The irony of Twiggy’s career is that, unlike so many other supermodels in fashion history (including most of the other entries in this series), her heyday was extremely brief but her reach, influence, and name recognition outstrip all but a handful of other women who can claim the title. She was extremely “of the moment” at her height, but she also had lasting effects on high-fashion modeling that continue to play out today.
She was born Lesley Hornby in London in 1949. When she was 16, she got a radical new super-short haircut at the hands of celebrated hairstylist Leonard of Mayfair. So pleased was he with his follicular creation that he had Lesley pose for some shots which he hung on his salon. You can guess how it went from there. A fashion reporter noticed them, she got featured in the Daily Express as “The Face of ’66,” and from there, it was only a hop and a skip to the cover of Vogue and becoming the favorite of some of the top photographers in the world. By the late 1960s most mainstream media and entertainment had become acutely focused on the impending economic power of the largest generation in modern history, the Baby Boomers. Youth culture was king and the world of fashion, more than most, was absolutely ravenous for a face and a style that they could put forward as the Next Thing. She fit the mold completely and part of her appeal came not just from the modernity of her look, but the fact that she upended decades of high-fashion modeling, which tended to place patrician, sophisticated, long-necked, grown-ass women on the covers and runways. Here was the representative of youth culture in the world of fashion, her youthfulness absolutely being the entire point of her appeal. “Twiggy,” was, after all, a nickname that referred to her slim and “small” chest. She was called boyish and juvenile by her detractors and, as is the way with all people who briefly become figureheads of change, her success was widely attacked and derided; held up as an example of everything that was wrong with the world of fashion, an industry dressing up “little girls” with “boyish” bodies to try to make luxury goods aspirational for grown women.
But it couldn’t be denied that she embodied the moment and looked better in the edgier high fashions of the time than practically anyone else attempting them. She sold a high-end version of youth culture directly to the youths who inspired it. Every time you come across a Gucci ad full of teenagers in $10,000 outfits or a beauty product campaign headed up by girls who are decades away from their first wrinkle, you can look to Twiggy for shifting the paradigm so effectively. Not that she should be blamed for the effect she had on fashion and culture. The only thing she was guilty of in her brief modeling career was looking amazing in the styles of the time. She must have been pretty smart about her appeal, because she retired from modeling in 1970, which means she never had to suffer through a period of trying to model styles that really weren’t suited to her. She got in while she was red hot, got out while the getting was good, and can boast an influence on the world of fashion that spanned half a century.
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