Siren, Goddess. And mother of four. The divine Miss H.
Idling away the hours waiting for the grand entrance of Jerry Hall in the grooming ante-chamber of an East End photographic studio, sitting watch over half a million quid’s worth of jewels that the stylist has called in, I find myself playing a little game in my head. I had found the first entry of Jerry Hall and Mick Jagger in the Warhol Diaries [p55, 1stedition] previous to arriving, dated Tuesday, June 28, 1977:
‘Then Mick in a lime suit came in with Jerry Hall. I thought things were fishy with Mick and Jerry and then the plot started to thicken. Mick was so out of it that I could tell the waiters were scared he’d pass out. His head was so far back and he was singing to himself. The top part of his body was like jelly and the bottom half was tapping 3,000 taps a minute. He was putting his sunglasses on and off. Mick started going after Vincent, but it was just a ruse, because I found out later from Fred he’s really passionately in love with Jerry…’
I read the passage aloud to Jerry Hall when she arrives – gamine features stalking through the room like a shy gazelle, such a familiar and un-retouched face it is by now almost cartoonish in its beauty – and she immediately identifies the time and place. ‘If Mick was in lime it must’ve been 21.’ It was indeed the New York night-spot. ‘Was it Egon Von Furstenberg’s birthday?’ It was. Her memory for detail is quite impeccable.
Jerry later says that the reason she and Andy Warhol bonded so intensely – she met him first when she was 16 and for the best part of a decade they were best friends – was on account of their being the two lone figures of ‘70s New York night-life, forever perched in the VIP suite at Studio 54, that did not like or ingest narcotics. ‘Of course we were the only ones that weren’t high. He was such a sweet man. Such a lovely family friend. He was funny and just so nice. People make out that he was very odd and strange and I guess he did look a little odd but I loved the normal things about him, which is why that film they did about him made me so upset. You know he loved cleaning?’
Did you share that in common?
‘Oh yes, I can get into cleaning.’
She says that when the edited Warhol Diaries were first published, she scanned the glossary at the back to see the interludes she was in. ‘He was very accurate. I think a lot of people felt that they hadn’t been portrayed quite accurately but I had no complaints. I had heard that he wasn’t very nice about some people. I knew he would be about me. He was so friendly straight away. He asked me to come to New York and told me he’d help out and to call me straight away when I got there. He put me on the cover of Interview magazine. He helped me. I remember him as a warm person.’
Anyway, the game. I started trying to piece together an equivalent couple in culture since their grand entree onto the scene that could match Mick and Jerry, dollar-for-dollar in terms of the scope of the glamour and curiosity they incubated. One that might become similarly iconic beacons of their age. Some names stumbled into mind. Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain? Too wholesale tragic, too many drugs and guns. Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow? Too holistic, not enough drugs and guns (it is with some beautifully accidental irony that when Mick wrote his first song about Jerry he turned The Rolling Stones disco and recorded the evergreen Downtown funk joint Miss You. Warhol did the cover, natch. Reflecting the more portentous mid-‘00s therapy speak, when Martin wrote his for Paltrow, it was the lachrymose Fix You). Alex Turner and Alexa Chung? Too alliterative, too parochial. Kate Moss and Pete Doherty? Too broken. Jay-Z and Beyonce? We’re getting close, but where’s the fashion/art angle?
Yes. In 2011, the relationship of Jerry Hall and Mick Jagger remains an archetype that will likely never be repeated. They split up seven years ago, at which point Jerry thought she would never love again. ‘Oh, yeah! There was seven years of… waiting.’ Everything is good with Mick now. ‘Yeah, everything’s fantastic. Very friendly.’
And everything, moreover, is good with Jerry. Halfway through the interview a knock at the studio door chimes perfectly with some coquettish, almost teenage-bashful talk of her new love, Australian business mogul Warwick Hemsley. Something comes over Jerry when his name is mentioned. ‘He just has so many wonderful, wonderful qualities,’ she says, sounding the approximate age of one of her daughters. ‘It’s a miracle,’ she adds.
God and Cupid, it would seem, both work in mysterious ways.
On the evening of 15th October 2010, Sotheby’s held their annual art sale. Sotheby’s is the auction house on Old Bond Street, Mayfair that houses the best cafe in Central London. A razzy sale there is the most fun you can have in the vicinity outside of the new Louis Vuitton and old Hermés shops. The website artinfo.com led the day after the art sale with the hilarious headline ‘Jerry Hall and Kim Jong Il lead Sotheby’s to a $21.2million Contemporary Sale in London’.
Pop psychology might predict that gifting her portraits to someone else’s archive was part of a closet-clearing exercise. New decade, new love, new you, sort of like changing your haircut after splitting up with someone. If there is an element of this to proceedings it is not one that she would care to dwell on particularly. Jerry was mindfully more practical about the sale. A conversation with her rarely strays from her dedication to the family. ‘I did it because I wanted to provide for my children and the thought of maybe being able to buy them a flat from it.’ Sotheby’s estimated the haul at between £1.3-1.7 million. In the event, the Sotheby’s sale bankrolled £2.3million, including £601,250 for the Freud.
HELMUT NEWTON AND I DID SOME PICTURES FOR PHOTO MAGAZINE. IT WAS ALL LEATHER CLOTHES AND I WAS CRACKING A BULLWHIP AND THEN I SAID TO HIM “IS THIS NOT A BIT PORNO?” AND HE SAID “NO, DARLING, THIS IS ART!”
When Jerry Hall decided to sell some of her art archive, including two iconic original prints of herself, this was the place to bring it. It goes without saying that Hall is one of the most synonymous human beings in the world with the still image. What this woman cannot do in two dimensions, it is probably not worth doing. She says her relationship with the camera is all about instinct.
‘I have an instinct. I know how I look from other people’s point of views. Back in the early days there was real lighting, too. You could actually feel the light and shadow in a way that you just can’t with digital, which takes a lot of the fun out of it for me. They don’t really have light anymore, it’s all touched afterwards. It looks good, of course, but you don’t feel as though you are controlling or reacting as much.’
There isn’t the sensual element?
‘Exactly. Sometimes it was something as small as the way the light felt when it hit your cheekbones. You could feel it. Your eyelashes would tingle from the light. Shadow was a different feeling. I was always very sensitive to the light. I enjoyed it.’
Anyway, these two particular images, Warhol’s heavily treated portrait of the supermodel in her primacy (she had achieved 40 international magazine covers by ’77, including every Vogue worth posing for) and Lucien Freud’s tiny painting Eight Months Gone, in which a nude Hall is depicted heavily pregnant with her fourth child Gabriel in 1997, seem to capture both popular perceptions of the two aspects of public Jerry: glamour and motherhood. She says herself that if she was to pick one picture of her to isolate as a favourite, it would probably be the Warhol, but that her life’s mission is encapsulated by her maternity. ‘I must say the portrait that Andy did was perfect. I loved it. But I did great pictures with Helmut Newton, Norman Parkinson, Bailey, Irving Penn, Avedon. I was so lucky to work with them all. I love the picture Annie Liebovitz took of me breastfeeding Gabriel. It’s hard to isolate one.’
Jerry says that the first time she noticed the power of her looks was growing up in Texas. ‘When I was about 13 my elder sister cut my hair. I had lovely long hair and they cut it to my shoulders and bleached it really blonde. I went to the carnival and everyone was staring at me. All of a sudden something changed. The feeling was something I hadn’t felt before; it was new and different. All the guys that had the rides at the carnival let me go on them for free. That was the first time I noticed.’
Jerry Hall lives in a strong tradition of Deep South women who retain a simultaneous complete abandon and control when it comes to being in front of a camera. You might like to include Dolly Parton and Beth Ditto in the same line-up. She insists that a woman never tires of being told that she is beautiful – ‘No. That is something that is always good news’ – and when asked who the last person was to tell her plucks Warwick’s name once more from the air. ‘Well that would be my boyfriend. Of course. He regularly tells me. He’s lovely.’
If Jerry Hall noticed as an early teen the strong command busting a look could control over a crowd, others were quick on the uptake. She was famously scouted on the French Riviera, backpacking with the proceeds of an insurance claim from a car accident, as a 16-year-old with her twin sister, Terry, by the model booker and fashion agent Claude Haddad. The two swiftly decamped to the French capital, to find themselves the toast of the shadowy hip society in the Parisian fashion and night-club demimonde.
She retains nothing but pleasurable memories of the era. ‘Paris was a lot of fun. People were coming from all over the world and there in the middle of it was this wonderful nightclub, Sept, where everybody met. It was kind of like Studio 54. It was the happening club, very exciting. Fashion was starting to really become global and to take off. Models were being used from all over the world. It was exotic and eclectic.’
The Hall sisters’ room-mate for a spell was Grace Jones, a coupling so embedded now in the luxurious end of counterculture it could moisten the eye of anyone with a passing interest in either fashion or human beings. ‘Well, Grace came along and it was before she was a singer, when she was wanting to be a model. She was quite petite, at least by model standards. She was very beautiful but a bit small for a lot of models. But certain designers just really liked her. Thierry Mugler got it straight away. It was Jean-Paul Goude, of course, the photographer who took all the amazing photographs of her that understood her look straight away. We shared a hotel room, at The Crystal. We went from there to the Montana, the Louisiana and we kept getting moved on from them all. They’d always ask us to leave.’
Pourquoi? ‘We used to have a lot of transvestite friends and they’d come over and we’d put on shows in our room. We’d have two beds on one side of the hotel room for my twin sister and I and on the other side of this curtain would be a single bed that Grace stayed in. We used to have the curtain closed and invite friends over and put on shows for them.’
What was it the trannies liked about the three of you?
‘We were never shy with make-up or the glamour. And we’d put on quite a show, to be honest. My twin sister and I couldn’t really sing very well, but Grace! Oh, she could. So we’d always say to her, “honey, you should be a singer!”’
You basically invented her?
‘Noooooo!’ she coos. ‘Hardly!’
The three room-mates had a stock retinue of LPs by majestically doomed female singers that they doted on. They flicked between Edith Piaf, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald on the record player in the corner of the room. ‘Those were always our favourites.’
And what did a sixteen year old Texan make of the trannies?
‘Antonio Lopez, the fashion illustrator and my boyfriend at the time, introduced me to my first transvestite. He knew everybody. He was a magnet for interesting and different people. He’d draw them and we’d all go out to the club and we’d meet all the interesting people through him.’
How would you explain this on the phone back home to Texas?
‘Well, very early on he introduced me to Helmut Newton and I did the cover of French Vogue so a lot of exciting things were happening, too. My family was really happy to hear about all of those. They loved to hear about me travelling on jobs, going to Africa. It was all so exciting to them. Antonio introduced me to Helmut at the club. I was wearing great clothes that my mom had made me. She copied them from a Fredericks of Hollywood catalogue. I was wearing a feather boa from the Mesquite sewing centre. We’d wear a lot of glitter on our face and stick feathers on our foreheads. You could never spend long enough getting ready then. We’d spend hours.’
i think when you’re really young and you’re excited about a new career and meeting everyone it’s just so much fun. you meet someone in a club, the next day you’re working with them. that’s how it’s supposed to happen isn’t it?
How does it feel when Newton says he wants to photograph you?
‘I was thrilled, of course. Everyone had told me he was a great photographer. So to get to work with him the next day was incredible. We did some pictures for Photo magazine. It was all leather clothes and I was cracking a bullwhip and then I said to him “Is this not a bit porno?” and he said “No, darling, this is art!” I told him I wanted to do Vogue and the fashion magazines and he said “Alright, if that’s what you want to do, we’ll do it for the next job.” A few weeks later we were shooting for the cover of French Vogue. I was very lucky. Once I got that I started getting all these other fashion jobs, working for Yves Saint Laurent, Kenzo, it really took off quite quickly.’ The eyes of the world didn’t take long to notice Hall’s incredible look. Flowering in a tux with a moody pout or stretched over rocks for her once boyfriend Bryan Ferry’s art-rock act Roxy Music’s Siren album, she lent each image a poise and unpredictability. ‘I just knew what to do,’ she says, as if explaining walking with one foot in front of the other. Perhaps modelling was a little like that to the young Jerry.
If there is something understandably wistful, underpinned by a gaping chasm of nostalgia, when Jerry comes to talk about the fledgling stages of her career, it is not a place she would want to revisit now. She tries to get to Paris at least once a year, but is happier shopping and dining than tripping the nightlight fantastique. ‘I do love Paris. But I’m very much a home-girl now. I don’t travel nearly as much as I used to. Oh god! I never want to go to another nightclub again. I much prefer gardening and looking after my chickens.’ She laughs. ‘I think when you’re really young and you’re excited about a new career and meeting everyone it’s just so much fun. It’s gentle networking. You meet someone in a club, the next day you’re working with them. That’s how it’s supposed to happen, isn’t it?’
For 2011, Jerry Hall had one piece of work pencilled. Opening the Harrods sale with her daughter Elizabeth. She doesn’t worry about work and is quite happy pottering around the family house, cooking and tending to the garden. After finishing a lead run as Mrs Robinson in an Australian production of The Graduate, she had her fire ignited for acting once more.
She sees little connection between acting and modelling. ‘Being a model, you have to be the coolest person in the room. Being an actor, you have to be the uncoolest,’ is how she succinctly puts it. ‘It’s about revealing the other side of you. You show your weaknesses and your darknesses. It is very appealing exactly because it’s the opposite. I enjoy it. I like the validation of an audience response, too, which you never get with modelling. It’s giving a whole lot of yourself away.’
She is reticent to think of Mrs Robinson as an icon of our age. ‘I think she’s a bit eternal to be honest. The older woman teaching a younger man the ways? That will go on forever. It’s sexy, it’s funny and there is this dark side to it, too. She’s an alcoholic and says really, really mean things. Its kind of strange but a fun place to be. Shocking. I found her easy to access. She’s frustrated because she wanted to do more. The important thing about this is that she comes from a time before the pill. She got pregnant so she had to get married. Our generation is so different to that. The generation after the 60s? The birth control pill just changed the sense of female freedom so much for us.’
I ask her what the word ‘icon’ means to her. She mulls the thought over for a second before flipping back on the rebound with a nice rejoinder. ‘An icon would for a long, long time mean a religious figure to me. I suppose it changed. Nowadays everyone is supposed to be an icon. There’s so much publicity. Everybody gets called iconic. The celebrity culture, I guess, fulfils that in some way. Celebrity figures are just another way of people learning what to do and what not to do. I suppose nowadays you often look at magazines to see actors and actresses and celebrities and see all the mistakes they make and then hopefully not make them yourself. I guess now you just have the added bonus of handbags being there too. And no-one ever tires of handbags, do they?’
Do you pick up a copy of OK! yourself every now and again?
‘Of course. Oh yeah! I love reading about why Nicole Kidman doesn’t want botox anymore. I actually want to know about that. It’s human nature. If you were in a small town you’d hear this stuff in the beauty salon. You’d have access to the gossip you want to know about other people in the town. Now you need to read about it somewhere. But it’s the same thing.’
Are there any of the young models that you see a bit of yourself in?
‘One of the models that I really liked, and I suppose this is quite a while ago now, was Karen Elson. I thought she was a great model. I quite like this new girl that actually looks a lot like my daughter Georgia. They say that she’s big but she doesn’t look big to me.’
‘That’s her. She looks real pretty.’
What is it about Karen you like so much?
‘You can see her talent in the photographs. There is something very interesting about her and yet still very glamorous. Every picture she made interesting.’
She also married the rock star.
‘Oh, did she?!’
Jack White of The White Stripes.
‘Oh, I didn’t know that.’
Did you always want to marry a rock star?
‘Definitely not!’ she explodes laughing. ‘No!’
What would you say if one of your daughters brought home a footballer now?
‘I don’t think that would ever happen. Do you?’
Hair: Snowden Hill @ Real
Make up: Lucia Pica @ Art Partner using MAC
Fashion Assistance: Carlos Nazario and Victoria Higgs
Special thanks to Tori Edwards @ Tess Management