Jan de Villeneuve
Photography Marianna Sanvito Styling Lilia Toncheva O'Rourke Words Ellie Fazan
From being a model in the ‘60s to being a model in ones 70s, Jan de Villeneuve knows a thing or two about fashion. She shared some wise words with Ellie Fazan, “Don’t worry about measuring up to anyone else’s idea of physical beauty. Be yourself, look yourself. Forget the fashion police.”
“The best modelling job I ever had was a three week trip with Norman Parkinson around the south and west of America in 1970 for British Vogue. It started in San Francisco, where I’m leaping right next to The Golden Gate Bridge, and we went from LA to Las Vegas, through the Painted Desert and on to Florida,” says de Villeneuve. “Beatrix Miller, Vogue’s editor at the time asked Parks, the fashion editor and me to go over all the photographs together which was quite a treat. Normally, a model has no say in what is used.”
De Villeneuve has been modelling for 50 years, and her tenure has seen her through many styles and silhouettes. From Ossie Clark’s elegant wraparound dresses with long sleeves to Bill Gibb’s big, chunky Kaffe Fassett knits, and long, full net skirts. The strong shapes of Issey Miyake and Commes des Garcons. Zac Posen’s beautifully constructed suits, both casual and dressy, and Aganovich’s unique asymmetric designs.
But changing shapes aren’t the only shifts in perspective that have happened in fashion. In 1966 the industry was very different: models always did their own make-up, and were only got paid in clothes for catwalk shows. “Video and social media has changed things a lot. Models weren’t generally known by name whereas now they are big brands,” she muses. “There’s a lot more pressure today.”
de Villeneuve has always found it fun. “Especially in my seventies. Earlier in my career I felt conflicted about making a living which hinged on my looks. But it’s been a great treat to work with so many talented young photographers, quite different to when I started modelling. Recently Mario Testino shot me for the cover of Cesar’s dog food in France: it looks a straight-forward photo of a lady having a cup of tea with her West Highland Terrier, but was very complicated – they had to put chopped liver under my chin to get the dog to pay attention. It was extremely awkward balancing a full tea cup with a dog on my shoulder!”
These are the things that she’s learnt along the way…
Suit by A.W.A.K.E.
As the days go by, one gets older, simple as that
I never think about how old someone is. I’m an optimistic person with lots of interests, so modelling is just one thing that keeps me busy. I’m pleased if I can inspire women to be themselves and not worry too much about ageing.
Fashions come and go
Find what works for you. A sense of personal style is more important than trying to keep up with the fashion police! As youngsters most of us feel insecure about how we look, what shape we’re in. Now it’s nice not to worry about measuring up to anyone else’s idea of physical beauty – to be myself, to look myself.
Experiment with things that make you feel good and you’ll look good
One needn’t spend a fortune on clothes or beauty products but can have fun with fashion and style, sense the excitement of clothes that express your feelings. Magazines can show us the endless possibilities, and we should enjoy experimenting without taking any of it too seriously.
It’s inevitable that we get older, your body changes. But you still feel the same
I have always been suspicious of the tyranny of beauty so am pleased to see the current trend to show all ages, sizes, shapes and nationalities. The fashion industry must reflect life in general and we learn to acknowledge and appreciate our differences.
My uncle was totally paralysed by polio, aged 19
He was only able to speak, yet helped his father and brother run a successful estate agent business with his enthusiasm and ability to put people and houses together. My father was also disabled by polio so I realised early on what was important in life. My mother quoted opera star Barbara Hendricks, “Live your life so you can say: ‘I have really done my best to be true to who I am.”
True beauty is in the things that make my heart skip a beat
Art, architecture, antiques, gardens, movies, books, and especially my one-year-old granddaughter Edie.
Don’t worry about living up to unrealistic ideas of beauty
To enjoy being young, eat well, look after her teeth, use sunscreen and get good exercise. Don’t worry about spending money on expensive beauty products. Have fun with hair and make-up, but remember that physical beauty is superficial.