Models have always been part of my fashion world.
Roz Watkins was the first model I was obsessed with back in the late ‘50s when still at school. She was an impossibly sophisticated blonde with sharp features and hair usually swept into a French pleat. (Oddly enough, I Googled her and discovered her in Pathé News for 1959 as an impossibly glamorous racing car driver; my memory played no tricks!)
I waited every month to see if she had been selected to work alongside Jennifer Hocking, another great model. Although Suzy Parker and Dovima and Sunny Harnett were great models from my early days, since they were based in New York, I was rooting unconsciously for the home girls.
Later, of course, came Twiggy and the great London days of Jean Shrimpton. But in the perverse ways of fashion people, I switched to New York and Veruschka, Peggy Moffitt and others — especially those who worked with Bert Stern on those extraordinary Vreeland pages for American Vogue, to which I subscribed when it was 16 issues a year; they were my life’s blood.
As the years went by, I worked on all sorts of occasions, front of house and backstage; I worked with many models. You may note it’s been a checkered career.
Gavin Robinson, then a major agency on Bond Street, was always my first port of call, since it was always such fun at his offices; the place of the never-to-be-forgotten moment when I was asked to hand over MY portfolio as a male model.
Of course, one should note that when I started in fashion, models were either print or runway. This changed gradually over the years, and indeed now most models are expected to do both. Back in the day it was all about the print work of models, and not until I discovered Bronwen Pugh, and later Lady Astor at Balmain, and later Christine Tidmarsh, the model with the fastest spin, who worked for both Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent, did I add catwalk models to my list of those I watched in the enchanted world of fashion I so longed to be a part of.
So what of the myths, the scraps, the impossible image of models? The great truth is models are wonderful people, as a generalization, and the top ones are often the easiest to work with, the most fun and the most disarming.
Take, for example, Christy Turlington, who is even more beautiful relaxed and as a dinner companion. And Amber Valletta — working with her was bliss when I had the Editor from hell; she ditched all the editor’s terrible choices in the dressing room with me and sailed out declaring, “Tony and I have it all sorted.”
Then there was my drunken friend in a café telling Debbie Dickinson she should be a model and she saying “What a great idea.” And Stella Tennant busy being a wife, mother, daughter and all round great woman, with modeling simply a job which she excels at.
And what about the wonderful Irina Pantaeva who brought her Siberian life into my world. “It will be my first time in London, Tony. Will it be cold?” “Not after Siberia darling.”
Or the gifted Debbie Deitering, whom I worked with on a story which required the most complicated set-up possible and who remained calm, kind and witty throughout the long days, and when one crisis loomed, put her arms around me and said, “Don’t worry I will get the shot.” And she did.
And finally, Saffron Aldridge, whom I did another nightmare story with in the depths of winter in a freezing, freezing location, who never complained once and was only concerned about us getting the most wonderful shots. This actually included reclining clad in velvet and satin on icy handmade Victorian tiles, in front of a fresco so we could get a superb double page shot.
Notice a thread appearing?
Yes, professionalism, commitment to the images or the show, a sense of humor or simply great women whose beauty and talent in presenting clothes is worn lightly.
Heather Stewart-Whyte and Olivia Inge have both been my glamorous and sparkling dinner companions, and better company is hard to imagine.
On the catwalks of the world, over the years of my career, so many great “girls” have shown me clothes: Kirsty Hume, Diane deWitt, Pat Cleveland, Gurmit, Marpessa, Kirat and truly too many to mention. I have even been lucky enough to walk into restaurants with some of them on my arm — believe me, a guarantee of a good table.
Every decade produces its faces and fashion shifts and changes; models come and go, start new lives, new careers and even change countries. However, some models transcend time and the times.
Linda Evangelista — for me the embodiment of a model who is super. Peggy Moffitt has only to appear and my heart beats faster; meeting her for five minutes in Milan was a moment to truly give me palpitations. And Jade Parfitt, whom I was so astonished by that I contrived to meet — I am happy to say we have become friends.
Erin O’Connor, who, like Jade, is a wonderful woman and tremendous fun; both are favorites of Fashion Illustrator extraordinaire David Downton for the simple reason that they defy ordinary proportions and match those of the exaggerations of a fashion artist! Jade and Erin as friends, the ice blonde and the raven haired, together is magic.
A separate paragraph has to be written about one model and I will try and do her justice – Carmen dell'Orefice. Oh, how to put down on paper the naughtiest, cleverest, most knowledgeable, the — well, you get the picture. Carmen is simply Carmen. A few examples will do. Backstage at Thierry Mugger, dressed as some kind of insect woman, she chatted as though wearing a sweater and pants. Entering a spectacular venue at a glamorous private view, her comment as I armed her in caused me to blush wildly, as she sailed confidently forward; pulling a collection apart by telling you exactly what is wrong with it, turning three thousand watts of charm on people to get exactly what she wants — that is Carmen. Celebrating 70 years of modeling this year, she is totally unique in every way, as well as a joy.
Finally, my reader of choice is the great model Marie Helvin. Little did I know when introduced by David Downton to Marie that our time together would resemble a book club meeting. In spite of hundreds of Vogue covers and shoots and glamour of stratospheric proportions. If you want great book recommendations, instant reviews and out-of-the-way suggestions, Marie Helvin is the woman to ask — please, somebody make her your book editor.
Then a great loss: Bettina Graziani 1925-2015. Bettina's passing marks the end of a career as fashion muse, associate, friend and icon, whose career spanned Jacques Fath, Hubert de Givenchy and Azzedine Alaia. Her elegant stylishness permeates every image, and her attendance at a show made the front row seem brighter. In her private life her style and appearance remained as chic as in her images; wherever she went, heads turned, even to those unaware of the legend. Adieu Bettina, et merci.
So to sum up is simple: I love models, and the violent, drugged bitches certainly exist, but sorry, they are in the tiny minority. The best girls are hardworking, professional, all round great women who have been given a gift which they use and who often know as much about the clothes as any journalist or designer.
The good news is that Nadja Auermann, Kirsten Owen, Eva Herzigová and Kristen McMenamy, along with China Machado, Carmen dell'Orefice and of course Linda Evangelista, prove that “once a great model, always a great model.”
A standing ovation, please, for models — the backbone of the fashion industry.