When Jane Simmonds starred in our fashion pages recently, so many of you wanted to find out more about her. This is her story…
Jane Simmonds learned the hard way that the modelling world was about youth. As she approached 30 years old, she was already being encouraged to lie about her age. ‘Am I getting too old? That was always my panic,’ she recalls. At castings, her skin would be scrutinised. ‘I was pretending that I was 21. They’d come close, look at me and go, “Wrinkles!” So humiliating.’
The uncompromising attitude of the casting agents meant that fibbing about your age was common, and Jane continued to do so right up to her early 40s, eventually deciding to leave the business. She laughs about it now: ‘No wonder I forget how old I am!’
It may take her a moment to remember her age, but there’s no longer any feeling of embarrassment about sharing it. Born in 1957, Jane is 64, proud of it and enjoying a fantastic second wave of professional success. When she last appeared in YOU in March, readers inundated the magazine with appreciative emails.
‘May I congratulate you on your use of your beautiful model,’ wrote one reader. ‘It made such a change to use somebody of a more refined age – it made my day.’ Another put: ‘What a stunning and elegant model – well done for using her.’ But it was perhaps Good Morning Britain’s Susanna Reid who put it best, in a text to the editor: ‘I want to know more about this model! I want to be her when I grow up.’
Speaking to Jane over Zoom from her home in West London, I feel exactly the same way. She is startlingly gorgeous, with glowing skin and long waves of silver-blonde hair. It’s hard to imagine anyone noticing her wrinkles, let alone considering them a problem. Then again, the modelling landscape has changed dramatically in recent years.
Jane’s agent Rebecca Valentine launched Grey Model Agency in 2015 to represent a kind of beauty she wasn’t seeing elsewhere. ‘The only grey-haired women visible in the media were homely or eccentric grannies, and Helen Mirren,’ says Rebecca. ‘I knew that advertising needed extraordinary looks, and lifestyles that were recognised as positively representative of our diversity.’ This meant breaking older women out of their early modelling retirements.
Since then, little by little, we’ve started to see beautiful older faces in magazine shoots and ad campaigns for the likes of Gucci; they’re not as well represented as their 20-something daughters and granddaughters, but things are moving in the right direction. ‘Age is no longer a minority group within the industry,’ says Rebecca. ‘Age is no longer frumpy, apologetic and a bit beige and grey – and neither is it a fad. Jane is the perfect example.’
Back in her 40s and 50s, though, when she was a single mother raising her daughter (now 30), Jane found that there was no work for women like her. She left modelling, took office jobs and assumed that part of her life was behind her. Then, about six years ago, the time felt right to try again. ‘I thought, well why not give it a go?’ she says. ‘And it’s been great. I love it – this whole awareness that we still exist is wonderful.’
She’s come back to the job with more confidence, which she credits to her age and life experience. She smiles charmingly as she explains, ‘This sounds awful, but I don’t care, in a way. You like me or you don’t like me–use me or don’t use me. As a model, every day is a job interview, so a lifetime of that builds up quite a tough skin.’
Though Jane was born in Oxfordshire, in Henley-on-Thames, she grew up in New Zealand: ‘We’re talking about the 1950s and early 1960s, so we went back and forth by ship – it took three months then, through the Suez and Panama canals.’
Her first job was very wholesome: a milk advert when she was just 16. A few years later, she was enjoying life as a surf-mad tomboy when someone suggested she enter the 1978 Miss New Zealand contest. She won, and from there, went to Mexico City to compete in Miss Universe – which put her off beauty pageants. ‘We were made to dance with oil barons, old men – horrid,’ she says. ‘But I enjoyed the experience, because Mexico City was so huge and we went around on floats, with flowers thrown at us and bands playing for miles. It was like being a Spice Girl.’
From there she was headhunted by a major Australian agency, and spent a decade in Sydney, followed by two happy years in Japan. Her blonde waves meant she was particularly in demand for hair shows. She would sit in front of an audience and have it sculpted into blossom-adorned creations – with plenty of backcombing. ‘They loved my hair,’ she says. ‘They ruined it, but they loved it!’
It recovered from this overstyling, and is still her crowning glory. ‘ I stopped colouring it about four years ago. I was blonde, but the shock of white started coming through at the front.’ She recently visited a salon for balayage – the stylist hand-painted gold and silver tones through her hair – but she’s usually more of a DIY fan when it comes to beauty. ‘I’ve always made up my own oils and creams – coconut oil, olive oil or essential oils.’
What I’m dying to know is whether she’s experimented with any more significant skincare interventions, such as lasers, Botox or chemical peels, but she shakes her head. ‘I’ve stayed away from it – only because I can’t afford it,’ she says. ‘I think that if I could have afforded it, maybe during my 50s I might have been tempted – because you can see yourself changing through that decade. I’m so pleased that I was poor and I didn’t do it.’
Instead she’s taken a more natural approach, and it’s no surprise when she confirms that she’s a lifelong devotee to yoga – I’m impressed when she reveals that she’s sitting in lotus position while we talk.
‘I was a yoga teacher back when it wasn’t fashionable,’ she jokes. ‘I got my certificate in 1984, and we had to spend a year on this course, 6am every day.’ She likes to meditate in a headstand, and she’s sure that the rush of blood to the head has done wonders for her skin.
In recent years, Jane has walked the catwalk for Julien Macdonald, and worked with advertising clients including Mac, GHD and Marks & Spencer. In the supermarket with her grandson recently, she was approached by a woman who said, ‘I recognise you two!’ – she’d seen a picture from a photo shoot he and Jane had done together, displayed floor-to-ceiling in a London branch of M&S.
Jane is proud of her work, but quick to make the point that she lives a completely normal life. ‘I think people sometimes think that I must be rich – but I’m not married, I’ve done it all by myself and I’ve raised a child. My daughter still lives with me, along with my grandson now, who’s two.’
What modelling has given her, she explains, is variety and opportunity; she’s just returned from several days of shooting along the coast of Cornwall. ‘I’m thrilled that it’s still happening, and I’m thrilled for anybody coming up behind me to know that you can work all your life like this if you want to.’
So these days, how does she feel about her age – once the great secret? ‘Fantastic,’ she says. ‘I look back on my younger self, and I’m impressed by the leaps of faith I took. I’m grateful that I got here, and I’m looking very much forward to what’s next. Life eases up on you as you get older; you don’t worry about so many things.’
Fashion Director: Shelly Vella. Interview: Hattie Crisell. Photographs: Mark Cant. Fashion assistant: Joanne Toolan. Make-up: Lisa Valencia using Sisley. Hair: Sven Bayerbach at Carol Hayes Management using Kiehl’s Since 1851. Model: Jane Simmonds at Grey. Production and casting: Lucy Coghlan.