Jan de Villeneuve started out as a model in the 60s and, up until now, there is still no expiration date for her career. Today we talk to her about herself, her best modeling memories, and key aspects when it comes to working with photographers.
There has been a popular belief that a model retires by the age of 30. Not only this is not always the case, but it is also far from the truth, especially for Jan de Villeneuve – a veteran model who continues to thrive and do what she loves, even after more than 50 years in the fashion industry.
Throughout her modeling journey, Jan has worked with a wide range of global brands, from high fashion to luxury. She has also been photographed for many established magazines (Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, etc.) and by big names in the photography world, such as Mario Testino and Steven Meisel to name a few.
Today she shares with us the story of her career journey and pieces of advice she’s learned over the past years.
Please tell us about yourself. Who is Jan?
My name is Jan de Villeneuve. I grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, but from the age of 3 to 5, I lived in Washington D.C. while my father was a law clerk in the Supreme Court. I graduated with a degree from the School of Architecture & Design, as well as a teaching certificate, at the University of Michigan – a school I loved!
I married Justin de Villeneuve in ‘75, the year my daughter Daisy was born. My other daughter Poppy came in ‘79. We divorced but remain great friends. My partner for the last 30 years is Andy Newmark, a well-respected rock’n’roll drummer. We live in an old barn with 4 cats and a Goldendoodle. I have a fantastic granddaughter called Edie who is a ‘2-year-old teenager!’
As a model, I have worked with Models 1 in London and Martine’s Women Agency in Paris.
How did you start modeling? For how long have you been doing it?
I was waiting for an interview for an excellent commercial interior design job after I finished university. At the time, a friend of my mother suggested I did some modeling over the summer with an agency in Detroit, Michigan. I took some snapshots in, and they thought I was suitable, so I started to work the next day.
When I was 22 in 1966, I got sent on to NY and signed with Ford Models. Then, in ’68, I was sent to Europe and liked it better, so I stayed there. I worked until I had my daughter Daisy, at 31, and I started modeling again in 1988 when I was 44. I also did a play in the West End in my 50th year, and have done more modeling since then.
What is your process to prepare for a photoshoot? Do you usually research the photographers or try to get to know them before the shoot?
These days I might have a look at their website or Instagram account if they have one. But I just try to pay attention and communicate as best I can when we meet.
From your experience working with many professional photographers, what are the things that some of them did that helped you as a model to do your job better?
If they explain what they want, I listen carefully to try to accommodate their wishes and bring what I can into play. In my opinion, there are many different types of photographers which makes it interesting. They all work in unique ways, so I try to stay attuned to individual idiosyncrasies.
Photographer Peter Hurley told the world about the squinch, a technique that makes everyone look good in front of the camera. What is your bullet-proof technique?
No special technique. I try to be to be as present as I can in the situation. Be myself and be mindful of the lights or direction I’m supposed to be facing or looking. Hopefully, both you and the photographer are trying to get a good photo, so working well together is best for all concerned.
What makes you accept or reject a work proposal?
I would accept most jobs if my agent feels they are okay. I have turned down jobs when I have been told the photographer can be unrespectful, especially if it involves traveling or if I have previously had that experience with the person. Sadly that does happen, but mostly when I was younger.
Why does fashion matter?
It’s fun to think about styles, color, and the artistic elements of fashion. They help restore our feelings of inner tranquility. They can define a person’s feeling of himself, send a message, and visually communicate. I always feel that fashion in the U.K. often says a lot about individual personalities, which I love.
If there was a suggestion you could give to fashion photographers out there when it comes to working with models, what would it be?
Be friendly, direct, and explain clearly what you want.
What are your best modeling memories so far?
So, so many! My first trip abroad, in January 1968, to Greece for American Vogue. It lasted two weeks and it snowed! Also, a trip to Jamaica for British Vogue with Norman Parkinson and Grace Coddington in 1968. A four-week trip for British Vogue to New York, San Fransisco, and Hawaii with David Bailey. Working with Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin in France. Barry Lategan for Italian Vogue in the 70s. Shooting for British Vogue across the USA with Parks for 3 weeks in the ‘70s. A dog food campaign with Mario Testino. Shooting with Steven Meisel for Italian Vogue three years ago when I was 71. And three recent covers of Harper’s Bazaar, two for the UK, and one for the Netherlands.
Lately, it has also been great to work with so many brilliant young photographers. I have two wonderful campaigns coming out at Christmas!
What is your most favorite emoji right now?
A special thanks to Jan and Jess from Models 1 for the interview. If you want to know more about fashion photography, read our interview with model Hannah Cassidy or with the seasoned NYC based photographer, Nima Chaichi.
You can also find talented fashion photographers in our Cherrydeck Search Section, here. 🍒