By Bill Harry
Jean Shrimpton was one of the world’s most famous models of the Sixties.
Born in Buckinghamshire in 1942, she was never really happy as a model, even though she was internationally famous by the age of eighteen, was working with all the top photographers on both sides of the Atlantic and appearing on the covers of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Vanity Fair. Her services were in great demand, yet she never made a fraction of the sums earned by the supermodels of today. She has commented, “Today’s models are more concerned with money. We were not. We never earned very much.”
also pointed out that, in her day, models were expected to arrive on
time with their hair done and make-up in place. “Unlike today,” she
says, “there were no hairdressers and make-up artists in the sessions.”
Shrimpton graduated from the Lucie Clayton Modelling School and fell
in love with photographer David Bailey, a married man. The naïve girl
from the country and the streetwise cockney set up house together in
a scruffy London basement stuffed with animals and birds, including
24 finches and lovebirds and two dogs, Monie and Bertie. They worked
together as a team, travelling throughout Europe and America on top
fashion assignments. Bailey obtained a divorce from his wife Rosemary
in December 1963, but by that time Jean, who was now known as ‘The Shrimp’,
had decided she didn’t want to marry him. She also hated the name ‘The
Shrimp’, saying, “Shrimps are horrible pink things that get their heads
By January 1964 she’d embarked on a three-year affair with film actor Terence Stamp. Although her face was famous throughout the world, her major contribution to the fashion revolution didn’t occur until 1965 when she was hired to present the prizes for the Melbourne Cup in Australia. The fashion company Orlon, who hired her, didn’t brief her on the assignment. They also sent her some inexpensive dress and suit lengths, rather than ready-made outfits. Jean was left to design what she wanted and had them made up. She hired a dressmaker, Colin Rolf, who discovered there was not sufficient fabric for her designs. He then said, “Oh, it doesn’t matter. Make them a bit shorter – no one’s going to notice.”
“And that’s how the mini was born,” says the Shrimp.
The pictures, which the British newspaper had used, had the same results
back home. Suddenly the mini, which had only had a half-hearted start
in Paris, became fashionable. “Mary Quant rode in on the back of it,
immediately making shorter skirts. Many people gave her credit for the
new craze, but the truth was that the mini took off because Orlon had
been stingy with the fabric.”
In 1967, while in New York, she began an affair with photographer Jordan Kalfus, who’d previously lived with Ali McGraw, a model who had begun a new career as a film star. The two lived together for two years, but Jean pined for London. She ended the affair in 1969. She was now 26 years old and had been modelling for eight years. The new man in her life was Heathcote Williams, an anarchic and virtually penniless writer for the Transatlantic Revue. Their relationship proved to be a volatile one. Jean bought a house in Darnley Terrace, Holland Park, in which there was a study for Williams to work in. However, he kept a virtual open house. She was to comment that he invited many of the people he was working with to stay; “but they did not contribute to the household expenses, not even towards the telephone calls they made. I suppose they couldn’t. I was the only one with any money. I did not take too much notice at first, but when the money began to run out and I was forced to look for work, I began to think differently.”
two years in Wales they moved back to London, sold the big house in
Holland Park and bought a smaller property near Ladbroke Grove. Malcolm
became homesick for Cornwall and, because Jean had come to like Cornwall
so much, they decided to go and live there.
To earn more money she phoned her agent to ask for work and was booked for a modelling assignment in the Algarve. She was working with another model, a young Dutch girl called Willie, who was given the best clothes and more shots. Jean realised she had been superseded. The house in Wales was sold and a cottage in Camborne became their new home. Jean was now 33 years old and realised her modelling days were over. A friend suggested she open an antiques shop. One of her customers was a tall, handsome blond man, Michael Cox. When Malcolm had become involved with a group of Buddhists who had decided to move on to Cambridgeshire, he opted to go with them.