Interview Series: Willy Van Rooy

What in this world is there not to gloat about when mentioning the name Willy Van Rooy? Do you know of her? As a pure dichotomy of the most tenacious, multi-faceted muse of our time, this Holland born, world-traveling bred artist, designer and model to some of the biggest icons in fashion has strutted, inspired and posed with grace on runways and magazine covers while some of us where merely in the womb. London. Paris. NY. YSL. Karl. Newton.

Helmut Newton personal photograph of WVR, 1967

The list of the good kind of name dropping is associated with this babe—and on top of being a top supermodel of the late 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, her shoe and jewelry designs graced plenty in the likes of Madge, Cher, and yes, The Pointer Sisters. Have I fed you enough? No! I recently discovered two things: a story on Shrimpton Couture titled “Valley Of The Dolls—Behind The Picture with Willy Van Rooy,” spilling on how a mannequin was, in fact, her clone and the trials and tribulations regarding credit and payment that ensue and how she’s had a 40-year love affair with artist Salvador Maron of Spain. Dios Mios!

WVR, teens

LF: What did you want to be when you grow up? What do you want to be when you grow up, considering your active inner child?

WVR: My dream was to be a dancer like Anna Pavlova, and now that I am all grown up and have done a lot of things I like, I want to be like a tree, strong and free.

LF: How did you get discovered?

WVR: Walking in the street on different occasions and different places. In Holland, while I was still in school, later in Tokyo, Japan, and then in Barcelona, Spain— in all these cases I was approached on the street.

WVR, Helmut Newton, Vogue UK 1968

LF: What about your design work?

WVR: In London I made a special “book” with all my own designs and made up clothes and even printed the pictures with a friend who also clicked the shutter when I thought it was right. I knew in London I would blow them away, and I did.

LF: Your design career is multifaceted — you design anything from shoes to jewelry to clothing. What was your first love in the design realm, and what drew you to it?

WVR: If it was possible, I would design a car too, or anything really! Although, my first love is fashion! It’s probably because after the war, my country was very poor and in the orphanage I was in, we only got second-hand clothes so I used to remake them for myself and than for the other girls as well. I really learned how to use the sewing machine and if I got paid a little by one of the girls I had made something for, I would buy some material and just cut and sew. For sure, I wanted to look different.

WVR, YSL, Lou Lou, 1974

LF: Every artist has a process. Give me a few details on yours as a model and designer…

WVR: Really? I don’t know anything about that, it just goes, and doing one thing makes a possibility for other things. It just happened, in my case, as a natural process but of course one has to work on it. Maybe others can see this question but I don’t think the artist him or herself may be conscious of that…

Willy Van Rooy, Helmut Newton for NOVA, 1971

LF: You’ve had an artist husband, Salvador Maron for 40 years now. Do inspire me with some tips on love and romance, Mi Amor!

WVR: Well, actually 47 years as we met in 1967. Myhusband’s art is something that has fascinated me always, otherwise I would not be with him. With romance just like with everything else, you have to work it in a natural way and let things fall in place—in other words you have to give a lot of yourself and be yourself. Love is the best thing there is I think, and not only for a person, which is often a thing of ego, but for everything in this life, which is quite amazing.

Flying Furs story, Helmut Newton, 1967

LF: Speechless! You designed (and modeled) for YSL… yeah… that happened…

WVR: Always loved what YSL was doing and I had a good relationship with people who worked there. I always modeled in his shows and when he asked me to be his personal muse and to build his collection on me, I had to decline because I had my own shop going and there was lots of work to do. I could not leave my partner alone to face all that while I was working somewhere else.

WVR & Maron, Hamburg, 1968, photo by Bokelberg

LF: You denied YSL to walk and talk like a boss!

WVR: I don’t say I always made the right decisions but I always go for what I feel at the moment, even if that is sometimes too fast. When I stopped modeling my husband made me show my designs to Annemarie Munoz, the head of design at Yves Saint Laurent and to Lou Lou and they liked my work, so I started to design for them regularly on a freelance basis so I could do what I wanted. Yves liked my drawings and I did quite a lot of things for them. Later, they offered me a job with the design team in-house but I also had to decline because I was moving to Spain where I started my own shoe line for ten years.

WVR, shot by Helmut Newton for Nova, 1973

LF: I think you may have empowered a whole ‘lotta women out there! You are also considered to be Helmut Newton’s muse in your era of modeling. I can only imagine what that must have been like, but want to hear it from you, of course.

WVR: When it is all happening, it is all normal. I mean you don’t think about it. Helmut Newton was not as famous as he is now, he worked endlessly to be that famous but for sure his pictures were always different and exciting, and that’s why I loved to work with him and vice versa. As a matter of fact, I was the one to ask the Editor In Chief at Vogue to introduce me to Helmut when he would come down to London because I liked his pictures very much. To work with him was the easiest thing in the world for me because he was very clear and knew what he wanted. The thing is that I did not take modeling very serious and often disappeared for a year or more to Ibiza or India — otherwise we would have made a lot more pictures together. When I look at the pictures now, especially his fashion pictures, I realize how really fantastic they are. The first time I worked with him he said, “Oh, you are a natural!” And from then on he booked me whenever he could. He was funny and a gentleman. Without him I would not have been where I was as a model.

YSL runway show, date unknown

LF: Blown away. OK, I want to know who your favorite photographer right now is, and while you’re at it, tell me who your favorite model is nowadays and why.

WVR: Craig Mc Dean is one of them. Juergen Teller, Steven Meisel with whom I had the pleasure to work with, Annie Leibovitz and others. I see some amazing pictures but for me a lot depends on the styling. As for the models, I love Kristen McMenamy and one has to admire Linda Evangelista for being there for such a long time at the top and Kate Moss as well… the real super models. Then there are other girls I really like but cannot name all of them, I like people because they are different and inspired.

LF: Creative advice for longevity and re-­creating yourself?

WVR: How am I to give you an advice on longevity, I don’t think you can do that before you are 100 and in good shape! But for sure, being an inspired artist helps. It keeps you going. Being able to see and enjoy beauty and taking the time to do so will certainly help as well.

WVR, Observer, shot by Helmut Newton, 1968

LF: How fast do you live?

WVR: As relaxed as I can, and taking my time to enjoy everything around me.

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