Ageless Beauty: Sixties supermodel Jan de Villeneuve reveals her secrets, how to age gracefully… and how to deal with sleazy men
- Jan de Villeneuve speaks to YOU Magazine from her Kent countryside home
- READ MORE: Can you name all the supermodels on the new Vanity Fair cover?
When Jan de Villeneuve started modelling at the age of 22 in 1966, she worried even then that she was too old. ‘I’d gone to university first and I felt I was already past it when I started – I was so much older than most of the other girls,’ she recalls.
Yet nearly 60 years on, the shelf life of De Villeneuve, who first appeared on the cover of US Vogue in 1968, shows no sign of expiring.
At 79, she’s still working steadily. Highlights of the decade have included being the cover girl of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue Italia, walking on the catwalk for the likes of Simone Rocha and fronting ad campaigns for TK Maxx.
We’re in the Kent countryside, at De Villeneuve’s gorgeous converted barn.
It’s full of books, magazines, photographs and colourful knick-knacks from her travels. Whole rooms are dedicated to her astonishing clothes collection – many gifts from designers she’s modelled for including Zandra Rhodes, Osman, Ossie Clark and Jean Muir.
Coat and gloves, dolcegabbana.com. Glasses, lindafarrow.com. Bracelet, deborahblyth.com
‘I’ve got amazing pieces that I probably don’t wear enough of,’ she says in her soft US accent – she was born in Shaker Heights, Ohio, but has lived more than half her life in the UK.
To escape the clamour of the YOU photography team, we move into De Villeneuve’s cosy bedroom. Beside the doors leading on to the huge garden, there’s a freestanding toilet bowl, which her partner of 33 years Andy Newmark, 73 – also originally from Ohio, and a drummer who’s played with the likes of John Lennon, David Bowie, Pink Floyd and Roxy Music – hastily covers with a blanket.
‘We’re waiting to have it plumbed into the bathroom,’ De Villeneuve explains, laughing. ‘I feel I’m being given the best lesson possible in growing old beautifully.’ At a certain age, perfect bone structure is only enhanced by wisdom and humour acquired over decades. Here De Villeneuve happily shares her secrets.
There’s more to life than beauty
Born Janet Griswold, De Villeneuve had three younger brothers, her mother was a PE teacher and her lawyer father was mildly disabled after childhood polio. Nearby lived her uncle, who had been even more afflicted by the same disease.
‘He had to be helped to do everything, even feed himself, so seeing that absolutely put things in perspective. I always knew there was so much more to life than physical beauty.’ As a child, modelling never entered her thoughts. ‘I had a lot of freckles, so a job like that never occurred to me.’
A great sense of humour is what you notice first about De Villeneuve. Only then are you knocked out by her still mesmeric beauty: cheekbones like wing mirrors, enormous blue eyes and a petite frame (she weighs about eight-and-a-half stone) that makes the simple denim shirt and cutoffs she’s wearing look a million dollars. ‘I used to be 5ft 9in, now I’m about 5ft 7in,’ she shrugs. ‘You shrink as you get older.’
Shirt, skirt, gloves and shoes, dior.com. Earrings, sophiebreitmeyer.com
Jan de Villeneuve shot by Norman Parkinson for Vogue, 1971, Monument Valley, Arizona
Coat and gloves, dolcegabbana.com. Glasses, lindafarrow.com. Bracelet, deborahblyth.com
All hair thins
Her hairstyle, long since grey, has been boosted by hairpieces. ‘I don’t have much hair left now. Usually I get it cut in the village.’
But De Villeneuve isn’t complaining. She’s never seen the point of railing against a natural process like ageing and she’s never placed much value on appearances: ‘I can’t believe time has gone by so fast.
How did I get this old? But I love the fact that old people are being recognised by the fashion industry now – there’s so much more of a focus on diversity and inclusion.
It’s very nice to think someone still wants to take your picture, because not everyone is 16 years old. In the past, women of a certain age have been written off rather, but now it’s like, ‘No!’ My mother was 97 when she died, and she was still interested in clothes.’
Good genes defy age
She’s never smoked or got involved in drugs and, though she enjoys the odd glass of white wine, has never been a big drinker. How about avoiding the sun?
She pulls a guilty face. ‘In university holidays I worked as a waitress at night, so I’d lie out in the sun all day long – unbelievable now, but in those days everyone wanted a tan and we didn’t really know about sun damage.’
In spite of the sun worship, her career’s longevity surprised her. ‘To be modelling still at 32 was unusual – I guess I had good skin,’ De Villeneuve says with an endearing chuckle.
You make (and take) your own opportunities
At the University of Michigan, De Villeneuve studied architecture and design, which she loved. After graduation, while waiting for a place on a teacher training course, she decided to make some cash by joining an agency that provided models for car advertisements, produced at the numerous factories in nearby Detroit.
Then a friend in New York put her in touch with Mademoiselle magazine, which wanted to photograph real teachers. She went to Manhattan to do the shoot and decided she might as well pop in on celebrated model agent Eileen Ford. Immediately Ford offered her a contract and De Villeneuve signed up.
Dress and earrings, louisvuitton.com
Dress, lanvin.com. Earrings, deborahblyth.com. Shoes, manoloblahnik.com
Modelling could be glamorous
Rapidly De Villeneuve became one of the faces of the 1960s and 70s, alongside the likes of Twiggy, Pattie Boyd and Jean Shrimpton, whose miniskirts and tarantula eyelashes symbolised a new, more liberated era.
She appeared on dozens of magazine covers, working with all the great photographers including David Bailey, Helmut Newton, Mario Testino and Patrick Demarchelier. Today, five images of her are displayed in the National Portrait Gallery.
But not always
Modelling in the 70s was very different from today. Even at the very top, De Villeneuve did her own make-up for shoots, lugging a huge box of cosmetics: ‘That only changed when Barbara Daly [the pioneering make-up artist behind films including 1980’s The Shining, who created Lady Diana Spencer’s 1981 wedding day look] came along.’
And it wasn’t a big earner
‘US Vogue paid $16.50 a day and you had to take your agent’s fees and tax out of that. But money was never the object, it was fun! Still, I never saw myself as anything special. I did the job, went home, travelled back to Ohio to visit my family. No one treated me any differently, though my mum was excited when I was on the cover of Vogue.’
There were always sleazy men
‘Norman Parkinson [photographer to the royals] did bug me a bit – he was older than my dad! I didn’t want that. But I never felt I had to sleep with someone to get a job.’
Work took De Villeneuve around the world: Jamaica with Vogue’s Grace Coddington, Greece (‘I had to get my first passport for that’), Paris and Milan, before she settled in the UK in 1970. In 1975, she married Twiggy’s former manager Justin de Villeneuve (a Brit whose real name was Nigel Davies).
Soon after, their daughter Poppy (now a photographer and film maker) was born, followed four years later by Daisy, today an illustrator. The family moved to Kent and De Villeneuve decided to quit modelling and devote herself to motherhood.
She loved her stay-at-home years
While a mum looking after young children, De Villeneuve watched the rise of the 80s supermodels – such as Linda Evangelista, who famously said she wouldn’t get out of bed for less than $10,000 – but felt no envy at the money and fame they commanded.
‘I was glad I was able to raise my kids when they were little, and if that kind of money had been around it might have been tempting to carry on working,’ she shrugs.
In 2009 with daughters Daisy (left) and Poppy
Blazer, shirt and trousers, gb/maxmara.com. Earrings, deborahblyth.com. Shoes (just seen), jimmychoo.com
When Jan de Villeneuve started modelling at the age of 22 in 1966, she worried even then that she was too old
Which opened the door to acting
At 44, De Villeneuve started working again and – to her surprise – found she was in demand.
‘The most fun thing was when I was 50 and I was asked to be in Noël Coward’s Design for Living in the West End with Clive Owen and Rachel Weisz. I’d never acted before and it was one of the best years of my life.’
She wouldn’t encourage a modelling career without going to university first
De Villeneuve’s daughters never showed an interest in modelling and she says she would never have encouraged either of them or now her beloved seven-year-old granddaughter Edie to go into the profession without first having gained a degree to fall back on.
‘And I’d encourage them never to feel intimidated into doing something they didn’t want. They should always feel confident and never that they have been compromised. I would not want a child to be told what to do – or what to eat – by an agency.’
Accept that ageing is inevitable
‘Getting old is annoying,’ De Villeneuve says. ‘But I think you just have to relax. You can’t stop the inevitable.’
In recent years she has had some heart problems and needed to have a pacemaker fitted, which means she’s been careful not to overdo things. ‘I’ve stopped going to the gym, but I need to make sure I’m moving and not falling apart.’ She still walks her goldendoodle Charlie. ‘But I’m going to do more stretching because I’m a bit stiff. I should probably do pilates. I have a massage every week to stop things aching.’
A healthy diet helps
Unlike many models, De Villeneuve never felt under pressure from her agency to lose weight but, as she points out, staying slim has long been a way of life for her.
‘I had allergies when I was a kid and had to deal with them, so I’ve also always had a healthy diet and avoided things that are bad for you. I start the day with a cup of hot water and lemon and eat only fruit until noon. I’ve never been a person who gains weight easily but I wasn’t ridiculous in the way I treated myself – I would never turn down a tasty dessert, my mum was a wonderful pastry chef.’
Beauty regimes needn’t be complicated
She splashes her face with water in the morning and rubs moisturiser into her face for a minute at bedtime (‘If I can be bothered’).
She’s never had even a ‘tweakment’
De Villeneuve says she isn’t interested in plastic surgery or the idea of procedures such as Botox. ‘If, like mine, your father was disabled, that just doesn’t appeal,’ she shrugs. ‘It’s the same with make-up: if you want to use a bit, fine, but you shouldn’t feel you need that shield – just be yourself.’
Don’t forget, modelling is just a job
Corny as it sounds, it’s De Villeneuve’s modesty, gentle charm and genuine curiosity (she quizzes all the YOU team about their jobs and families) that lift her beyond technically beautiful into utterly stunning. She shrugs off the notion that other women might have been intimidated by her beauty or that her daughters felt they had some impossible ideal to live up to.
‘I’ve always seen what I do as just a job – although it’s a fun job. I’ve never tried to glamorise anything. But the best thing about still working at my age is it makes older women see they still have value.’
HAIR: SVEN BAYERBACH AT CAROLE HAYES USING HAIR RITUEL BY SISLEY. MAKE-UP: CLAIRE MULLEADY USING GIVENCHY BEAUTY LE ROUGE INTERDIT CREAM VELVET LIPSTICK AND PRISME LIBRE LOOSE POWDER. NAILS: LIGA TUKMANE AT CAROL HAYES. ICONIC IMAGES LIMITED, DOMINIC O’NEILL
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