September 19, 1949– Dame Lesley Lawson:
The sixties were a time when ordinary people could do extraordinary things!
I love her. I thought she was groovy in the 1960s. I dig her now. I’ve seen her sing and dance on stage and she is the real deal. I just barely made it through The Boyfriend this summer because she is so charming. I hadn’t seen this demented Ken Russell film since 1971 in a theatre. And then, I was on LSD, so I have never been sure of it. Watching The Boyfriend on TCM, it still felt like an acid trip.
Twiggy wasn’t born Twiggy; she was originally Lesley Hornby in a 1930s-era semi-detached house in Neasden, a town northwest of London. Her father was a carpenter and her mother, a factory worker. Before she became famous, Twiggy attended Kilburn High School for Girls where expressed her early love for fashion, specially the custom ties and by making her own clothing.
Her childhood nickname “Twigs” came from her skinny frame and androgynous look which made her resemble a twig.
Twiggy, of course, became one of the first international supermodels and she remains THE fashion icon of the 1960s. She has said she based her “look” on Pattie Boyd, one of the leading models during the early 1960s, and with Jean Shrimpton, both epitomized the British female “look” of the era. Shrimpton was the world’s highest paid model, dubbed “The It Girl” and “The Face”, she was a move away from the popular voluptuous models of the 1950s, and with her long legs and slim figure, she was nicknamed “The Shrimp”. Boyd married The Beatles‘ George Harrison in 1966 and experienced the height of Beatlemania. She divorced Harrison in 1977 and married Harrison’s best friend Eric Clapton in 1979 and they divorced in 1989. Boyd inspired Harrison’s song Something and Clapton’s Wonderful Tonight.
In January 1966, at just 16 years old, Twiggy had her hair cut short at Leonard of Mayfair, owned by celebrity hairstylist ”Leonard” (Leonard Lewis). He worked closely with film director Stanley Kubrick on many of his films, and in its heyday, his five-story Mayfair salon was considered the center of all that was fashionable. His clients included Jerry Hall, Warren Beatty, Barbra Streisand, Catherine Deneuve, Bianca Jagger, The Beatles, Liza Minnelli, Faye Dunaway, David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust phase, and “The Shrimp”. Leonard was looking for new models to try out his new cropped haircut and a professional photographer took several photos of Twiggy, which Leonard hung in his salon. Deirdre McSharry, a fashion journalist from the Daily Express, saw the images and asked to meet the young girl.
McSharry arranged to have more photos taken. A few weeks later the publication featured an article and images of Hornby, declaring her “The Face of ’66”. The copy read:
“The Cockney kid with a face to launch a thousand shapes… and she’s only 16“.
Twiggy’s career took off. She was short for a model at 5’6″, weighing 110 lbs. Her hairdresser boyfriend, Nigel Davies, became her manager, changing his name to Justin de Villeneuve, and he persuaded her to change her name to Twiggy. De Villeneuve credits himself for Twiggy’s success, but in her memoir Twiggy In Black And White (1998) disputes this. Ten years her senior, De Villeneuve did manage her lucrative career for seven years, overseeing her finances and various enterprises.
Twiggy was soon on the cover of leading fashion magazines, commanding hundreds of dollars an hour, bringing out her own line of clothes called “Twiggy Dresses” in 1967, and taking the fashion world by storm. Twiggy:
“I hated what I looked like, so I thought everyone had gone stark raving mad.”
The Twiggy look: stick-thin figure, a boyishly short haircut and strikingly dark eyelashes, was all the rage. Of her prominent eyelashes, known as “Twiggies”, she said:
“I was layering three pairs of false eyelashes over my own and would paint extra ‘twigs’ on my skin underneath.”
One month after the Daily Express piece, Twiggy posed for her first shoot for Vogue. Within a year, she had appeared in 13 separate fashion shoots in international Vogue editions.
She became so popular that Mattel created a Barbie doll after her likeness in 1967. This was the first Barbie doll released that depicted a real person. The Twiggy doll was only on the market between 1967 and 1968.
Twiggy arrived in New York City in March 1967 at Kennedy Airport, an event covered by the press. LIFE and Newsweek reported on the Twiggy “phenomenon”, and The New Yorker devoted 100 pages to the subject.” She became an international sensation, modelling in France, Japan and the USA. She was on the cover of US Vogue three times in 1967. Vogue called it “…an extravaganza that makes the look of the sixties”. There were skinny little Twiggy pens, Twiggy lunch boxes, Twiggy lashes, and an assortment of Twiggy-endorsed cosmetics.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s catalogue for its exhibition The Model As Muse: Embodying Fashion in 2009 states:
“Twiggy’s adolescent physique was the perfect frame for the androgynous styles that began to emerge in the 1960s. The trend was manifested in a number of templates: sweet A-line dresses with collars and neckties, suits and dresses that took their details from military uniforms, or, in the case of Yves Saint Laurent, an explicit transposition of the male tuxedo to women. Simultaneously, under the rubric of ‘unisex’, designs that were minimalistic, including Nehru suits and space-agey jumpsuits, were proposed by designers such as Pierre Cardin and, most famously in the United States, by Rudi Gernreich.”
Twiggy was been photographed by Francesco Scavullo, Cecil Beaton, Richard Avedon, Bert Stern, Annie Leibovitz and Steven Meisel.
Diana Vreeland of stated:
“She’s no flash in the pan. She is the mini-girl in the mini-era. She’s delicious looking.”
Twiggy has spoken out against the trend of waif-thin models, explaining that her own thin weight as a teenager was natural:
“I was very skinny, but that was just my natural build. I always ate sensibly – being thin was in my genes.”
Then, after four years of modelling, Twiggy retired in 1970. She fired Justin de Villeneuve, and stated:
“You can’t be a clothes hanger for your entire life!”
She hung out at Ken Russell’s house, watching old films together. She began wearing longer hair and longer skirts, as the hippie look took over London.
Twiggy then began an award-winning acting and singing career, starring in a variety of roles on stage and screen, and recording albums. She played Polly Browne, in Russell’s adaptation of Sandy Wilson‘s pastiche of 1920s musicals, The Boy Friend. This was her first collaboration with Tommy Tune and it won her a Golden Globe Award. She was featured on the cover of Bowie’s Pin Ups album in 1973, with the two wearing painted-on face masks. She worked on stage, including starring as Eliza Doolittle opposite Robert Powell in a production of Pygmalion in 1981. In 1983, she made her Broadway debut in the musical, My One And Only, starring and staged by her pal Tommy Tune, earning a Tony Award nomination.
She married twice: to Michael Witney an American film and television actor who died of a heart attack nine days after his 52nd birthday in 1983; and Leigh Lawson, a British film and actor, director and writer. They met in 1984, and became a couple when they both worked on the film Madame Sousatzka in 1988.
She has published 11 books, released eight albums, was a judge on America’s Next Top Model from 2003 – 2008. In 2005, she returned to modelling doing ads for Marks and Spencer, launching an exclusive clothing collection. Oh, and Twiggy is has a royal title; she was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) by Prince Charles for her services to fashion, the arts, and charity in March 2019.