Girl On Film
Irish Tatler March 2006
interview: Elaine Prendeville
What makes a top model? In Ireland, the girl who smiles a LOT, dates B-list
boys and will happily pose with a sausage in her mouth in the middle of
Grafton Street scores the top-paying jobs. And who can blame her?
Top-paying, pure fashion jobs are thin on the ground, making full-time employment
genuinely achievable to very few. In the international industry, however,
models that make it to the top are those who employ a degree of selectivity.
Those who succeed are not only otherworldly beautiful - there are hundreds
like that - but those with the canniest sense of professionalism; they pick
out the right agencies, work with the right photographers and, crucially,
they refuse certain offers.
Imperative to the long-term success of any top model, however, is an
awareness of limitations. Yes, you can pout impishly to camera at
21, but will it work at 41? Which is what makes Yasmin Le Bon a pretty
much unique exception to the rule, and where her self-deprecating wit coupled
with down-to-earth personability come to the fore. At 36, she was
modelling bikinis for Marks & Spencer, and now, at 41, she's most categorically
still got 'it.'
In advance of our meeting, I sluiced my way through the ocean of Yasmin
Le Bon photos online. Striking images included a candid shot of a
young Yasmin, all tousle-haired nonchalant beauty, the proprietary arm of
a similarly tousled Simon Le Bon draped casually over her shoulder.
Another shows the model playing the part of a busy eighties exec, replete
in a Miami-Vice style linen suit, and totally getting away with it.
A profile photo shows Yasmin wearing a slick of eyeliner, a pair of (what
look suspiciously like Marigold) yellow rubber gloves and gargantuan bangles
more than authenticate her chameleonic ability to look utterly dignified
in the most bizarre of accoutrements.
This versatility has landed her every job worth having, from a stint
as the sexy Guess girl to gracing the cover of Vogue, to striding the catwalk
for Chanel, YSL and Lacroix. By 21, she was a fully paid-up member
of the supermodel club, sharing lens-space with Cindy, Christy, Naomi et
al. She'd also found time to meet the love of her life and marry him.
Like Argos for rock stars, lead singer of Duran Duran Simon Le Bon saw Yasmin
on the cover of a magazine, snagged her phone number from a model friend
and immediately asked her out. It was a case of love at first sight
for both, whose union remains one of the happiest and most envied in the
Yasmin Parvenah was born in Oxford to an English mum and Iranian dad.
Her very normal upbringing seems to have provided the tools necessary to
maintain sanity in the globetrotting, hedonistic industry that awaited.
Yasmin's father, both a photographer and photography teacher, was of particular
influence, instilling an educated appreciation of the mechanic and the power
of the image. This background, combined with an inoffensive acceptance
of her genetic advantages brought her to modelling. "It wasn't
that I thought I was particularly attractive. I just had all the requirements,"
While the UK proved a cinch to triumph, the US seemed an unlikely stomping
ground for a girl from Oxford with an angular, exotic breed of beauty.
Conquer she did, however, quickly becoming a firm favourite with fashion
editors who had previously employed models of the busty and blonde-haired
mould. Success followed success but never, somehow, did scandal enter
the equation. True, the height of her career predated our celebrity-obsessed
malaise, but keeping her private life just so was a feat in itself.
She admits to an old school ethos, believing a model should remain polite,
poised and elegant in all situations - well, especially when there's a camera
around anyhow. Typically reserved, she has however spoken out on the
vacuous, often vicious elements of the fashion industry and has publicly
criticised the increasingly commercially led world of fashion photography.
I'm meeting Yasmin to discuss, amongst other things, her latest gig:
that as the face of Newbridge Silverware's Goddess jewellery line, a 10th
anniversary marker for the Irish phenomenon. The announcement of her
involvement has already stirred interest in the Irish public and Newbridge
Silverware CEO William Doyle is enjoying the coup. "A real natural
beauty, a wonderful mother, a strong and mysterious personality - she offers
a unique spirit of modern femininity - a true Goddess!" reads the press
release. And, one hour later, any thoughts of overblown hyperbole
have vanished. She's the real deal.
Standing over six feet tall in heels, Yasmin is in open, lively mood
as she poses for a snap with Barry Egan of the Sunday Independent (she even
manages to smile almost convincingly as he cracks a couple of obsequious
jibes.) Photocall finished; we take a seat on a big bed in her Four
Seasons suite. Apart from looking nothing short of incredible in a
simple black dress, her warmth of character is evident from the outset.
Her skin positively glows with radiance and her eyes are warm and sparkling
despite an early morning flight from London. Ah, she'd make you sick.
I tell her I've found a wealth of information on her life and loves from
a dedicated, 'unofficial' website set up by her number one fan, a 30something
French literature student based in the US. This site boasts everything
Yasmin-related, with quotes and trivia, editorial mentions and lots and
lots of photos, naturally. She is, likeably, a bit freaked out by
the whole thing. "I was really shocked - I had no idea about
it!" she laughs. "Somebody told me about it a couple of
years ago but, being such a technophobe I had no idea you could do this
kind of thing. So I finally went onto the site and saw all the work
she had done and all the people writing in questions and I'm thinking, WHY?
Why are they asking that question? How strange!" She eventually
got down to returning the tribute. "I had to write to her, just
had to thank her because it really is extraordinary." The online
compendium got her thinking about an as-yet unfulfilled project. "A
couple of years ago I was going to put a website together, with the information
definitely correct as it's coming from me. Then, I was getting excited
because I felt I could start creating stuff for it, image-wise."
Did she feel there was a gap in fashion that needed to be filled, I wonder. "Yes,"
she replies. "At the moment, I'm not enamoured with the magazines
in England. Some are really stuck in a rut and seem to have lost their
edge and freedom of creativity. So I thought it would be a great idea
to get a group of people together - photographers, stylists, and models
- to do something just for everyone to see. You can't underestimate
how much people like fashion: they love photography, love images.
I have been surrounded by images all my life: that's why I got into the
A cut above your average clothes hanger, she is vehement that the model
should be the soul of professionalism when it comes to the creation of a
striking result. Has her experience made her difficult to work with,
and, dare I say it, controlling? "I have a little bit of a reputation,
it's true," she concedes with a giggle. "But you feel things
when you're in front of the camera and because you've been doing it for
a long time you start to pick up things about lighting, about angles.
When you work with someone with whom you communicate well, it's a doddle.
Then you can really start making things happen. It is very hard to
do something important with someone you haven't worked with before.
That is why people should definitely listen to what models have to say."
The career longevity - she has famously claimed she "never wants
to stop modelling" - could, in part, be due to this determination to
play a significant role in the entire creative process. "I want
to ask how are you doing this, how do you envisage that, because I have
to know if I want to be on board or not. I don't want to be in a position
of getting work and absolutely hating what's going on. Then everyone
has a bad day."
With three kids, Amber Rose, Saffron and Tallulah, she works to "pay
the bills." A committed homebird, she's taken lengthy career
breaks surrounding the births of her kids. These, coupled with a strict
level of job-rationing has meant that Yasmin's face is unlikely descend
to ubiquity, the suggestion of which brings a certain Croyden-born model
to my mind. "I won't sell out," she says, very seriously. "The
money's just not that important. I have been approached to do all
sorts of things, but your heart and soul has got to be in it. If you're
going to put your face and your name to something then you should do it
properly." There is a marked shift now, from lively chattiness
to sombre contemplation.
"You've got to be very, very happy with what you do. Otherwise
you're selling a piece of yourself and at some point it will come back and
bite you emotionally. You have got to be able to sleep at night and
if you don't feel proud about the things you have done then you will pay
Having posed nude, albeit tastefully so, I question what she will not
do... and why she has specifically chosen the Newbridge contract above other
suitors? "You have to like the brand," she explains. "Some
people are happy to do a line of this, a brochure for that. For me,
I have to be a little bit careful. It's a small world and your choice
is that you're either being paid a hell of a lot of money to do something
or you are guaranteed is that it is going to look good. I prefer to
have an affinity with a brand, and I get excited about lending my image
to something and seeing the effect it creates."
I'm listening, and nodding, and all of that, but I'm also trying to work
out why, at 41, she is virtually wrinkle-free. No doubt she makes
efforts to maintain her svelte figure, eats well and has a facialist on
speed dial, but hers is a face that argues the case for the superiority
of good genes over expensive cremes. Sleepless nights, if any, have
left little evidence in their wake. As I resist the urge to rifle
through her handbag - to find the secret of eternal youth, and steal it
- she reminds me that it isn't all plain sailing. "I am at a
stage in my career when I'm paying the price for having been successful
so young. But I'm lucky because I'm in a loving relationship and I
have my kids; it's a happy home. I do have my bad days - of course
I do - but I know they're not insurmountable."
A life lived under public scrutiny, where a flawless appearance is paramount
to financial reward must take its toll emotionally, I concede. But
what about all the good stuff? The fabulous holidays, A-list parties
and wardrobes packed with luxury labels? "This might sound awful,"
she says, "But sometimes choice is a terrible thing! Whenever
an event is happening I'm always in denial that I'm actually going there.
So I leave it until the day and then it's like, oh my god, what am I going
to wear? I think most people are the same; it's blind panic.
And then, if you asked them to choose one dress out of any dress in the
world it's just worse! You're like a rabbit in the headlights thinking,
erm, brown paper bag?"
Sitting upright, with a dancer's posture and a steady, measured tone
of voice, it's hard to imagine Yasmin Le Bon getting in a panic about anything.
She remains something of a mystery despite the trappings, the rock star
hubbie. I like her better than any other model I've met because she's
held onto that air of anonymity that so many others try but fail to achieve. "It
has been a concerted effort," she reveals. "It's hard to
keep yourself a mystery. Overexposure is not something I encourage
and I only really come out of the woodwork for special reasons. Growing
up, I looked up to the old movie stars but I didn't want to hear all about
their private lives. I wondered about their relationships, the glamour,
but I didn't want to know the details. Mystery is attractive."
Ah go on, I say, in the inevitable way you become when you realise that
you can't match someone's classiness, so you give up trying. There
must be a bit of gossip, something? "Everything is normal!"
she laughs. "Blindingly normal. So shockingly normal it's
pathetic! I need more drama. Maybe I need to get rid of my kids!
Whenever I get stressed out I tell them: 'You're holding me back!
I could have done this, I could have done that!'" She really
is insistent on the no-frills factor. "I keep it low key.
I don't have an assistant or a secretary. What I do have is a housekeeper.
We live in a big old house so between the two of us we manage it.
I do the same old rubbish that everyone else has to do and I get just as
pissed off as they are when I am doing it! And there isn't a day goes
by that I don't wish I could just abandon everybody and take off to Heathrow!
Then I get over and say, 'Ah hell, I better go pick up Tallulah from school.'"