In this month’s big interview, Islanders talks to Supermodel, muse and designer Willy Van Rooy about her model life in the seventies and eighties including her magical time in Ibiza; travels around the world and her inspirations.
Nothing is worth doing if you don’t follow your heart – Willy Van Rooy
Profound, funny, smart and kind, Willy Van Rooy is an inspiration to women. A fashion and style icon in the true meaning of the word, Willy’s time in Ibiza has been documented and immortalised in photographs. Here in the Islanders office, we often romanticise over them. A photo tells a thousand words and the images of Willy and her family in Ibiza, whisper tales of an idyllic time on the Island. Not only are they of a strikingly beautiful woman and her equally beautiful family but a glimpse into the real lives of a very special tribe of people. Artists such as Joni Mitchel and Taj Mahal appear amongst others. These were the real soul rebels that ran wild and free, courageously living lives that didn’t always adhere to mainstream society.
Following her heart is the path that Willy would always take. From her humble beginnings in Holland (Willy was raised in an orphanage) she went on to study at the Academy of Fine Arts Fashion. Destined for greater things, she was discovered by a model agent on the streets. It was her work however, with the acclaimed photographer Helmut Newton that propelled her firmly onto an International stage. Incidentally it was at a Helmet Newton shoot that she met her husband, the artist Salvador. The chemistry was instant and the two began a love story that transcended continents and saw them travelling around the world before finally settling in LA.
Forever the free and determined spirit, Willy went on to design accessories for YSL and Karl Lagerfeld, launched a shoe collection, much coveted by clients such as Cher and Madonna as well as design bespoke jewellery.
For us at Islanders, what started as a fascination with this statuesque stylish woman, the personification of all things Bohemian and Ibiza developed into something deeper. Willy Van Rooy is a fearless woman who has dared to challenge the conventions of society, raise a family and live without limits. You are all heart Willy, and we thank you for sharing it with us.
Before you began modelling, what were your dreams?
To be a ballerina like Anna Pavlova or be on stage as I had seen a school play when i was very little but in a real theatre and that was magic, you know I had never seen anything because I was born during the war and even after the country was very poor. When I grew up I got fascinated by traveling the world like Marco Polo and remembering sitting in the class dreaming and a plane would fly over in the blue sky, so free….
How were you discovered and how did that change your life?
Always in the street where ever I was, First after I finished the academy of Fine Arts in Rotterdam and I was 21, I went around the world, over land from Holland to Japan, the was 1962 and in Tokyo i was approached by a young man who had a model agency and I did some TV series for kids and plenty of pictures and some small movie work. In Barcelona I was approached by a woman who had a model agency … why not i thought and did a lot of work there and so I started modelling. You can read all about it in my blog about how I went to London wan Holland seemed so small.
Modelling in 2016 is seen as a very desirable career for young women, with some models being “discovered” on social media, such as Instagram.
How was modelling seen in the 60s and 70s?
Well it was actually quiet different. You had to know how to do makeup, hair and styling and create a personality. Now all the girls want to be a model or an actress or stylist or makeup artists or a designer. In the time we were not that many and nobody made a fuzz about it. Yes now with Instagram and other medias maybe you can be discovered one day but to be a good model is still different than being a model and that they started really to recognise in the 80ties.
Can you tell us in your own words, what the modeling scene was like when you were modeling? We believe you to be an amazing woman who broke with conventions and followed her heart. What were some of your most memorable times?
Yes, nothing is worth doing if you don´t follow your heart. I am not saying that that is always the best way in the commercial sense but it makes you feel good to be yourself and have the chance to show something of that through whatever way thats best for you. My most memorial good times modeling was in the late 60ties and early 70ties when I worked a lot with Helmut Newton and other fabulous photographers and they made me feel really beautiful.
Would you have any wisdom you would like to share with any young women wanting to model now?
Not really, I would say go for it, follow your heart and if it happens, Great, if it does not go on with your life. There are so many wonderful things to do.
You worked with Helmut Newton amongst others, what was that like? How was it that your beautiful son, also appeared in some photos? We love the idea of incorporating the family into what we do.
Like I said it was great to work with Helmut, he knew exactly what he wanted and I understood. He would never shoot rolls and rolls like some others do
and he was funny and you knew before hand the pictures were going to be good. The fact that my son is sometimes in the pictures is because they met and Alejandro was very cute and a good model ha ha.
We love Ibiza as it allows us to move more freely and be the women and people we want to be. It is a very special Island, magical, mystical, and powerful.
Can you tell us a bit about why you decided to move to Ibiza and what life was like?
Yes Ibiza is a great place that´s why it was and is so popular. Already in the 30ties artist went there and when I went for the first time in the 60ties it was growing but still so unharmed by hotels and so on. When we lived there in 71 I think it was tops, not too many people not too many cars, friendly population and beautiful country side full of herbs and beautiful trees. very nice people, one would get to know everybody and meet up at a point of the day on the Montesol terrace. There was a great health store and wonderful little restaurants. We actually got there because a friend of ours was setting up the first vegetarian restaurant there called the ¨Double duck¨. All Spain was cheap to live but Ibiza was incredible, you could rent a farm house with land around for a few dollars. Mind you we did not have electricity or running water but there was a well and one could get butane gas and cook on that.
Do you think the island inspired you?
Of course, everything inspires me one way or an other, it was a feel good time.
We love your nomadic seeking spirt. It feels like you have a real thirst for travelling. Can you tell us about some of the places you travelled to?
Like I said I went over land from Holland to Japan so you pass after Czechoslovakia toGreece and Turkey into Persia ( Iran) and Afghanistan, east pakistan, India and to the top to Nepal, mind you this was 1962 and Nepal was nothing like it is now, there were no restaurants, a Tibetan woman made pancakes, no foreigners ( except for a handful young world travelers like us) no Hotels, you could rent a bed in a big room with 10 0r 12 beds and that was it, but the beautiful temples and the most incredible music I heard there is unforgettable. Stayed quiet a while in india and visited Goa which were endless white beaches with no one on it. Later in the 70ties went back to India but many things had changed and Goa looked like Woodstock.
You moved to LA in the 80s (I believe but please correct me if im wrong!).
Yes, I´m correcting you, ha ha that was the 90ties, in the 80ties I had my shoe factory in Spain and lived there for 10 years in different places but it is all in my blog, just have to scroll back a lot. In LA I designed clothes for Paula Abdul who was a number 1 star there.
What is the secret/secrets to living out your dreams/creativity and living such a full happy life?
There is no secret, just do it and always be kind, giving kindness gives back kindness. Try every day to make it a good day and that is a full time job.
Love and Peace
Words by Leena Bhatti