Yasmin Le Bon: My Life Away From the Catwalk
interview: Viv Groskop
The one thing I am not expecting is for Yasmin Le Bon to be eccentric. “There’s quite a bit of astronaut and time-traveller in there,” she says dreamily of the range she has designed for the high street store Wallis. “And I’m obsessed with windows, buildings, the patterns and geometry in nature.”
She pauses to eat some soup, very slowly. (It’s 4.30pm in a photographic studio in southwest London and she has not had any lunch.) “I became obsessed with astronauts for a while. I wasn’t allowed to say that at first, but now I can say it with impunity. The collection’s selling and it hasn’t put anybody off that there was a marooned astronaut in it.” If you say so, Yasmin.
Time-traveller chic aside, Le Bon’s covetable collection – for a shop that was once more commonly associated with middle-aged tea dresses – has proved a huge success. When YLB for Wallis launched in September last year, the Victorian leather jacket and grey jersey maxidress sold out within hours. This time round, it is only available online, and likely to disappear just as quickly, if not faster, because Le Bon says this is her last collection for the label. Fifteen items from the spring range were launched at the end of March, and further “high summer” pieces will be released in mid-May. Le Bon’s own favourites include a pair of harem pants (£85 in oyster silk, £38 in black jersey), a £70 Grecian maxidress and a sensational knitted bodycon dress (£120).
Hussein Chalayan and Christopher Kane have both complimented her on the range. “It’s still a novelty – when you see someone you don’t know on the street wearing a piece you’ve designed, that really is something,” she says. “It makes me glow a bit. Then I have to give myself a good slap round the face.”
For me, as for many women born in the late Sixties and early Seventies, Yasmin Le Bon has always been a figure of envy and awe. When she signed to the Models 1 agency in 1983, I was 10 and she was 18. I was a Durannie; she snagged the lead singer. (It could have been worse – it could have been John Taylor.) By the time I was 12 and buying the launch issue of British Elle, she was on the cover. Her life has always seemed that bit more blessed than anyone else’s. When her peers were still messing about at university, she was wealthy, famous and independent.
By 30, she had completed her family. Now her daughters – Amber, 20, Saffron, 18, and Tallulah, 15 – are almost grown-up. Amber is signed to her mother’s agency and recently came prancing – dressed head-to-toe in YLB for Wallis – into the master bedroom of the family’s Putney house, “while Simon and I were watching University Challenge”. The idea for the range came about a couple of years ago. “One drunken night with Philip [Green, owner of the Arcadia group], we got talking and he rustled up an idea,” she shrugs.
It came at the right time because, oblivious to her own looks, Le Bon is adamant her modelling career is over. “You can’t model after 45,” she says. “For me to go on the catwalk and look like someone’s grandmother… I have sneakers that are older than some of the girls. Actually, I don’t give a s*** – but my days are numbered. And I’m a completely different size.” She would be too big for the clothes? “As a rule, yes.”
She claims she has put on a stone since her heyday. Does she think models are smaller now, too? “It’s a difficult call. There have always been some extremely thin girls. I pick up clothes from 20 years ago and look at them and think, ‘How did I get into that?’”
She thinks the industry deals with the problem sensibly. “It happened to me. I had a season when I was working way too hard. Two key people took me aside and said, ‘Be careful. You’re looking too thin.’ And I listened to them.” So she’s happy for her daughters to model? “It’s a great job. It’s a good education while you try to figure out what else you want to do.” This is the problem, though. She never figured that out. “I think I pushed that education a bit – now it’s like I have a PhD.”
Modelling slightly fell into her lap. Yasmin Parvaneh was born to an English mother and an Iranian father, a photographer. She grew up in Oxford with one older sister, Nadreh. After being spotted by an agent and modelling locally for a couple of years, she took the train to London, walked into Models 1 and was working within a week. Campaigns for Christian Dior, Ralph Lauren, Guess and Calvin Klein swiftly followed. She was married at 21 and had her first baby at 24. There’s a sense that it is only now, in her mid-forties, that she’s wondering where the time went.
“I don’t want to be a permanent fixture at Wallis,” she says, still making her way through the soup. “It’s a bit nerve-racking, because I’m going through the same phase as my children: you’re starting out in life, what do you want to do?” She got her life back-to-front, she says. “Most people my age are starting to feel really confident and getting somewhere in their careers, but I’m where they would’ve been at 20. God knows what I’m going to do. I’ll probably end up keeping bees.”
Then there’s her look. Although she’s utterly feminine and girlie in all the pictures – and has included several maxidresses for the Wallis range because she loves “something floaty for summer” – after the shoot, she changes into her own, mannish ensemble: a Chloé Breton sweater, grey Topshop tracksuit bottoms, brown brogues by Bottega Veneta and a Dior Homme jacket.
She is also refreshingly un-PC about parenting. Though she dotes on her girls, she is no earth mother. Hospital births were, she says, “a chance to get away and have someone else make you a cup of tea”. Ideally, she would have had more children. “But it’s completely consuming, the emotional drain, the worry. They take up your life. And the older they get, the more of you they take.” She laughs. “No one is able to hurt you as much as your kids. Nobody tells you this stuff.”
She feels her body never recovered after childbirth. “Ah, you mean the loss of my waist?” She laughs hysterically in a slightly Norma Desmond way. (I didn’t. But anyway.) “I blame it all on number three. She changed everything.” Over the past three years, she says, she has got even more out of shape. (This is invisible to an onlooker.) “I used to train a lot – the gym, Pilates, a martial art called wing chun. But I have a competitive nature and I pushed it too far. You change as you get older – your hormone levels, your bones, the way your muscles lock and tighten – and I’ve had to stop altogether. But it has meant I’ve put on quite a lot of weight.”
How much is “quite a lot”? “I’ve no idea – I don’t weigh myself, I just feel bigger. And I know because of how my clothes fit. But as you get older, you can’t get too thin. I think a little bit of meat on an older woman is a good thing.”
I wonder why she can’t give herself a rest from all this. Does she really need, for example, to work at all? “I’ve no idea what people imagine, but I didn’t marry a multimillionaire. Simon’s a successful man who works incredibly hard. But whether he makes a buck out of it, or has a good or bad year, is another thing... Being in a global band is an expensive business.”
Is she saying she is the family breadwinner? “We never really think about stuff like that. But we know when we’ve got to knuckle down. I’ve got bills to pay. I’ve got three teenage girls. Do you have any idea how expensive that is? School fees, further education, living at home – it doesn’t come cheap. I work because I have to, like everybody else.”
It’s anyone’s guess what’s next, she says. “There are things bubbling under. Watch this space. Or not. Because it could be beekeeping.” She pushes the soup, only half-finished, away.