Why I'll Never Give Up My Modelling Career
interview: Eilidh MacAskill
It wasn't the most auspicious of starts. As a girl dabbling on the Oxford modelling scene, one of Yasmin Le Bon's first paid jobs was to stand at supermarket checkouts for £25 a day asking shoppers to try a sip of sparkling wine.
A 15-year veteran of the modelling industry, Yasmin was part of the genetically superior gang of girls for whom the phrase "supermodel" was invented in the late Eighties. There was someone for everyone: Naomi Campbell, the volatile good-time girl; Cindy Crawford, the corporate calendar girl; Linda Evangelista, the former catwalk chameleon; and the enigmatic yet accessibly beautiful Yasmin Le Bon, with her half-Persian background and slow smile. She was my favourite - the one you rightly or wrongly suspected wouldn't steal your boyfriend or grind your personality under her three-inch stilettos.
Yasmin, who will be 36 in October, has a Persian father who once taught photography, and one sister. Her parents still live in Oxford.
Work and no play is not Yasmin's motto. While retaining her neatly-sized seat at the top of the profession, she maintains a strong marriage with Duran Duran frontman Simon le Bon (their instant love affair broke many a devoted Durannie's heart) and now has a hat-trick of daughters - Amber, 11, Saffron, 9, and Tallulah, 6.
Now more famous than her 42-year-old husband, she has also engineered enough modelling retirements and comebacks to make us think she'll never ever give up the game. "They'll have to bury me first," she says.
Today Yasmin can pick and choose her own modelling jobs, and has signed up as the face of "The Ariel Essential Model of 2001" competition in conjunction with Models 1. She'll judge the winner, who will take to the catwalk next February for designer Matthew Williamson. He will be showing his colourful, sexy take on spring/summer 2001 tonight in London.
"Competitions are great," says Yasmin, warming her hands on a mug of coffee in the busy Models 1 agency office on London's King's Road. "It's such a useful way to find out about the industry and get inside knowledge and experience. Plus with competitions you tend to be supported by your family and best friends. You are not doing it on your own."
Yasmin was, in fact, an elderly 18 before she decided to knuckle down to modelling, arriving at Models 1 soaked to the skin by a torrential downpour, straight off the train from Oxford. Luckily, "They managed to see behind it all and thought I had something."
She had drifted into the agency after even her friends worried that her plans to leave school and "maybe travel" were a little vague. "When even my compatriots started panicking on my behalf I knew I had to do something. And people had always said to me, 'You should model, you should model'."
Models 1 adored her, and their clients weren't slow off the mark either. "I was working flat out early on. I was not doing the best jobs in this country for the first nine months but I was working every single day."
Then she became Elle's launch issue cover girl in 1985 and she and Simon became the publicity-shy equivalent of Posh and Beckham. "I am lucky in that I have a partner who agrees that our private life should be kept private. We have a kind of understanding and support that I suppose is rare." No Hello! magazine covers for them then."He doesn't want me to become a corporation and to be under stress. After all I have three children to whom my well-being is vital."
As a bona fide icon of the Eighties, Yasmin is somewhat bemused by the revival of that decade, as bat-wing tops and structured tailoring hit the catwalk and high-street stores.
"People go on about all the parties in the Eighties, but they have it all wrong. They forget that everyone was too busy working," she says. "All I can think of the decade is work and a few babies. You just spent the whole time working and you really didn't have enough time to enjoy it."
Although she has gone down on record lamenting how difficult it was to make certain puffball skirts and wide-shouldered jackets look appetising (she wishes she had been old enough to enjoy the more fly-guy fashions of the Seventies), she isn't totally beyond a bit of nostalgia."I think what is really great about looking back is the ability to appreciate what went before, because I think first time round you miss a lot of things. If you study some of the artists, the musicians and the fashion designers more closely, you can sometimes get even more enjoyment from it all."
Having said that, she hasn't yet watched the Duran Duran documentary that appeared recently on television. The videotape is sitting at home.
She is still friendly with the fraternity of supermodels who dominated the scene. "We saw each other and took care of each other during the shows. There was Gail Elliot, Christy Turlington, Linda and Cindy. Cindy never really did that many shows but we always did New York together, and with Naomi as well. We were always a big kind of gang that sort of expanded."
Although she claims young girls these days "have no idea who I am and why should they?", she enjoyed the camaraderie and emotional protection such friendship offered in the capricious modelling game.
"It was a lovely time. We used to stand up for each other too, it felt like a union for once."
Yasmin raises her strong yet immaculately groomed eyebrows: "And a union is something that will never happen in this industry."
What about her daughters following in their mother's footsteps? After all, the recent New York Fashion Week witnessed Elizabeth Jagger, daughter of Jerry and Mick, continuing her catwalk career. Will Amber be on the catwalk in a few years' time? "She won't be," retorts Yasmin firmly - "not at that age, anyway."
Certainly the girls aren't obsessed with Mum's day job. "I recently caught them flicking through a few magazines but they are not really interested, although they love things that are well designed. My middle daughter will point out an Ungaro dress and say she loves it. She has an eye, but that doesn't make a modelling career."
As a mum, Yasmin is aware of the responsibility that the industry has to show all sides of beauty.
"Well, I've been working for a very long time. Everybody has to be represented but of course clothes do look better on a certain body shape. But people do have to accept that fashion photography isn't the real world. Nobody really looks like that. We are a very knowledgeable society so you can't fool people. I think the issue is being met head on and I am still working - so it definitely is. I am a normal size," she says, motioning down her slender but healthy figure. "When I first started working I was half the woman I am now. I look at some of the outfits I have still got in my wardrobe and I think, wait a minute - it wasn't that long ago."