THE INTERVIEW : JAN DE VILLENEUVE
BY ALICE WILBY
'Fashions fade, style is eternal' and no one embodies this better than our favourite 60's Supermodel Jan De Villeneuve. Fresh from walking for Simone Rocha and Osman at London Fashion Week, De Villeneuve chats to Futurefrock about shooting in Jamaica with Grace Coddington, who to follow on Instagram and why she can’t resist a bargain. And we team up with fashion photographer Roberto Aguilar to capture Jan's trademark offbeat elegance.
You have met and worked with some of our favourite and indeed the most iconic names in fashion, including Steven Meisel, Norman Parkinson and David Bailey. Are their any young, up and coming photographers you’d like to work with?
I love the work of Erik Madigan Heck who is young but well established. As far as up and coming photographers there are some fantastic women I'd like to work with. Olivia Bee, Christelle de Castro, Ira Chernova, Petra Collins, Maja Daniels, Andi Elloway and Caroline Mackintosh to name a few.
How did you get into modelling?
I graduated from The University of Michigan in 1966 with a degree in Design plus a teaching certificate. A friend in NYC thought I might be teaching and told Mademoiselle magazine, who were looking for real teachers to photograph. They flew me in, Englishman David McCabe took the photograph and then sent me to see model agent Eileen Ford who signed me up. In fact, I had started modelling earlier that summer in Detroit, Michigan, where they do all the car advertising.
I moved to NYC in early '67, working hard to build up a good portfolio a year later I made my first trip to Europe for Vogue advertising. We shot in Greece in the snow, wearing 'banlon' dresses! Then Norman Parkinson booked me for a 2-week trip to London for Jaeger, along with a two-week trip to Jamaica for British Vogue with Grace Coddington, on her first editorial trip abroad.
Eileen Ford suggested I go to Paris in the fall of 1968. The money was much less than in NYC but it was a great place to get tear sheets as magazines came out quickly and they liked American models. I went for three weeks, stayed three months and moved to Paris as soon as I could. There were trips all over Europe, which I very much enjoyed, working with young photographers like Patrick Demarchelier.
We loved the story you told us on set about shooting in the desert with Norman Parkinson! Can you share it with our readers?
We’d done a set of photos, 3 rolls of film, when Parks decided he had a better idea of where to shoot this particular outfit. After completing his preferred scenario, he buried the first three rolls in the desert sand so Vogue couldn't see them, feeling Vogue would no doubt pick from the photos he liked less, if given the choice!
It looks like you're having fun on instagram! Who's accounts do you enjoy following and why?
Some favourites include Amsterdam based @shortnotesportraits for their film, fashion, arts and craft posts. @olgazappa for her photographs @rifat_ozbek for his mix of fashion, art and humanity. @woodycampbell who posts a daily B&W photo of his life. Fashion Illustrator @daviddownton for his illustrations and good stories. Design studio @patchnyc and their co-founder @doncarneyart both have amazing style. And for fashion, @edward_enninful, @10magazine and @zacposen have great style.
What’s the most memorable shoot you’ve been on?
One of the nicest jobs I’ve had in recent years was Mario Testino's shoot of 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 chicken liver under my chin to get the dog to pay attention and it was awkward balancing the full tea cup with a dog on my shoulder! Mario is fantastic to work with, totally in the moment, very professional, helpful and good fun.
Probably 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. Then we went from LA to Las Vegas, through the Painted Desert and on to Florida. Vogue's wonderful editor Beatrix Miller, asked Parks, the fashion editor and me to go over all the photographs together which was quite a treat as normally, a model has no say in what is used.
What are you most grateful for in life?
I am most grateful for my family. My children, illustrator Daisy de Villeneuve & filmmaker Poppy de Villeneuve, inspire me with their creativity and interest in so many things. I adore my 7-month old granddaughter and I’ve had a wonderful partner for the last 28 years. In addition, I have three brothers in America so there is an extended family with their children and grandchildren. I feel lucky to live in a delightful barn conversion with our very sweet Goldendoodle dog and four cats.
You have a wonderful signature style and you've gotten to play with some phenomenal fashion over the course of your career. What style tips can you share with us?
Being tall early on, I felt awkward until I was 13 and was put into a fashion show where my height helped with the clothes. While modeling I learned that one must always try things on as often clothes have no 'hanger appeal.' I've always liked clothes that were slightly different from what everyone else was wearing (and) I have always appreciated the texture, fabric and colour of things. I never follow fashion but wear what I feel suits me and I like to be comfortable.
US stores always have good sales and my mother was excellent at spotting a good bargain, 'style on a budget,' better quality and design for the money. Even at outlet stores I will head to the clearance rack for the best buy. Unusual things are often left behind and that suits me fine. And I love sample sales, especially as one often finds garments a designer has experimented with. For instance, I wouldn't go for the classic Jean Muir black or navy jersey, but at a sample sale you can buy something amazing that was less her traditional look, but equally beguiling.
We are big fans of clothing with history and stories behind clothing here at FutureFrock. Do you have a great story behind a favourite piece of clothing you'd like this share?
In summer, 1974, I was asked to do catwalk shows for a week in Yugoslavia, wearing Thea Porter’s beautiful frocks each evening. She ‘paid’ me with three of her stunning long dresses, which I still have. While there I met Bill Gibb, another wonderful designer who became a friend. Four years later, after I’d stopped modelling and had my daughter Daisy, then 3, I helped him out with a weeklong sample sale and he paid me in clothes. I got the wardrobe of a lifetime! Bill was known for his knits, but many of these lovely samples were much more unique.
Who are your style icons?
I have had no particular style icons, though my favourite actress as a young teenager was Natalie Wood and I liked the look of Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly. Jean Shrimpton was my favourite model. When I met and worked with her for Vogue in 1969, I was 25 & she was 27, I loved her ‘vintage clothes’, which seemed very stylish, yet comfortable and casual.
We styled you in some of our favourite sustainable brands for our shoot, including Eileen Fisher and A child of The Jago. What's your take on sustainable fashion?
I very much like the idea of sustainable fashion, a system that supports human rights and the fair treatment of all people. We must protect our limited natural resources and fight climate change.
What are your top beauty tips or secrets?
I’ve been thinking about nutrition since I was 11, having had allergies as a child. Twice a year, I do a three-day detox. I take Epson Salts and then drink lemon, orange and grapefruit juice with water throughout the day. It leaves me feeling refreshed. As a model in the 70s, I started the day with a cup of hot water and lemon juice, which I still do. I eat only fruit until noon. Every morning I splash cold water on my face 25 times & to end the day, I massage my face with cream for one minute.
What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
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".