Interview by Wendy Worth (Steven Meisel section is AMAZING)
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.