Skinny supermodel -- In 1967, mod gamine Twiggy arrived Stateside as fashion's new waif

By Giselle Benatar
Updated March 19, 1993 at 05:00 AM EST

The was the world’s least likely supermodel, starting with her ridiculously unglamorous nickname. Shy, fragile, and utterly flat-chested, Twiggy, born Lesley Hornby, had only one thing going for her: She was different — the fresh antithesis to the sophisticated elegance that ruled early-’60s fashion. And so it came to pass that on March 20, 1967, when the 17-year-old cockney with the androgynous blond bob, wide, painted eyes, and waifish grin landed at New York’s JFK Airport, she was immediately dubbed the next big fashion phenomenon by an America beguiled by all things British. Asked at a packed airport press conference if her beanpole figure was ”the thing of the future,” the 91-pound, 5-foot-6-inch Twig giggled, ”It’s not really what you’d call a figure, is it?”

She was the Queen of the Mod, straight out of London’s style center, Carnaby Street, and she invaded the U.S. with the youthquake force of such shaggy forerunners as the Beatles. Wannabes starved to replicate her reed-thin body or dared to match the length of her mini-skirts (8 to 10 inches above the knee). Influential Vogue editor Diana Vreeland hailed her as ”the mini-girl in the mini-era.”

Alas, even by modeling standards, Twiggy’s was a mini-reign. She quit the game three years later, at age 20, with little explanation (”Once you get bored with something, it shows,” she said). She was married twice — first to American actor Michael Whitney (their daughter, Carly, is 14), currently to British actor Leigh Lawson — and never completely disappeared from view. But she came close. Although Twiggy, now living in L.A., tap-danced in the 1983 Tony award-winning Broadway musical My One and Only, the rest of her résumé, including films (1971’s The Boy Friend), an album (1976’s Twiggy), and a CBS sitcom (1991’s Princesses), remains thin.

Yet, in a retro-obsessed culture, Twiggy’s image suddenly has fresh appeal. Again. With mod and hippie-chick fashions back in style, a new crop of pubescent models — Kate Moss, Amber Valletta, Emma Balfour, Lucie de la Falaise — are being groomed and hyped as the ”new Twiggys.” According to designer Betsey Johnson, who dressed the Twig for a Life magazine shoot during her first trip to the U.S., ”The obvious way to match the new ’60s-style fashions was to bring back that flat-chested, little-boy, Twiggy body type.” But as photographer Mel Sokolsky noted in 1967, ”People will try to copy Twiggy, bite their fingernails, stand knock-kneed, but they’ll never be right, never be Twiggy.” Long live the queen.

Time Capsule: March 20, 1967
The Beatles’ ”Penny Lane” walked all over the airwaves. Dick and Liz battled it out in The Taming of the Shrew. Bonanza rode high on TV. Robert Crichton’s The Secret of Santa Vittoria whispered its way up the best-seller list.