When it comes to modeling, Twiggy is a legend: Discovered at 16, the London native (born Leslie Hornby) graced the cover of nearly every major fashion magazine while still a teen, and came to epitomize the androgynous mod look of the 1960s. Now 56, she’s back in fashion, replacing Janice Dickinson as a judge on UPN’s reality hit America’s Next Top Model.
Since her modeling heyday, Twiggy – who wed director Leigh Lawson in 1988 and has two children, Jason, 29, and Carly, 26 – has acted in films, on TV and onstage; recorded several pop-music albums; written an autobiography, Twiggy in Black and White; hosted three British TV series; and campaigned for animal welfare and breast-cancer research. She talked to PEOPLE.com about today’s fashion industry and how her judging style compares to Janice Dickinson’s.
After years of being a top model in your own right, what’s it like to be back in the swing of things on ANTM?
It’s lovely, because hopefully one of these girls will have the life-changing experience I had in the ’60s. (And) It was fun to come out to California (where the show was filmed).
What was it like working with Tyra Banks?
Tyra’s wonderful. She’s very professional and absolutely gorgeous. I mean, physically she’s breathtaking. (And) she’s a businesswoman. I really take my hat off to her. I think what she’s done is extraordinary. (Fellow judge) J. Alexander, I loved. He’s hysterical. We were like a double act. I think we should start a band, actually (laughs).
How would you describe your judging style?
I hope to be fair. I tend to say what I think and I’m pretty down to earth and very grounded. I was constructive. I give the models advice, but I would not be cruel.
Speaking of ‘cruel,’ how well did you know Janice Dickinson?
I’d been told about her, but I hadn’t seen the show. But, you know, that’s her style. That’s not my style. I don’t think that’s fair to young people who are facing it. It’s nerve-wracking enough to have them come up in front of the camera and in front of us lot without being cruel to them.
How has the industry changed since you were a model?
It’s very hard for me to know. What happened to me was like a fairytale: In England, I was the first kind of working-class model. Before me, most models were from middle-, upper-class families and they became models for a while until they got married and settled down. What happened to me happened in that mid-’60s revolution, which was all about youth – you had the Beatles, you had me, you had the (Rolling) Stones. We were all working-class rebels, I suppose.
You changed the shape of modeling, literally. Do you feel as though you helped create today’s era of ultra-thin models?
If you look back over the years, most models tend to be on the slim side: That’s what the designers want, that’s what the magazines want, that’s what they want on the catwalk. I was one of the first smaller models, ’cause most models, they’re giants. They’re 5 ft. 11 in., 6 ft. – and I’m 5 ft. 6-1/2 in., which actually is what Kate Moss is. I think there’s room for everyone – the great thing about Top Model is all the girls are very different: short girls, tall girls, round girls, thin girls, blonde girls, black girls, whatever – they’re all there.