Twiggy Now

Photography Bryan Adams
Text Leanne Delap

The original waif-turned-supermodel offers up her views on fashion, family, turning 60 and the art of beautiful aging.

Models arouse diaper rash in mere mortals. We are infantile on the subject: we damn the beautiful, larding aspersions on their character, knocking double-digits off our estimation of their intellect, all because they have arrested our attention. A great fashion shot hijacks our sanity. A model’s highly contrived achievement of chic, her perfection, the intrigue she projects, we call her names for it. When we talk about serious photography (ugly, sick or just real people), we use grander words, we talk about catching the soul of the subject in a frame. When we talk of fashion photography, we talk of bimbos. But if they’re good, they got soul to spare, honey.

Even Twiggy herself relegated that period of her now long, remarkably multi-faceted and rewarding career as her “clothes hanger” years.

But let’s stop for a moment, for Twiggy is the perfect example of what is wrong with that pop culture picture. Good models are rare; great models happen once, maybe twice, a generation. Consider that the shots of Twiggy, a 16-year-old girl from suburban London, look as fresh today as in 1966: Mary Quant minidress, androgynous cap of hair, massive doe eyes. Kids, it takes a really smart girl with bucketsful of personality to make that caricature work. Leaving the train wreckage to Edie, the giggles to Goldie, Twiggy followed through with the promise of those photos. She kept her head in the headlights of instant fame, saying now, “I just thought the world had gone mad. I grew up very happy, in a very happy family environment. I was quite in control of myself.” It is that security we see in those shots: Twiggy was a doll we dressed. The style was fresh, radical looking. But the bones underneath were solid, even on her 90-pound soaking wet frame.

Twiggy Lawson (she now uses the name of her second husband, actor Leigh Lawson, to whom she has been married for 21 years) turns 60 this month. With typical élan, Twiggy is embracing the moment. “Can’t do anything about it, can you?” she says, laughing her contagious, earthy, womanly laugh. “Might as well celebrate it and hope to get lots and lots of presents.”

Indeed, Britain’s National Portrait Gallery is celebrating for her with a show of images from throughout her career. Highlights include a portrait she did with Bryan Adams in 2000 (they reunited in London for this new Zoomer cover shoot) along with the bright stockings and lime green Ferrari Technicolor images from back in the day.

Twiggy is, remarkably, just a regular gal. “Well, I must say it is exciting! It is very posh gallery. Very classy.”

This Everywoman identification is what took Twiggy out of the rarefied pantheon of one-name wonders and allowed her to translate the fame into a remarkable series of careers. Rising above the model-slash genre, she went on to make a splash in (and win two Golden Globes for best actress and best newcomer) Ken Russell’s celebrated 1971 film The Boyfriend, and she played Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion on stage and television among a decades worth of roles. Her recording career made her a newfangled kind of model/slash triple threat: she released Twiggy in 1976 and Please Get My Name Right in 1977, hitting the charts with both efforts.

But it is Twiggy’s latest incarnations that have her as busy as she has ever been. “I didn’t foresee this coming,” she says now, “especially that I would be modeling so much!” A gig as a judge on America’s Next Top Model stretched out to a zany three-season, globe-trotting run. “That is how I love my life to work,” she says. “One day, the phone rang, I thought it sounded fun, and off we were the next week.”

Then Marks & Spencer cast her as spokesmodel for its new line of clothing. The adverts are charming, featuring Twiggy, just as recognizable now in her long, blond, age-defying locks, chatting with viewers about the revolutionary effects of the British brand as if you’d had her round for tea. She has also been named the new face of Olay in Britain, a role she had previously held in 1985. “It is rather thrilling, isn’t it, to have age-appropriate models? I’ve always spoken up about that, how silly it was when they were selling wrinkle creams on 20-year-olds.” She has also spoken out about how much she dislikes Botox, though, clever minx, she won’t rule out plastic surgery in the future.

“My own daughter is 30 now!” she says of Carly Lawson, who works in design at Stella McCartney. “I remember when Carly turned 16, the age I was when all the madness started. I had thought I was so grown up of course, same as any 16 year old. But then I saw my daughter, and I got a whole new perspective on what aging really is.” Family remains the one constant in Twiggy’s life. Carly and Jason, her stepson, join the parents for a weekly dinner when possible in London.

Otherwise, time is a juggle. On the various burners at Twiggy central are shows such as Twiggy’s Frock Exchange (a clever series that ran last fall, conceived before the recession); a book on beauty over 40; guest star gigs (she famously lampooned herself on Ab Fab in 2001); her clothing line for online supplier Littlewoods; and a line of bedsheets.

Held up against the American model of celebrity brand spinning — Jessica Simpson makeup and hair extensions — the Twiggy Empire is sweet and true to the woman who “just wants to get to a tap class once a week.”

That may be the secret to the Twiggy mystique. She is so heavily identified with the ’60s but was never really of that moment. She “idolized” Fred Astaire, and one of the happiest memories of what her fame allowed her to do was “meeting him and having dinner. He was a true gentleman. That is true style.” Her favourite film and stage roles were set in the ’20s.

Twiggy is in demand today for both her past and present: she is very much in her own skin, kibitzing with English housewives at a clothing exchange, explaining how Marks & Sparks liberated those same housewives with permanent press technology. Her hair is long and glamorous, but it looks like she might have done it herself. How refreshing, how British, for a woman to look better than her age just by behaving her age.

Twiggy is relatable: you speak with her and she could be your best friend, just having a laugh over shoes she buys but never gets around to wearing. (This is indeed the case: Twiggy, like the rest of us, ransacks the sales and then wonders where to put her booty; she loves the high street; she knows she should get to pilates more often.) And just as she did when her famous big eyes fringed with false eyelashes made her the face of 1966, the girl you wanted to be, she is now making her 60-year-old face, with all the proof of a life well led on display, the face of 2009.