The Ballad of Justin and Twiggy

  7 Minute Read Great rake and sixties face Justin de Villeneuve recounts how he met, invented, loved and lost the world’s first supermodel, Twiggy.
The world’s first fashion ‘supermodel’ Twiggy and her agent turned husband Justin de Villeneuve in London, 1966. Photo by Phillip Jackson/ANL/REX/Shutterstock.

“How would I describe myself?” ponders Justin de Villeneuve. He considers the question for some time, before breaking into a trademark grin that manages to express both delight and temerity. “I think ‘chancer’ just about covers it, doesn’t it?” Well, yes and no. It’s true that, de Villeneuve has done more than his fair share of ducking and diving, not to mention bobbing and weaving. But the word fails to capture the protean essence of a man who’s lived more lives than he’s had names. He’s been a boxer, a bodyguard, a bookmaker, a nudie-film salesman, an antique dealer, a hairdresser, a singer, an interior decorator, and most notably, a photographer.

‘Iconic’ is a wearily overused term today, but no other description seems fitting for the picture that de Villeneuve took for the cover of Pin Ups, David Bowies 1973 album. The bare-chested, pan-sticked, vermilion-haired Bowie stares the viewer down from his androgynous pomp, but it’s the mask-like face of the woman reclining on his shoulder that still catches de Villeneuve’s eye. He ‘discovered’ Twiggy in 1965 and spent the ensuing decade at her side, the Svengali-like figure who transformed a gawky Cockney teenager into the world’s first supermodel. “We were Twiggy and Justin,” he grins, “We came as a package. She deferred to me, and I devoted all my time and energy to her.” The percentage of de Villeneuve’s early fashion photography that stars Twiggy is a lasting testament to his devotion. “We were right at the centre of a scene, it’s true,” says de Villeneuve. “And I’d never taken a photo before and I didn’t know anything about or anyone in the fashion business. But, as far as success in any field goes, I’ve always believed that looking the part is just as, if not more important than being able to act the part.”


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