‘I couldn’t be compared to Pattie or my brother-in-law. I had found my passion, my own self-expression.’
By Jenny Boyd
Published by Sandstone Press
Sally and Marion came into the office one day with exciting news. An American called Paul Young had seen their clothes and wanted a collection made to launch Youthquake, his company in the States. As well as Foale and Tuffin and Mary Quant, he had asked a few other up-and-coming designers who were also transforming British fashion in the 60s, including Mick’s sister, Sally Jesse, designer of soft leather handbags with clear Perspex handles, and a new shoe designer called Moya Bowler, who’s black snakeskin ankle boots I now owned after paying a week’s wages. This event was to be called ‘The British Fashion Invasion’. Pattie and I were chosen to wear Foale and Tuffin designs, and two other women were chosen to model the Mary Quant collection. The first step towards this venture was for the four models to go out to New York and begin the publicity campaign.
This was to be the first time of doing a catwalk in front of so many people, and the first time of doing photographic modeling with Pattie, neither of which fazed me. I was excited to be chosen as part of the team, but mostly I went along with whatever was asked of me, believing it to be part of my job.
An Englishman called Terry met us at the airport in New York, full of smiles and enthusiasm. The noise, the heat, and the humidity hit me as he herded us towards a waiting limo. While sinking into the soft black leather seats, feeling the cool bursts of air-conditioning and listening to the latest Motown songs on the car radio I had my first glimpse of New York and my memorable journey to Manhattan.
Photographs for American Vogue were taken of us that evening as we danced hour after hour under the bright lights at one of Manhattan’s new celebrity nightclubs called Arthur. Sybil Burton, ex-wife of actor Richard Burton and founder of the nightclub, had named it Arthur in honour of a George Harrison quip in The Beatles film, A Hard Day’s Night. When asked the name of his hairstyle he had replied, ‘Arthur’. We danced the night away in our wide satin black and white zigzag print trousers, mini skirts and dresses, everything we wore designed to be youthful and fun, I’m sure we were seen by many people in the audience as outrageous and daring.
Apart from being seen at Arthur’s most evenings wearing our trendy clothes and being photographed by the press, there was not quite the same enthusiasm in more conventional places such as the Algonquin Hotel where we were staying. It was my first morning in Manhattan and after my wake-up call from Terry I was told we were to meet downstairs for breakfast, before going off to the Youthquake office on Broadway. I stood with him and Pattie as well as the two sophisticated Mary Quant models while we waited for a table, but as soon as the maître di saw me in my red trouser suit he looked at Terry and then pointed at me.
‘She can’t come in here wearing trousers,’ he said. ‘It’s not allowed.’
I felt myself go scarlet. I was incensed and horribly embarrassed as Terry tried to sooth my fragile ego in front of the others, telling me to go upstairs and put on a dress. This was 1965 and I was seventeen, but it was indicative of how conservative people still were at that time. The Algonquin was one of the oldest New York City hotels and it had been home to a gathering of literary writers and artists in the 20s known as the Algonquin Round Table. For ten years writers, critics, and actors would meet there for lunch every day, establishing a reputation across America for being very creative and witty. And yet, the very place that housed them was now throwing me out for wearing trousers.
The Youthquake office was right in the heart of the garment industry, 1400 Broadway. One by one, we met Paul Young and his partners in their office. It was still very much a man’s world in the fashion business, and I had been used to working mostly for women since leaving school. I stood in front of these three, large, middle-aged men, as they sat behind a desk talking and laughing amongst themselves while every so often glancing my way and looking me up and down. I felt uneasy. It disturbed me to see them acting as if they were a bunch of overgrown kids in starched white shirts and ties, playing at being businessmen. I suddenly felt trivialized by them, made to look small and insignificant, and I could feel myself getting tearful as I closed their door after the meeting, a mixture of disgust and exhaustion. ‘Don’t take it to heart,’ Pattie told me later. ‘Treat it as a game.’
Finally, after our week of publicity and fittings, Sally and Marion arrived for the big day. It was to be their first fashion show to this large an audience and in America. As I walked along the four-foot-high platform in front of a hall full of people, including the press, fashion editors, and merchandisers I realized that a layer of shimmering, white, silk cloth had been draped over the catwalk since our rehearsal. Keeping my balance in heels was a feat in itself, let alone without my glasses. I couldn’t make out where the platform ended and where the drop to the white carpet began. Even so, with the help of the loud thumping music I pulled it off but vowed never again to do a traditional catwalk.
I was in the company of models who had completed numerous catwalks and knew exactly how to do the exaggerated walk; twisting and gliding along the platform, feet moving on an invisible straight line, hands on hips, and all the time smiling confidently. But for someone who was inherently shy, walking along a slippery platform with the disadvantage of being near-sighted, in front of hundreds of people was a nerve-wracking experience. I was younger, inexperienced, and had jumped in at the deep end. It was my baptism of fire.
From then on, whenever I went to catwalk auditions, much to the annoyance of other models who had spent a small fortune on training to walk professionally, I just danced. I would get the job. This became my identity. I couldn’t be compared to Pattie or my brother-in-law. I had found my passion, my own self-expression.
Jennifer Juniper by Jenny Boyd is published by Sandstone Press, priced £12.99
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