She was the cover girl of every fashion magazine in the 1960s. Every girl wanted to look like her, but the former model confessed to hating the way she looked. She recalls herself as being a “funny, skinny little thing” who thought the whole world had gone mad for making her a style icon.
Twiggy, whose real name is Dame Lesley Lawson, was discovered at the age of 16 and quickly became “the face of 1966.” With a look like that, it’s no wonder she became one of the world’s most recognized models. Twiggy is now speaking up about her past life, and some stories may just shock you.
The Twiggy Phenomenon
Twiggy is now in her early 70s (72 as of 2021), and looking back on her iconic look, she says she pretty much hated it. “I was this funny, skinny, little thing with eyelashes and long legs, who had grown up hating how I looked,” she admitted.
She and perhaps her jealous haters were the only ones who thought the world had “gone mad.” The girl’s face was plastered on the covers of Vogue and Tatler by the time she turned 17. Once the British model hit the United States, the “Twiggy phenomenon” had officially begun.
She Says It Was Her Personality, Not Her Looks
Twiggy also appeared on the cover of David Bowie’s 1973 Pin Ups album. You saw her leaning on his shoulder, with the pair wearing painted-on face masks. But it wasn’t just covers that she popped up on; she did some movies, too, like The Boy Friend.
When it comes to her massive success as a model, she attributes it more to her “funny and kooky” personality than to her physical looks. And this look, she says now, is still out there. “Wherever I go in the world, I encounter what I call ‘my little friend who sits on my shoulder.’”
Little Lesley and Her Handmade Clothes
Twiggy was born Lesley Hornby in 1949. She grew up in a 1930s semi-detached house in northwest London. Her parents were laborers with three daughters; Twiggy was the youngest. From an early age, Twiggy’s mother taught her to sew. It would be her first skill and the one that connected her to the fashion industry.
She started to make her own clothes. In an unrelated but notable and yet tragic connection to fashion, Twiggy’s great-great-grandmother, Grace Meadows, died during a stampede of crazed shoppers at a bargain sale at a store called Messrs. McIlroy in 1897. The event made the news at the time.
The First “Working-Class” Supermodel
“I was probably the first famous working-class supermodel,” Twiggy stated. She explained how, in the ‘60s, it was “more fashionable” to be from the working-class. In England, there were many wannabe actors from posh families who purposely cut their accents down.
Twiggy was the epitome of London’s Swinging Sixties. Perhaps being part of the “working class” explains her super skinny frame. She later acknowledged that she was “much too thin” and that she doesn’t think she was “beautiful.”
Her Haircut Was an Accident
Twiggy shared the story behind the haircut that shook the industry. A modest portrait taken by photographer Barry Lategan helped launch her modeling career. With her short pixie cut parted to the side and her big eyes staring straight into the camera, she had no idea what this single photo would do.
The truth is, Twiggy never intended on getting such a haircut. She was 16 when she walked into an upscale salon called House of Leonard in Mayfair. The long-haired blonde asked for an ordinary “shampoo and set.” She left the place with a lot more than just “the regular” treatment.
What a Little Nod Can Do
Leonard, the owner of the salon, personally asked if he could give the pretty girl a haircut (he was looking for models to try out his new crop haircut). She wasn’t too thrilled about the idea of losing her locks, but she was too shy to refuse his request. “I was very into my hair,” she said.
“I kind of went, ‘Oh, I don’t know whether I want my hair cut,’” Twiggy shared on a podcast. “But I was so shy… a bit too shy to say, ‘I don’t want it done.’ And I kind of nodded.” Quite a historic nod, huh?
The Writing on the Wall
It took seven hours for Leonard to cut, color, and recut her hair to create the masterpiece pixie that essentially changed her life forever. It begs the question: would Lesley Hornby have become Twiggy if she never walked into that salon?
Despite her reluctance, she grew to love her new haircut. Barry Lategan later shot her iconic portrait, which Leonard gladly hung in his salon. At the time, fashion journalist Dierdre McSharry (also a client of Leonard’s) saw the photo and dubbed the new model “The Face of 1966” in The Daily Express.
A Little Tea, a Few Photos
Back in 1966, the 17-year-old was told that her 5 ft. 6 in. frame was too short for fashion modeling. The day after the infamous haircut, she went back to school. Not long after, she got a call from McSharry, who asked to meet her.
She took Twiggy for tea (it’s London, after all), and she took some more pictures of the hopeful model. The next morning, her father bought a copy of The Daily Express, but there was nothing about his daughter in it. The day after, and the next, he bought the paper to see if his little girl would be in it.
Becoming “The Face of ‘66”
About three weeks later, he came into his daughter’s bedroom holding the newspaper. “Twiggy: The Face of ‘66” was the headline, no less. The copy read: “The Cockney kid with a face to launch a thousand shapes… and she’s only 16.”
The following month, Twiggy did her first photo shoot for Vogue. A year later, she flew to New York for the first time to work with Richard Avedon and appeared in 13 separate fashion shoots for Vogue’s international editions. At JFK Airport, she was met with a swarm of paparazzi and fans.
Her Hairdresser Boyfriend Came Up With the Name
1967 was the beginning of an era: the Twiggy phenomenon. That year, the New Yorker devoted about 100 pages to the subject. By 1970, she was photographed by Avedon, Cecil Beaton, Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdin and Norman Parkinson – all the big shots in fashion photography.
She was known for her “androgynous sex appeal.” What was even more appealing was her name. It was her hairdresser boyfriend, Nigel Davies, who came up with the idea. He soon became her manager, changed his name to Justin de Villeneuve, and convinced her to start going by Twiggy.
They Used to Call Her Twigs
Apparently, “Twigs” was her childhood nickname. De Villeneuve credits himself for his girlfriend getting discovered and achieving such success. He has told his version of events in numerous biographies. In Twiggy’s own book, Twiggy in Black and White, she recalled how she met him through his brother.
At the time, she worked as a “Saturday girl” at a hair salon in London. That’s where she started noticing the models on magazine covers. She just never imagined becoming one of them. Jean Shrimpton, another British model, became her idol.
A Great Childhood, But…
Twiggy remembers having a happy childhood but recalls her mother, Nell, being occasionally admitted to a psychiatric hospital, sometimes for months at a time. “I think today [she would have been] diagnosed as bipolar,” Twiggy said.
She said she had the “most amazing dad,” who stood by her mother, who seemed fine for long periods of time, but then something would happen that made her plummet into depression. “But my dad was there.” Her older sister Shirley, 15 years older than her, would also step in.
The Mods at the Clubs
Twiggy and her mother were very close – the pair went everywhere together. She’s amazed that she ever became famous because she was so shy as a kid. Still, she loved fashion and had pictures of Jean Shrimpton on her bedroom walls, next to the Beatles, of course.
Eventually, Twiggy started going out to clubs on Saturday nights, just as long as she was home by curfew, which was 10.30 p.m. Twiggy recalled how she and her friends would look at all the other “mods” to see what they were wearing and try to copy them.
Like a Rag Doll
Twiggy’s parents didn’t let her wear makeup, but on the weekends, she and her friends would practice doing their faces. At first, she was just playing around when she made her eyes look like the ones on her rag doll, but it became her look.
“It used to take me an hour and a half to do. I had three pairs of false eyelashes on the top. I’m amazed I could open my eyes.” So, in 1966, when she was taken out of anonymity and placed into the madness of the fashion industry, it was the only look she knew to do.
She Retired After Four Years
De Villeneuve, ten years older than her, managed her career for seven years. Believe it or not, Twiggy retired from the industry in 1970, after only four years of modeling. She stated, “You can’t be a clothes hanger for your entire life!”
She broke up with De Villeneuve, whom she deemed pretty useless. She said her career had more to do “with that famous picture of her with those funny painted eyelashes, which appeared in The Daily Express under the headline ‘The Face of ’66” than with his efforts to promote her.
She Loved the Old Hollywood Style
Twiggy is aware that she’s really only remembered for her modeling career even though it was such a short time in her life in the grand scheme of things. She developed an interest in film when she started making weekly visits to British film director, Ken Russell’s house.
They would watch old movies together, ones that starred Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, and other Golden Age Hollywood stars. It gave Twiggy a new perspective on how she should carry herself. She started wearing a beret, longer skirts, and flowers in her hair.
Then the Hippies Took Over
The hippie look was taking over London, and Twiggy was loving it. Russell and Twiggy worked on a movie together called The Boy Friend in 1971; she played Polly Browne. After that, she embarked on an acting and singing career.
Also in 1971, Twiggy’s single, Zoo de Zoo Zong, was released. It was written by Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway. In 1974, she met her future husband, Michael Witney, in her second feature film, a thriller called W. She also hosted her own TV series, Twiggs (later renamed Twiggy).
Girls Just Wanna Have Fun
The girl just loves to have fun, and she loves what the British refer to as banter, even with other models. When she talks about contemporary models, she has nice things to say about them. Kate Moss? She’s “hilarious, such a laugh.” Tyra Banks? “So bright, so funny, bloody clever.”
During her M&S (Marks and Spencer) campaigns in Venice, Twiggy went out for dinner every night with all the models and her daughter: “just us girls, and I swear to God I’ve never laughed so much in my life.”
Nominated for a Tony
“What happened to me in the ‘60s – I will never be able to eclipse that. I realized that a long time ago, even though I’m much prouder of starring on Broadway.” Speaking of Broadway, Twiggy was even nominated for a Tony award in the early ‘80s for Best Actress in a Musical for her role in My One and Only.
She said that performing eight shows a week is “hard work.” Twiggy considers those performances an actual, real achievement, as opposed to her fame in the ‘60s, which just “happened to [her].”
Broadway Scared the Pants off Her
Twiggy had major stage fright. That’s why making a transition to Broadway was so challenging. When she did My One and Only on Broadway in 1983, it was a huge accomplishment – she didn’t think she would survive it.
“I thought I’d die of fright; I was really shy.” She will forever be thankful for dancer and choreographer Tommy Tune, who was on Broadway with her and told her, “You can do it.” On her first night, she came running down the stairs after the show, amazed that she “got through it and lived.”
When Lauren Bacall Picked Her Up
Someone then picked her up in the backstage hallway and told her enthusiastically, “Honey, you were great,” then kissed her and put her down. When she looked up, she saw that it was none other than actress Lauren Bacall.
“I nearly fainted. She had a reputation for being scary, but she became a great friend.” One of Twiggy’s favorite perks of her career was meeting her Hollywood idols. She was once asked who she would like to meet in Hollywood – a “have your pick” kind of offer.
Meeting Her Hero, Fred Astaire
Without any hesitation, Twiggy said she would love to meet Fred Astaire. She was more than just pleasantly surprised to get a message a few days later from Mr. Astaire, who had retired by then. He asked her if she would like her to join him for some tea.
It was “one of the great moments” of her life, getting the chance to meet her “hero.” Even more amazing was how the actor turned out to be genuinely “generous, sweet, [and] modest.” She referred to him as “an old-school gent.”
Sashaying Up the Road With Astaire
Astaire invited her to his L.A. home, and when he walked into the room, Twiggy said she felt as if her heart literally stopped. He had this “wonderful, great walk.” A year after their teatime, she went out to dinner with Astaire and his choreographer friend, Hermes Pan.
Twiggy recalled that as they left the restaurant Astaire did a little tap dance jig. Seeing those “twinkling feet in action” was one of the most extraordinary experiences of her life. You can just picture it – the three of them “sashayed up the road together.”
The Industry Was Kind to Her
The fashion industry is typically shamed for its mistreatment of young models, but Twiggy has always maintained that she was well treated and never harassed. And it’s probably because her boyfriend/manager was with her wherever she went.
Her father was in the film industry, so he understood how things worked. He told her: “If you’re going to go to these studios and travel, you have to have somebody with you.” The problem for many young models is that they are vulnerable during their path to fame.
“I Was So Naïve”
“It’s amazing, really, that I didn’t go stark raving bonkers,” she shared. And it’s a good thing she didn’t. There were (are) far too many models whose lives are ruined due to drugs, stress, etc. “I was so young that it all went over my head. I was so naive.”
In 1968, when she was still an active model, she was dining at the Paris collections. She shocked a waiter by turning down a pricey glass of red wine for a Coca-Cola.
Did Her Boyfriend/Manager Exploit Her?
“I was lucky in that everything happened to me so fast that I never had to try to climb up the ladder,” she shared. “When you’re trying to make it, that’s when you’re vulnerable.” But did having a 25-year-old boyfriend/manager when she was only 15 feel exploitive?
Twiggy’s response to that particular question: “It’s not an area I cover, so you can look it up in books if you want. I don’t talk about that.” In her 1997 book, however, she wrote: “Looking back, he should never have taken me out, I was far too young, and he was far too old.”
She Was Never the “Dumb Blonde”
Twiggy also wrote in her memoir that she was always bothered by the story that the media put out there over the years – that De Villeneuve was a Svengali, and she was the “dumb blonde.” In contrast to the delicate, naive persona she seemingly had, Twiggy was capable of being quite fiery.
There’s a clip from a 1970 interview where she’s seen responding to a question about a curvier shape being “back in fashion.” Her response, with the necessary cut-eye, was, “The bosom has never been out. That would mean that women have been out, which is ridiculous, isn’t it?”
Her First Husband Dropped Dead
In 1977, Twiggy married American actor Michael Whitney, and a year later, she gave birth to Carly. The problem in their marriage – and the thing that brought it to its knees – was Whitney’s alcoholism. In 1983, on an outing to celebrate their daughter’s fifth birthday, Whitney simply collapsed and died from a heart attack. (Happy birthday…)
It was just nine days after his 52nd birthday. Twiggy, on the other hand, was 34. After his death, she moved on and eventually married her second husband, Leigh Lawson.
She Met Her Second Husband a Year Later
She met Lawson in 1984, and unlike her first marriage, her second created a nice, little happy family unit. They worked together on a movie called Madame Sousatzka in 1988, the same year they decided to walk down the aisle.
Lawson adopted Twiggy’s daughter (an only child). The couple is still together, and their life seems, from the outside, to be pretty normal. And for anyone who’s interested, Twiggy is “very anti-Botox.” She doesn’t “like what it looks like” and worries about where it goes – after all, it’s poison.”
Did You See Her In…?
Twiggy got several cameo spots in some famous flicks. In 1980, she made an appearance in The Blues Brothers. A year later, she had a cameo in Eliza Doolittle. She also played opposite Robin Williams in 1986’s Club Paradise.
In 1991, she co-starred in her first American TV series, the short-lived CBS sitcom Princesses. There were only eight episodes, with five of them getting airtime. Her co-star was The Nanny’s Fran Drescher, who later spent some time with Twiggy in England.
Mr. Sheffield Was Based on Twiggy’s Husband
Drescher went to visit Twiggy and her family when she was developing her future hit series, The Nanny. Here’s a fun fact: she based the character, Maxwell Sheffield, on Leigh Lawson, Twiggy’s husband. Twiggy was also in one episode of The Nanny in 1994.
She appeared on all kinds of series throughout the ‘90s and ‘00s. In 2005, she joined America’s Next Top Model for Cycles 5 to 9 as one of the panel’s four judges. A year later, she found herself back on the cover of a magazine (Swindle).
Twiggy and the Gold Toyota 2000GT
In the late ‘60s, Toyota hired Twiggy to stand on stage at a Tokyo show next to the gold 2000GT for Japanese consumers to drool over. Afterward, Toyota gave Twiggy the car as a token of gratitude. But she was only 18 at the time and didn’t have a driver’s license.
Since she couldn’t drive her new car, she gave driving duties to her boyfriend, Justin de Villeneuve. Either way, she soon relinquished ownership of the car. The Toyota was enlisted to play a role in a then-new series called The Ugliest Girl in Town.
She Ate Like a Horse
People used to say that Twiggy was anorexic back when she was plastered on every magazine in the newsstand. But it wasn’t really fair considering she “ate like a horse,” as she put it. But the former model is aware of how many models turn to eating disorders to stay thin.
“Anorexia is a terrible, terrible illness,” she stated. Twiggy was simply lucky to be naturally thin with a high metabolism. Even in her 70s, the woman is slender and in good shape, and as mentioned above, not one for Botox.
She’s Always Been Strait-Laced
Twiggy attributes her longevity in the business to her being strait-laced – she never really drank, nor did she do drugs. “Most working-class families in the ‘50s, like mine, didn’t drink, unless they had a problem,” she shared.
She was always scared of the drug scene. It was something her father instilled in her from an early age. Other than sherry or a beer at Christmas, they drank tea the rest of the year (so British). She said she hates the feeling of light-headedness.
She Has Her Own Barbie
It’s really no surprise that Twiggy has her own Barbie Doll. Mattel created a Barbie after her in 1967. It was the first Barbie that actually looked like a real live person. The doll was on the market for only two years, though, between 1967 and ‘68.
Here’s another fun Twiggy fact: she has a flower named after her. The “Twiggy Rose” was revealed in 2010 at the Chelsea Flower Show. Hers is an apricot-pink fragrant rose with summer and autumn blooms. How sweet.
She Had Her Own Magazine, Too
Twiggy has graced the covers of many magazines, including her own American publication. Not too shabby, Twiggy. Not too shabby. She also created her own clothing line for the British brand Marks & Spencer. The line was specifically designed for older women.
Her daughter, Carly Lawson, is a print designer who works for Stella McCartney (you know, Sir Paul McCartney’s daughter). Stella has described Carly as a “very talented artist” and “her best friend.” Speaking of royal titles, Twiggy has one of her own: Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) , appointed by Prince Charles, for her service to fashion, the arts, and charity.