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Twiggy: "I thought the world had gone mad"

Plunged into the heart of Swinging Sixties London at the age of 16 Twiggy has proved to be one of the more enduring icons of the era. By Simon Evans

There are certain images that define an era, and Twiggy’s androgynous face, all short hair and eye lashes, peering out from the pages of Vogue in 1966, seemed to perfectly capture a time of personal liberation and sexual experimentation.

Twiggy – dubbed the “Face of 1966” by no less an authority than the Daily Express – was Sixties woman personified. Smart, independent and sexually ambiguous this was a woman who would not settle for the traditional conveyor belt of school-marriage-children-housewife.

Most importantly, the petite 16-year-old, formerly known as Lesley Hornby, came from good working-class stock, having been born in the London suburb of Neasden in 1949, the daughter of a carpenter and joiner.

Nicknamed ‘Twigs’ because of her slim build, Lesley was taught to sew by her mother, Nellie – a factory worker – at a young age. An early role model was Jean Shrimpton, ‘The Shrimp’, the English fashion icon who had appeared on the cover of Vogue in 1962, and whose photos Lesley would admire during breaks from her Saturday job at a hairdressers in central London.

Emboldened by Shrimpton’s success, Lesley had her hair styled and cut short at the fashionable hairdressers Leonard of Mayfair, which was looking for someone to model its new crop haircut. Professional photos were taken, which were hung in the salon, where they were noticed by Deirdre McSharry, a fashion journalist wiDeirdre’s breathless copy. Although she was slight for a model – five foot six inches in height, weighing in at eight stone, and with a 31-23-32 figure – the article hailed Twiggy’s “new kind of streamlined, androgynous sex appeal”.

Looking back on that sudden rush of fame from the vantage point of 50 years, Twiggy told the Daily Mail’s You magazine, “I was this funny, skinny little thing with eyelashes and long legs, who had grown up hating how I looked. I thought the world had gone mad.” Just a month after the Daily Express story Twiggy, as she was now universally known, was flying to New York for the Vogue shoot that would make her an international star.

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