Sweet Jane

Christina Iskandar meets Jane Hitchcock, Bali-based American fashion model and the fabulous face of campaigns then and now. Photo Faz Kashani.

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JANE your remarkable career began at the tender age of 14 when you were chosen as one of two girls for a scholarship to train at the school of Balanchine, New York City Ballet. Do tell us how you were then introduced to modeling?
Several times photographers stopped me in the street and said I should be a model. A male dancer at my school told me I needed to go to a studio to have pictures taken and he suggested one and took me there. At the reception the lady asked me if I had an agency . . . I said no so she called Wilhelmina Agency who had just started and only had four models on their books. She was very excited and I was working full time after only two weeks of being signed. She had a press agency and used me to promote the agency . . . so I got a lot of publicity worldwide and could work anywhere in the world at age 14. I became very famous very quickly in the business. I was doing big advertising, high fashion like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Elle as well as teen campaigns.Wilhelmina, who was a supermodel of that time, gracing something like 50 covers, trained me on how to be a professional model. I was at the top but she wouldn’t let me have the top rate because I was only at the beginning of my career and I had to earn my dues. After three years I moved to Eileen Ford who is a real hero in the business and also cared for me very much, she was a mother hen to all the girls.
Did you always want to be a model?
Well it’s the dream of many girls, myself included, but being from Alabama I never thought it was possible. I was focusing on ballet and it was my luck that I was propelled out of the norm into a life of dreams coming true.
How different is modeling today to back when you were at your peak?
Today they don’t take as much time getting the shot just right. The world has been in financial crisis since the oil shortage happened in the ‘70s and advertisers haven’t had as much money to spend, so now they want every thing as quickly and as cheap as possible. Before there were huge budgets and if the photographer wasn’t satisfied with the shots, we sometimes had as many as three re-shoots . . . it was really about going for perfection and achievement of the concept they had in mind for a campaign and since there was no Photoshop or digital cameras . . . it was much more involved technically and took much more time. Just setting up the shot often took an hour or two getting the light right. We usually had two hours in the dressing room and needed every minute of it.
You were interviewed by the legendary Calvin Klein . . . tell us what sticks out in memory for you and that interview?
I’ve worked with Calvin throughout my career and at 40 he decided the top models who were now older represented his clientele and was excited to use them. We were all in shock to find out somebody wanted to use us at 40 or even 50 at that time. So he and Steven Meisel put us back on the pedestal and gave us careers when we thought it was all over for us. Nowadays there are models having fabulous careers into their 90s, so that means I have 30 more years of fun . . . I do love playing dress-up.
You have been Bali-based for how long now?
I’ve been here 13 years.
What campaigns have you worked on in Bali?
With great thanks to you, Christina, launching my career again here with all your enthusiasm to encourage Nico Perez to do a shoot using a woman over 50, was an outstanding campaign for me with a huge billboard on Jalan Oberoi and beautiful ads in The Yak magazine. I’ve gone on to work with Federico Gioli, Niluh Djelantik, Grazia and Paul Ropp, to name a few.
You are now 60 years of age, something that I find very hard to believe . . . what is your daily diet, and the question every woman wants to know, what’s your secret?
I try to eat healthy, not too much fried food, sweets, pasta, rice or bread but allow myself to sometimes as I don’t think its good to completely deprive yourself of things you like. I just try to be moderate in those things and of course try to eat fresh healthy things as much as possible. Exercise is always a struggle to keep up regularly for me but what I try to do is use life to exercise, like walking up steps even the same ones several times.
If you could give advice to a younger you about modeling, what would you say?
I would say you have to really love modeling and love photography. You need an outgoing type of personality to excel and also be professional. Make sure you arrive on time, bring what they ask, do what your agency advises you, and love the adventure.