Oct 3, 2009
By Sean O'Toole
As the face of the Swinging Sixties turns 60, Sean O'Toole recalls
the moment an underrated waif hanged fashion forever.
It was a boyish haircut and the andro-gynous look it lent to the
stick insect of a woman who started it all. Really, it's that simple:
Twiggy's iconic status as the poster child of the '60s "youthquake" -
an expression coined by American Vogue's editor Diana Vreeland - was
kickstarted by her softened version of Vidal Sassoon's era-defining,
The look, first captured by a Durban-born photographer, mesmerised
the ruling fashion cognoscenti and, with them, much the rest of the world.
Just how Twiggy, born Lesley Hornby 60 years ago this past September,
came to conquer the fashion world with her fragile beauty, is the
stuff of legend. Which is a good enough reason to be cautious. After
all, legends are pliable things, easily adapted to the needs of their
As a starting point, listen to how Time magazine reported on the
already famous 16-year-old, North London waif in their November 11
1966 issue. The heat-of-the-moment testimony draws heavily on the
hype proffered by Twiggy's then boyfriend, manager and spokesman,
Justin de Villeneuve.
"He took her to a hairdresser last February to have her long,
scraggly locks chopped off," stated Time. "The London Daily Express's
fashion editor Deirdre McSharry happened to be on hand for the
shearing, was beguiled and ran her pictures next day - Twiggy was on her way."
McSharry, an influential fashionista during London's Swinging
Sixties, remembers things slightly differently. In a recent tribute
to Twiggy, McSharry recalls being shown "black-and-white snaps" of a
young schoolgirl taken by the expatriate South African photographer
McSharry was a client and friend of Leonard, the surname-deprived
celebrity coiffeur to the likes of the Beatles. It was Leonard who
presented McSharry with Lategan's now famous head-and-shoulder
portraits of an unheralded, gnomic beauty: "Leonard was hoping this
new face might be useful to launch his "little-boy" haircut - a
haircut that, like her paint-on eyelashes, "the twiggies", became the
waif look of the season."
McSharry was instantly taken by the girl in the photographs, which is
not how Lategan first felt when an unimpressive-looking teen with
"straggly hair" arrived at his studio one day with a referral from Leonard.
"She was skinny, young, a kid ... There was nothing I could have seen
as a potential model in her," offered Lategan when I interviewed him
two years ago. His memory of the day remains vivid.
"Stop biting your nails, Twiggs," Lategan recalled De Villeneuve, a
former bookie and fairground boxer, reprimanding his 41kg,
"What did you call her?" asked Lategan. "Twiggy, because she's so
skinny," replied De Villeneuve, who was a decade older than his girlfriend.
Lategan advised the pair to keep using the nickname: "Models then
weren't internationally known by their name."
When they left, Lategan phoned Leonard. She'll be okay, he said, but
the skinny thing desperately needed a haircut.
"The next day she came back to the studio with her hair cut like a
boy and eyelashes painted on her face," remembered Lategan. "She sat
in front of the camera. I thought, Wow, this is it!"
Unsurprisingly, Twiggy remembers details that add nuance to this
well-worn story. It started with a chat with a woman who suggested
the youngster consider portrait modelling; she was too short for
anything else. But first things first, the bird's nest on her head,
it needed attention.
"I was a teenager, it was a terrible mess; I used to colour it
myself," explained Twiggy in a 2006 interview with Swindle magazine.
"So she sent me to Leonard's to get my hair done."
Impressed by her latent potential, Leonard sent the young fashion
disciple to Lategan for a look-see. Following Lategan's nod of
approval, Leonard summoned her back for an extreme makeover. "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 coloured,
they cut, they coloured, and I ended up with that little urchin haircut."
The outcome, which so engrossed McSharry, led to an interview with
the influential style journalist.
"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 centre 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."
Lesley Hornby, the fashionably unkempt schoolgirl, was no more. From
now on she would indisputably and always be simply Twiggy, the
world's first supermodel.