, What did you call her?" He said "'Twiggy', because she's so skinny.    The next day she came to my studio with her hair short in a boyish cut.  Her eyelashes were painted on her face.  And she sat in front of my camera and I was absolutely dazzled.  She looked straight into me. It's hard to describe what photogenic is.  She was.

Lategan's portraits of Twiggy with her bobbed hairdo was displayed in the salon.  They immediately caught the eye of a fashion journalist for the Daily Express newspaper who interviewed the aspiring model and featured her in an article that named her "The Face of 1966." With de Villeneuve as her manager, Twiggy soon accepted bookings as a model in London.  At 5 feet, 6 inches or 1.68 metres (short for a model) and weighing just 91 pounds (41.3 kilograms), she exploded on the fashion scene. Her popularity grew enormously and within months, she found herself in Paris where she was featured on covers and in layouts of fashion magazines such as Elle, Vogue and Paris Match.

Twiggy and Justin de Villeneuve

1967 was a banner year for Twiggy.  She jetted around the world and her image was everywhere, from lunch boxes and sweaters to false eyelashes, tote bags and tights.  She became one of the first international supermodels and her face graced he cover of the U.S. edition of Vogue (April  '67). She also embarked on a singing career that year, releasing her first single, "Beautiful Dreams."  She was so popular that Mattel even issued a plastic Twiggy doll.and Milton Bradley designed a game board based on her.

The 17-year-old British sensation visited the United States for the first time in March of 1967.  When she arrived at Kennedy Airport in New York, she was greeted by a throng of  enthusiastic fans, mostly teenagers.  Twiggy spent seven weeks touring America and posing before cameras. According to Historical Dictionary of the 1960s, upon her arrival in New York, she "charged $120 an hour to be photographed, but the rate soon doubled to $240."

Twiggy arriving in New York in 1967

Despite her popularity, Twiggy was not immune from criticism.  Her detractors accused her of promoting an unhealthy body image. "It was debated when I hit the headlines and I always came out and said that I was very healthy, which I was, and always ate, which I do. I love my food. I just come from a lineage. My dad was very slim, so it's kind of in the genes really," she was quoted as saying in a March 29, 2010 Associated Press article by Leanne Italie.

In 1970, after an exhilarating four year ride to fame, Twiggy formerly retired from modelling, "You can't be a clothes hanger for your entire life," she quipped at the time.  Barely into her twenties, she decided to pursue a career in acting.  It was a risk but it paid off handsomely.  Film director Ken Russell cast her in the the role of Polly Browne, the leading lady of a travelling theatrical troupe, in his film adaptation of Sandy Wilson's 1950s musical The Boy Friend.  

The Boy Friend was released in 1971.  For her performance as Polly, Twiggy received two Golden Globe awards, one for best newcomer and the other for best actress in a musical.  She also earned enormous respect.  In 2007, Russell told the Biography Channel that "Twiggy will be an icon until her dying day and beyond,"

Twiggy as Polly in a scene from The Boy Friend

According to a July 30, 2006 article in The Telegraph by Roya Nikkhah, soon after her successful film debut in The Boy Friend, Twiggy broke up with Justin de Villeneuve and moved to the United States.  He remained her manager until 1973 when she severed all ties with him.  In recent years, she has given less weight to his part in her rise to stardom.  According to the Roya Nikkham article, Twiggy has denied that Justin was her Svengali, declaring "he didn't form or mould me." "So, obviously I don't credit him with making me… what happened to me, happened because of the press and circumstance."

De Villeneuve took issue with those remarks.  "We were a double act, and the fact that she now denies this is farcical," he said.  "She has been very hostile and unpleasant about me, but the things she has said are completely untrue."

Through the years, Twiggy has found success performing in film, television and on stage.  She starred in her own variety show for the BBC and portrayed Eliza Doolittle in Yorkshire TV's 1981 production of Pygmalian.  From 1983 to 1984, she appeared on Broadway in the Tony Award-winning Gershwin musical My One and Only and was nominated for a Tony award for her performance.

Twiggy has performed in film and television in both the United States and the U.K.  She had roles in films such as The Blues Brothers (1980), The Doctor and the Devils (1985), Club Paradise, (1986), a TV movie entitled Little Match Girl (1986) and in a three-part TV series called Young Charlie Chaplin (1989)

In 1998, Twiggy hosted a talk show, Twiggy's People, on the ITV network in Britain.  She interviewed celebrities such as Dustin Hoffman, Tom Jones and Lauren Bacall.  In 2001, she hosted another show for ITV called Take Time With Twiggy.  From 2005 to 2007, she served as a judge on the American reality show America's Top Model alongside Tyra Banks, the creator of the series.

In 2005, Twiggy returned to modelling as part of the Marks & Spencer advertising blitz.  She appeared in a major press and billboard campaign for the U.S. department store chain.  In January of 2015, at the age of 65, Twiggy was named an ambassador for L'Oreal, the French cosmetics giant.

Twiggy's Marks & Spencer ad

Twiggy has been married twice.  Her first husband was American actor Michael Witney.  They starred together in a 1974 thriller called W and wed in 1977. Their daughter Carly was born in December of 1978,  Sadly, Witney suffered from alcoholism and died suddenly of a heart attack in New York City on November 30, 1983.  He was 52 years old at the time of his passing.

Twiggy and Michael Witney

Twiggy's second husband is British actor/director Leigh Lawson, the former partner of Hayley Millss (Lawson and Mills have a son named Jason Lawson).  In 1988, Twiggy and Lawson starred with Shirley MacLaine in the film Madame Sousatzka, a British drama directed by John Schlesinger.  That same year, they wed in Sag Harbor, Long Island, New York.  Lawson adopted Carly, who took on her stepfather's last name.

Twiggy and Leigh Lawson

Twiggy recently celebrated her 66th birthday and appears to be quite content with herself.  Earlier this year, in an interview with the  Daily Mirror,  she said, "When I was growing up, I never got dates at the dances, because I was this funny, skinny little kid. Then in my 20s I was always worried about not doing the right thing. I had a daughter when I was 29 and I started growing up then, but it was only in my late 30s and 40s when I finally became comfortable with myself."

So how did all that fame at such a young age affect Twiggy?  In a 2009 interview with Jess Cartner-Morley for The Guardian. she stated, "The thing is, when you're 16, you don't feel young. At the time you think you're quite grown up. It wasn't until much later, when I had a daughter and she got to be 16, that I looked at her and thought, 'Oh my God, I was that young when it happened.' It's amazing, really, that I didn't go stark raving bonkers."

In the 2010 Associated Pres article, Twiggy credited her father with keeping her on an even keel. She said, "My dad was always a very strong presence in my life. He instilled a kind of being down to earth, being sensible, especially when this whole thing happened to me," she told Leanne Italie.


*  Twiggy is an animal rights activist and anti-fur campaigner.

*  Twiggy has written two autobiographies.  The first one, entitled simply Twiggy was published in 1975.  The second, entitled Twiggy in Black and White. was published in 1998,  She is also the author of a 2008 book on healthy living called A Guide to Looking and Feeling Fabulous over Forty.

*  In 2005, Twiggy and Leigh Lawson both appeared in an episode of the American TV comedy series The Nanny entitled "Stop the Wedding, I Want to Get Off"  (Season 1, Episode 16, Air Date: March 16, 1994).  Twiggy played Jocelyn Sheffield, the sister of Maxwell Sheffield (played by British-born Charles Shaughnessy).

*  On November 21, 2011, Twiggy released an album entitled "Romantically Yours."

* Twiggy and Leigh Lawson reside in London.  She is now formerly known as Lesley Lawson or Twiggy Lawson.

*  Twiggy's daughter, Carly Lawson, studied animation at Edinburgh University and is is currently a print designer for English fashion designer Stella McCartney, the daughter of former Beatle, Paul. Twiggy and Carly recorded a mellower version of Neil Young's "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" for the "Romantically Yours" album.

Twiggy and daughter Carly

*  Justin de Villeneuve lives in the Chelsea area of  London.  He has been married twice.  His first wife was model Jan de Villeneuve.  They had daughters.  Their daughter Poppy is a photography and their daughter Daisy is an illustrator.  In 2007, de Vileneuve wed Sue Timney, a British interior and textile designer, at Chelsea Town Hall.

* Twiggy has her own clothing line called Twiggy London.  It is available on the Home Shopping Network (HSN).

- Joanne

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