Prestige July 2006
interview: Alex Blimes
After all these years, Yasmin Le Bon, supermodel and rock star's wife,
remains a fashion icon, the beautiful warrior princess who has seen and
done it all lives to tell the tale (some of it, anyway)
a rough-and-ready fourth floor photo studio with panoramic views across
the rooftops of northwest London, one of the original supermodels - those
rare, coltish colossi that stalked the world fashion capitals in the 1980s
and '90s - is perched on a high stool in front of a vanity mirror, having
her war paint applied.
Yasmin Le Bon, at 41, is an ornament and a delight: still darkly beautiful
- yes, even off duty in her purple-ribbed wife beater and her denim cut-offs,
her chestnut hair freshly curled - she's utterly unassuming. One would
never guess that the slender, honey-dipped, businesslike woman waiting patiently
for her close-ups was a famous rock star wife and fashion icon of two decades
standing, let alone that she could possibly be the mother of Amber (aged
16), Saffron (14) and Tallulah (11).
But if Le Bon doesn't remotely look her age, she certainly speaks with
the voice of experience. A model since 1984, she has worked for enough
designer names to fill a department store - Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren,
Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld, Christian Dior, Dolce & Gabbana and Missoni,
to name a few. And she has appeared on the cover of pretty much every
major fashion magazine you could care to mention, including countless editions
of Vogue, Elle and Harpers & Queen.
More than that, the girl born Yasmin Parvaneh in Oxford, England - daughter
of an Iranian photographer father and an English mother - has been half
of one of showbiz's most glamorous couples for more than two decades, since
her marriage, in 1985, to Simon Le Bon, lead singer of Duran Duran, arguably
the biggest pop group in the world back then.
The Le Bons were as much a part of the mid- to late-1980s scene as shoulder
pads, big hair and conspicuous consumption. And if their stars are
slightly dimmed today, then few people can be as well-placed as Yasmin Le
Bon to talk about the changes in celebrity culture, the vagaries of fashion
and the pressures and pleasures of lives lived in the public eye.
Who better, too, to mount a spirited defence of modelling, the much maligned
and misunderstood profession she has successfully plied her trade in for
more than two
decades? And that, settling ourselves into our high stools, is where
It's an obvious statement to make, but you've been modelling for a
long while now.
A long time.
Twenty-two years, I think.
You've done your homework!
Why have you had such a long career?
Probably because I have no shame! I probably should have stopped
10 or 15 years ago, but nobody's actually had the balls to tell me to quit.
retired before, though.
I've retired loads of times. I kept getting pregnant. One
voluntary retirement and three forced ones. But I just really enjoy
it. I love what I do. I didn't get into modelling because I
thought it was glamorous and I'd make lots of money. I sort of fell
into it. But I love the fashion business. I love being part
of the image-making process, the creative aspect of things. If I hadn't
been a model I would have become a photographer. It was one or the
Do models have creative input?
A good model definitely does. And the older you get the more confident
you get, and you start to pick and choose teams that you work with.
You can say yes or no to jobs and ask all the pertinent questions that you
should be asking as somebody who's self-employed. That's part of the
beauty of this business - that I can say yes and no to things. You
make your choices. Sometimes things don't work out, but that's another
aspect of the job that I really enjoy. You never really know 100 percent
what you're going to do until you get there and do it. That's very
exciting. It's quite narcotic, actually. You get hooked on the
spontaneity. It's quite extreme. I don't really know another
job like it.
Is that what prompted you to do this shoot?
Yes, I thought it would be fun, I suppose. It's an opportunity
to work with people I haven't worked with before and a magazine I haven't
worked with before, and for a part of the world that I haven't been to.
I thought that was quite interesting - another box to tick.
What makes a good model?
A bloody good sense of humour. And good joints!
So how good are your joints?
Mine were great and now they're completely screwed. But there you
go. It's a very physical job.
To me, shoots always seem incredibly boring. There's so much
There's not much sitting around on my shoots, I tell you. Maybe
there was a point in the '80s, when there were a few big catalogue companies
in America that used to book too many girls on shoots, and you used to work
with five other girls and you'd spend half the day sitting around.
That stopped very quickly. When I go to work, I tend to be working
flat out. The only sitting around I do all day is getting hair and
make-up done. It is a very physical job. To be a good model
you have to have stamina. You have to enjoy getting on with people.
You have to like the company of strangers and be happy to work with different
people and benefit from their input.
And you have to get used to being away from home.
It is very hard, yes. I've been incredibly lucky. I was married
at 21, and I've been in that kind of relationship for such a long time,
it always gave me a reason to get back on another plane and come home.
I think if you are on your own, and doing that much travelling, it must
be incredibly difficult. And very, very lonely.
Have you always been interested in fashion?
Yes. Partly because my father taught photography, so I'd been surrounded
from a young age with Helmut Newton photographs and Irving Penn and Richard
Avedon, and I was very intrigued by photography in general.
What is it about photography that you like?
It's a snapshot of the world. I still find it quite extraordinary
that you can capture a moment in time. And not just a moment in time
in a two-dimensional sense, but you can manage to capture the spirit of
a moment, the emotion.
And were you always a fan of clothes?
Yes. I mean, I love the artisan quality of things. I love
the idea of people who are specialists in their field working away at a
beautiful garment. But, you know, I have moments where I think it's
all a complete load of rubbish and the world is just going to choke on yet
more mountains of clothes that nobody can wear or use. That side of
things I find incredibly difficult to deal with sometimes. But saying
that, I think fashion's incredibly important, and I think people need to
be able to express themselves more and more in this day and age, in the
police state that we're becoming. It really is vital that people are
able to make those seemingly silly decisions at the beginning of the day
- whether they're going to wear black or red or whether they're not going
to care and put jeans on. It's a form of self-expression that I think
is very needed, and it's part of what being a human being's all about.
That's interesting because fashion's often characterized as a superficial,
Yes, terribly! It's awful. I think it's just because it's
this funny little world full of people who are only really used to talking
to each other. And we talk in silly fashion-speak and take it for
granted that everyone understands. When we get out into the big wide
world we really don't know how to explain ourselves very well, in a very
articulate way. It's really quite shocking how badly perceived the
fashion industry is.
And models especially.
Oh, you're not allowed to be beautiful and have a brain.
And people think that models are spoiled and stupid and bitchy.
It's quite extraordinary how misinformed one can be. I mean, do
you know what? I always played on it. I always thought it was
quite good if people thought I was stupid. I think you can play that
to your advantage, definitely. But most models are incredibly hard
working, very bright, independent women who from a young age have been looking
after themselves, have travelled the globe, worked on different continents.
Many of them speak many different languages. You've really got to
have your head switched on to be able to cope with all that. And generally,
they're really nice people. Because if you're not, you don't get booked
again. It's a highly competitive industry. If you make life
difficult for people, why would they choose to work with you again when
there's someone younger, cuter and cheaper down the road?
Younger, cuter and cheaper, eh?
Damn them! And they're all like that now!
That is another criticism, though, isn't it - that fashion creates an
impossibly youthful physical ideal that even the models can't measure up
And it's true! Because now with post-production and Photoshop,
we're not giving people reality. We're not selling reality, we're
selling fantasy. Nobody really looks like that. That's impossible.
And that is quite difficult. I've been in the business 22 years, and
there are moments where it even affects me. I think, 'Why can't my
legs look as good as that?' I have to smack myself round the face
and go, 'Honey, it's Photoshop. No one's legs look as good as that.'
As a model in her forties, do you feel like you're striking a blow
for older women? Sorry, I don't know how else to put it.
Go on, dig yourself in a bit deeper. No, I used to feel more like
that. But I feel it's more normal now, there are a lot more girls
who are prepared to do it and it's much more accepted, thank God.
I used to feel more strongly about it when I was younger. That everybody
needed to be represented. I didn't feel there was enough of that.
When I first started modelling, I felt we were really getting somewhere.
I mean when I first started out I had dark skin, dark hair, brown eyes -
they just didn't use girls like that. It felt like quite a breakthrough.
I was excited about it. And then I felt there was this huge lull where
we weren't getting anywhere, where every girl I saw was just so white and
Waspy it was ridiculous, especially here in Britain. Things have started
to get better again, but for the past 10 years, I felt like we were getting
nowhere and it started to upset me. I wasn't seeing Asian girls or
even black girls. And that's extraordinary. I do think people
have started to realize that that's not acceptable. And the age issue
seems to be dealt with better, to be honest, than the race issue.
So I feel a bit more optimistic about the business. I don't feel like
I'm the only old girl out there: Cindy's still working, Linda's working
But presumably it is harder for you to book big campaigns?
It's much harder. I can sort of liken it to being a professional
athlete. They've very similar careers. Great footballers at
their peak are in their twenties. It's a short lifespan, and while
everyone else is beginning to ascend in their careers, at 40-plus you're
on the descent. It's a strange position. But it's very, very
hard to maintain that fighting fit quality for so many years. Honestly,
it's a very physical job. That's why a lot of people give up.
It's almost impossible, and with every year that goes past, I think, 'I
don't know if I can keep up with this anymore. Maybe I should call
it a day.' But saying that, the rewards are great. It's been
the most brilliant job. To be free and have kids and bring them up
and say yes or no to work when I want, that's tremendous and I've been thoroughly
spoilt in that way.
Lots of models diversify. They launch swimwear lines or perfumes
or their own range of jewellery or whatever. Have you ever thought
I have thought about all those things, but unless my heart and soul were
really into something, then I'm not prepared to do it. It would be
such a cynical move.
You don't want to licence the Le Bon brand?
The brand's definitely worth something, and that's why I wouldn't want
to cheapen anything I have done or any reputation I have gained.
You first became famous in the mid-'80s, and then you married Simon
and you were thrust into what we now think of as the celebrity world.
But it was different then.
It was totally different. We were able to totally sidestep it.
Simon was in a job where he could record albums anywhere in the world, so
we just stepped out of England, basically, and lived out of suitcases.
He was making albums in Paris and New York and nobody could really get to
us. I was working all the time, and we just lived in our little bubble.
And by the time we came back we were old news, which was fantastic.
I'm not quite sure how we'd be able to deal with it now because it's completely
different. It's brutal. I think it must be absolutely atrocious.
When you look at people like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, do you
feel a sense of 'There but for the grace of God'...
Absolutely. If I had been born a generation later, it could be
us and it would be awful - really, really terrible. I can't even imagine
what it must be like. It's quite crippling, that kind of attention.
I feel for them.
You've watched from the inside as this amazing obsession with celebrities
It's changed so much. When I first started modelling no one knew
who I was. Unless you were in the business, you had no idea what my
name was or even which agency I was with or anything. Models didn't
get credits. They were quite unknown. And I liked that anonymity.
So it changed dramatically. I still can't quite understand this obsession
with celebrity. It's the dumbing down of half the world. Why
we're not chasing around after scientists and glorifying writers I just
You were one of the supermodels. For a brief period, models
were international celebrities.
We were just the next step. Movie stars weren't quite as glamorous
as they used to be and, at the time, we were young, beautiful, seemingly
very glamorous. And the whole media industry just needs more fodder
to fill those pages. They'll fill them with anyone or anything.
I'm sure my cat could get on the cover of something. So I don't think
it was our fault, I don't think we encouraged it. To be honest, video
at the shows changed everything. I can remember fashion shows before
videos, and you did it that one time for the buyers and they had to sketch
everything and remember everything. I mean, it's supposed to be a
private, industry thing: tall, skinny girls walking up and down like clothes
hangers. The general public weren't really meant to see those things,
you know? But once camera crews were allowed backstage, we did start
to become personalities. That's when it all started.
Looking back on that era now, was it fun?
It was fun. It was absolutely exhausting. And not something
you can keep doing indefinitely. But we had some great laughs.
There's a perception - especially at the moment - that there's a really
dark flipside to the fashion industry, because of drugs, because of exploitative
people, because of girls having too much too young...
God, you know what, I've never seen any of that. I'm no angel,
but I have to say that it's been such a demanding job, and in an industry
that's based on looking good you can push the boat so far but you can't
push it that far. I was 19, which I think is a fair age. And
listen, there are dark sides to every business. I'm not quite sure
how sinister the dark side to the fashion industry really is. I've
seen maybe a few characters around who were a little seedy, but I was at
the end of the industry that was just working really hard and we were pretty
professional. I think there are other things we should be worried
about. These people are pretty harmless in the big picture.
You have three daughters. Would you like to see them follow
you into modelling?
It's a strange old business. Most children are inspired by what
their parents do. It's the way we learn. It's natural.
But my job is slightly different: modelling chooses you. You don't
choose modelling. They could easily step into the fashion world and
the fashion business, but for my particular little world you either have
the genetic predisposition or you don't. And even if you do, you then
have to have the drive and the desire and the personality to see it through.
It's difficult. With regards to their father being a musician, that's
different and it's something they could work toward, although again you
need the passion and the drive and the ability. But you can't really
work toward being a model.
Okay, then: hypothetically, would you want any of them to become a
I would make them think long and hard. I've had some talks with
my oldest daughter because obviously they get offers all the time.
At the moment, I'm just saying no to everything, but at some point they're
going to have to make the decisions.
And they will grow up into this new world where celebrities are minted
You have to be careful because the day you decide to do something, you
can't then step back into the comfort zone that you've known. Suddenly,
you're in the public domain. And yes, they are already to an extent.
I mean, people know their names, but they don't necessarily have that kind
of attention, so it's going to be a big decision, what they do and how they
want to play it.
Based on your own experience, would you recommend any of them marrying
a pop star?
Ha! I don't think one ever recommends something like that.
What can I say? It's been amazing. It's not something I ever
expected. I had this mad fairytale where I was completely swept off
my feet. So as much as I want to be real with my daughters, things
happen. Things you have no control over. And I wonder how important
rules really are.
It's an old cliché, this, but it's so unusual for a showbiz marriage
like yours to endure as long as it has.
I think it's unusual in everyday life, isn't it? In fact, I think
part of why it's worked is that we understand each other's businesses so
completely. They're so similar. And especially, actually, marrying
into Duran Duran. I mean, if any band was going to understand the
fashion business it was going to be these guys. They really understand
and embrace it. And Simon going off and working and having adulation
and being part-owned by the public to an extent - that was never an issue.
I think if I hadn't been in a similar business it would have been very,
very difficult to deal with. In a way, it's a blessing. And
I think it's really important to understand and to enjoy having time apart
from each other, too. At times it's been very difficult to be apart,
but if you have the right attitude to it, it can really work for you.
From the outside, the life of a touring rock hand seems incredibly
glamorous - the jets, the hotels, the parties.
It seems glamorous, but it's really not. Simon's a complete bookworm.
He just reads and reads and reads. There's not a lot else to do on
tour. When you're jumping around and singing for two hours every night
and having to take a couple of flights each day, believe you me, after six
weeks of that... that's hard.
So what do you do for fun?
You're joking, right? No, I have lots of fun. I spend most
of my day laughing, due slightly to senile dementia probably but, hey, everything's
got its upside. And being married to Simon keeps me constantly amused,
I have to say.
How about exercise?
I do wing chun. It's a martial art, a form of kung fu.
How good are you?
You could beat me up?
Are you settled in London for good? Will you always be here?
God, I hope not. I hate that idea. It's a big world out there.
The thought of living here for the rest of my life frightens me. There's
a lot of the world that I still want to see. We went to Croatia a
while ago, which I thought was fantastic. I want to travel more, definitely.
I think Simon and I would like to do a lot more of that.
Do you have any other ambitions that are still unfulfilled?
None that I'm going to tell you. Ha! Do you think I'm completely
Come on. You can tell me one ambition.
I'm not sure, actually, whether I can. They're very private things,
ambitions. I haven't got anything up my sleeve, let's put it that
way. Maybe I should, but I don't. Although I do see a lot changing
in the next few years. My life changing and the girls' lives changing
- that's the biggest thing really, them growing up. What a thought!
One of them mentioned children the other day, and I was like 'Heurgh!'
I'm not ready to be a grandmother. Not yet.