The Best of Both Worlds: Yasmin Le Bon
interview: Daniel Garcia
Like Lauren Hutton or Iman, Yasmin Le Bon has transcended the status of top model to become a figure with much more exciting connotations. We search for that je ne sais quoi while she poses for us in this summer's Loewe collection.
Yasmin Le Bon is 42. But strangely it is not just her appearance that impresses in someone who has enjoyed the status of supermodel practically since she turned 18. Born in Oxford, England, daughter of an Iranian father and an English mother, she signed her first contract with the London model agency Models 1 in 1983, and by the time she married Simon Le Bon (leader of the legendary group Duran Duran) two years later, she had already appeared in countless advertising campaigns and walked more catwalks than she could remember. Since then the couple have had three daughters (Amber in 1989, Saffron in 1991, and three years later, Tallulah) and during this time Yasmin has excelled at being a working mother who occasionally models for Chanel, for example. Call it homespun glamour or rather the best of both worlds. Because when a supermodel. who is also wife to a pop superstar, makes her own way to an East London studio at ten in the morning, introduces herself with a smile and immediately sets to helping the stylist put the clothes on the racks, the surprise goes well beyond pleasant. It is supernatural. And at the end of a very hard day. and after a long photo session, we remember to keep an "easy questions" brief.
Was it some kind of teenage thing? No... It wasn't really a teenage thing, but I suppose they had new young girls on the cover. Actually I wasn't that young. When I first came to London I was 18, and months later I turned 19, so I was quite mature.
I saw recently a fantastic The Face cover with you on it... I think it was from 1985. The one with the wild hair? (giggles) That leopard print catsuit!
Were you a reader of the magazine? Yeah, I used to read The Face; I mean, read it as much as you could read it... I used to just pick bits out. Some of it didn't interest me at all; some other things were too difficult to look at... but I thought it was great and I loved the atmosphere and the attitude.
Were you sad when it closed down in 2004? It's always sad when things like that happen. It feels like. the end of an era... Times have changed now, and it actually seems it's quite a good time for magazines. l mean, in the late 80s there were lots of magazines starting and within one issue they were gone!
Did you ever star on an i-D cover? Well... I don't remember! (giggles) God, you said these would be easy questions and in fact they are challenging! I think I did a shoot and I think I was pregnant at the time. Maybe we mentioned doing something and it never actually happened. I will say it confidently: I have never done an i-D cover.
And which was your last cover? That l do know: it was in the Far East, a Hong Kong publication. No, Madame Figaro in Taiwan, Korea or something like that.
I do realize and I'm amazed, you look fantastic! But let's change subject. You've said modelling isn't as fun as it used to be. Oh, I think it's still fun. I just think that maybe we used to have more fun, in a way. And possibly it was because it was a smaller industry and there was a smaller amount of people involved and it felt a little bit more like a community. I sometimes feel a bit concerned because there are so many people in the business, and so many young girls who seem very much on their own. And it's tough, even when you are an adult, to be on your own and to not feel like you have friends, but if you are sixteen years old and you don't speak English, which is the language of the industry, then that's sad, when modelling should be a joyful thing.
Could it be that models had a closer relationship with the designer? There are always going to be girls who are fascinated with the whole industry, and who are creative people themselves who naturally gravitate towards certain designers and develop relationships. That's still going on now, and it's great to see it happen.
Is that your case? I've always loved designers, and I've always loved the whole process.
Let's go into a bit of name dropping. Who are you friends with in the industry? Well, when I say "friends" you must understand I'm an adult woman living in London with cats and dogs! I don't really see many people at all apart from them. Occasionally my children and my husband... Other than that, I see Roland Mouret a lot, Antony Price is still a great friend, so is Alice Temperley, and I love Valentino. There are so many great people around. But I love Roland because he's got a sense of heritage and appreciates the history of everything. He makes beautiful dresses, beautifully cut clothes. He reminds me a lot of Antony Price and other people I really respect in the. business. I can see bits of Thierry Mugler, Alaia, Montana...
Those Montana shows seemed so much fun! It was hysterical, quite. mad, and yes, so much fun! You know; Montana was always so serious and so... posed, you know.
Like... Mugatu? Yes, really! (laughs) It was so Zoolander! But we had so much fun with that - we used to constantly try and scrape past each other. We always made each other laugh doing naughty things. I've done shows for Montana when you were supposed to walk in a pencil skirt so tight you couldn't put one foot in front or the other, and a heel so high that you were falling forward. He would show you the catwalk and be so excited about it - "it's going to be so fantastic, wait until you see it!" - and you saw it and went "Oh my God! I'm going to die on the catwalk!". There would be a little runway maybe just half a meter wide, and besides they would be sloping sideways and going down at the same time! What was I going to do? Float down there? And that was it - you had to float down there. And you did it.
Designers nowadays don't like to see models smile on the catwalk. Oh, it's so glum, isn't it? Those girls frighten me! I come from an era where we didn't even have video cameras to record the show, so you had to make people remember it. I still love it if I lose my earrings or if I drop the bag or if somebody loses her shoes. That's how you remember shows, wild things happening! People cracking up laughing, or talking to each other. I did Chanel recently and at Chanel they always want young, fresh, happy. The clothes are pretty much as always, so you have to give it a fresh attitude. These were all young girls. and they said backstage, "smile, walk happy!" Well, not one of them smiled (laughs). Come on, you're young, smile! Besides, it's your job to perform. We are meant to be comedians.
You belong to a breed of unusual beauties. Do you think you have opened the doors for models like Kate Moss? In a way, yeah, because when I first started there weren't that many girls who looked like me at all. I mean, just having brown skin, brown eyes and brown hair was enough for people to think they were being very alternative if they were booking me. It was quite scary! But then Janice Dickinson paved the way for me. The nice thing was that I got letters from Indian girls who were really happy that they saw someone that looked a bit like them in a magazine. And I'm happy that nowadays there are so many different faces. I think we have to encourage that.
Do you think that some of what happens to her is due to the enormous amount of credit we give models and celebrities in general? We do give models too much credit. But Kate has been the first to say that she intends to be no role model. She just loves what she does and she does it really really well. And that's all she's ever wanted. I mean, twenty years ago people didn't know the names of models, which is why I loved doing it. And that's how it should be. You aren't supposed to listen to what a model says! (laughs)
One thing I like about you is that you never try to be other than a model. No trace of the typical "No, really I'm an actress". That's because this is what I love doing. When I first started I couldn't believe I got paid for this. It doesn't mean that I shouldn't try anything else, but it's sometimes difficult to deal with people's ideas. I mean, I would love to do other things, but I don't think I'm meant to do them public, because it wouldn't feel sincere, it would be like doing it for the wrong reasons. It's difficult to deal with success very young and face the idea that you might never ever have that kind of success ever again. Why would you? You were lucky once, so why should you be lucky twice? I'm still battling with that!
Do you ever get the opposite feeling - that you've never led a "normal" life? I was never going to lead that kind of life. From a very young age my parents knew that as soon as I could I would be out of that town. I don't know what I would have done, but I just wasn't going to do anything normal.
Do you still take photos? You know - I'm killing myself now - I've got to start taking photos again. I've been incredibly lazy, because I loved doing it. That's what I would have done if I hadn't taken up modelling. Definitely.
I've got a quote here ('You Magazine', 1984) that says: "I have always wanted to be a Formula 1 racing driver". Yeah! (laughs) Ten years ago I realized and I finally forgot about it. And only about five years ago I finally let go of the idea to play professional football. I don't mean any women's team, but Premier League football, because in my mind I really think I can do these things. It's my age that holds me back.
Have any of your daughters said they want to become a model? Especially now there's such a thing with celebrity children. They do get offers. My eldest does, but it's up to her now. I think she's very flattered by the idea, but I think she knows she's not ready to do it, and she isn't quite sure whether she would do it. Once you open the door to that you can't close it anymore.
So what's your favourite Duran Duran song? Were you a fan before meeting your husband? At the moment I don't know why but there's a song called "Too Late Marlene" that's really going on in my head. And I've always loved "My Antarctica", "Serious"... I go through phases. But fan is a really strong word. I thought they made really good music.
You've said the eighties weren't at all about party party party all the time, but I can't believe it was always work work work, What's the best party you remember? The eighties for me were really about working. I was in a little bubble with Simon, travelling around with our two suitcases. We did manage to party a little bit, of course... Obviously they must have been really good parties because I don't remember anything! One of our very first dates was a great Thompson Twins party in some country club. It was fantastic, I was 19 years old and that made quite an impression.
When you see people reference those years (even some people who were around then), like Madonna or Gwen Stefani doing eighties dance records, what do you think? It's great to see people referencing things, acknowledging their inspirations. It gives people a fresh injection of ideas and attitude. It's an age thing - let me tell you this, honey, but you are just going to see so many things come round again and again... You'll remember the first revival, and then the revival of the revival and so on. But I thought about this recently and we need to change our attitude towards all that. It's all good. Enjoy things, you know. Otherwise you end up sounding so... bitter!
Let's talk about politics now: what do you think about David Cameron leading the polls these days? I'm so bored of Labour, Conservative, what do they mean, what do they stand for... I'm bored with the political system in this country. Nobody is really talking common sense. I'm very disillusioned, because especially here, one of the richest countries in the world, where people are pretty honest and pay their taxes, we have to put up with this rubbish, and bullshit, and bureaucracy. And we put up with it because we have to - people are too frightened to lose their jobs because they are living in debt, and that's terrible.
It's funny, Cameron pretending to be less of a Conservative, trying to look fashionable, with his wife working at Smythson. Absolutely. They always tell you the things you want to hear. But it's the bureaucracy that really upsets me. How much money is wasted on civil servants who do absolutely nothing. How much is wasted on the EU, when they just sit there telling the Belgians how to make chocolate, or the French how to bake bread. You have to be joking!
You are not in favour of the EU. then. Not really. I think the economic side of it is ok, but I don't see the need to try and unify this many countries. What's wrong with being a different country? What's wrong with having your own sense of identity?
They're trying to unify the things that could be unified. Laws that could be the same in many places, that relate to higher principles than just tradition. But who has the higher moral ground to determine those principles? George Bush thinks he has it! And I certainly wouldn't want to subscribe to his kind of morality. I do feel European, I love being part of it. I just don't feel the need to subscribe to massive ideas. I don't think life is like that. The ideology is great, but not the practicality. And I think it's not healthy, because it could lead to more fragmentation.
Let's finish with a lighter issue. This season there are a couple of Alaia and Herve Leger themed collections, which I believe you like a lot. What will you be buying? Actually, Azzedine Alaia! That's the real thing, baby! It's amazing, because he still produces the most gorgeous clothes, and you don't see a lot of them around. Expensive, too... But then they're meant to be so!