At Home With... Jan de Villeneuve
How to transcribe the beauty of Jan de Villeneuve into words? It's no easy task. Hugely successful and massively in-demand, she has been modelling since 1966. We could list the covers she’s graced, the catwalks she's walked down and the photographer's who've shot her, but we haven't got the time. Instead, we’re giving you a brief glimpse into her world and the Kent home she shares with her rock'n'roll drummer lover Andy Newmark and their goldendoodle Charlie...
How did you become a model?
I actually went to the university in Michigan and got a degree in architecture & design, the Summer after graduation I was waiting to interview for a job I really wanted in commercial interior design and to fill the gap I started modelling for an agency in Michigan. They were doing ads for cars there at the time and my friend suggested I could do it, so I went there and the next day I was working.
At a certain point a friend in New York thought I was teaching and Mademoiselle magazine in New York was looking for teachers. I had my teaching certificate, so they flew me there for the day and the photographer Dave McCabe said I should go to Eileen Ford, that I did, and she said “do you want to come and work for me?” I was 22-years old, so I was already feeling quite old, but thought “why not? I might regret not doing this.” My cousin lived in New York, so I stayed with her for a while then got an apartment and started working.
What do you most enjoy about your job?
It’s fun to model in my seventies. Earlier in my career I often felt conflicted about making a living which hinged on my looks and it was quite arbitrary as to what looks were ‘in.’ Lately it has been brilliant to work with so many talented young photographers, hair and makeup folks and excellent stylists while getting to wear fabulous clothes in photos. It’s quite different to when I started modelling in 1966. I don’t take fashion too seriously but enjoy using it as a jumping off point for me and my life - 'style on a budget' being my credo!
What has been the highlight of your modelling career?
Augmenting my modelling. At age 50 I was asked to be in the play 'Design for Living’ in London’s West End at the Donmar Warehouse and Gielgud Theatre (with Rachel Weisz and Clive Owen). It was one of the best years of my life, never having acted previously.
Another highlight would be working with virtuoso photographer Steven Meisel when I was flown to New York three years ago for Italian Vogue, an all-age issue which also featured several of us on the cover. Two recent covers on Harper’s Bazaar, UK and Netherlands at age 73 and of course not forgetting my first Vogue cover in 1968, age 24, by David Bailey.
What is your most treasured modelling memory to date?
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 we shot right next to The Golden Gate Bridge and from there we went to 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. Normally, a model has no say in what is used.
If you could work with any photographer dead or alive who would it be?
If you could give one piece of advice to young models in the industry today what would it be?
I would encourage young models not to worry about living up to unrealistic ideas of beauty, to enjoy being young, eat well, look after their teeth, use sunscreen and get good exercise. Have fun with hair and make-up but remember that physical beauty is superficial.
I have always been suspicious of the ‘tyranny of beauty’ so am pleased to see the current trend to show all ages, sizes, shapes and nationalities so the fashion industry reflects life in general and we learn to acknowledge and appreciate our differences.
What would your career have been if you hadn’t pursued modelling?
I would probably be doing commercial interior design, as this is what I’m trained for. Every time I go through an airport or a hotel, I think I could have done this differently, I could have done this better. I would probably make more money as well. But my career has taken me all over the world and I’ve met some interesting people.
Describe your style in three words?
Individual, eclectic, vintage.
Who do you most admire?
My uncle, Bud Kenny. Although he was severely disabled by polio, I saw him embrace his situation and make the most of it, living a very full life despite not being able to walk or even feed himself. He worked in conjunction with his father and a brother as a successful real estate agent. His cheerful optimism was a continual inspiration.
What would you like to do that you can’t?
The story behind the Katherine Hamnett jacket...
Andrew (Andy Newmark to his drumming fans) bought this jacket from Browns in 1984 while he was in London making an album and touring with Rodger Waters. His first visit to the store was years before in 1971 where recalled getting some good bits and chatting to Mrs B. So he went back, which is quite something for Andrew who has no interest in shopping. Just shows how much the Burstein’s personal touch and accessibility has always mattered.
How do you spend your time when your schedule is clear?
I spend a lot of time with family and friends who enhance my life, especially my adorable 22 month old granddaughter who is very cheeky and laughs a lot. My partner of 29 years is Andy Newmark, a rock’n’roll drummer who is still playing at 67, so we are both happy to be working. Three female friends and I take short trips to interesting places from St Petersburg to Sicily. Upon arrival, we jump on a bus to tour the city, eat in good restaurants and do a bit of shopping.
What would you like to change about the world?
I’d like to bring people together to understand we have more in common than not and to try to solve and/or avoid some of the conflicts we seem to get ourselves into.
If you could ask anyone a question who would you ask and what?
I’d like to ask anthropologist Jane Goodall how chimps have managed to live successfully in harmony without destroying their environment and about plants being good for our psychological development.
Describe yourself in three words?
Authentic, trusting, curious.
What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?
From my mother, Sally Griswold, quoting opera singer Barbara Hendricks, "Live your life so you can say: 'I have really done my best to be true to who I am.’”