By Neil Cunningham
I must have been watching re-runs of Auntie Mame when we started planning this shoot in 1998. The larger than life aunt who takes charge of her orphaned nephew exposing him to adventure and glamour has remained an inspiring tale since Patrick Dennis published his autobiography Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade in 1955. Thanks to the 1958 film version with Rosalind Russell, exquisite couture outfits are for me inextricably linked with the story of this woman described as beloved, madcap, and devastatingly sophisticated.
Vintage female allure had been at the forefront of my mind since the legendary actress Julie Christie had recently walked into my shop – to our shock and delight – and asked me to make her a dress. After working with the 57-year-old charismatic beauty I knew I wanted to find an equally dazzling mature model to be the classic naughty aunt for our photo story. I asked one of the leading model agencies if they had any ageing divas on their books. “Not really,” came the answer, even though as it happens, they were supposed to be representing the much celebrated model Jibby Beane at the time.
Luckily I was alerted to Jibby’s modelling in a fashion spread for ELLE and remembered her from the days when she was managing Vivienne Westwood’s Conduit Street shop. I’d taken my sister there to buy her a classic Westwood corset as a coming of age gift. Even though Jibby was a mum in her mid-fifties at the time we had still found her quite intimidating as she served us in a pale pink suede mini-skirt towering above us in those iconic Vivienne six-inch platform shoes.
The best way to sum up Jibby Beane? She is the perfect blend of both Edina and Patsy from Ab Fab. She famously bumped into Westwood in a ladies room when she was 53 and gave up her suburban Surrey life to work for the fashion designer. This included modelling Viv’s clothes on the Paris catwalks with the likes of Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss. Later she would go on to become known as the Art Scene Queen of London opening her own intimate gallery at home to promote emerging young artists. She also took for herself a 27 year-old artist boyfriend. Young at heart, outrageous, optimistic and nurturing; Jibby Beane was a modern day Auntie Mame.
We immediately hit it off and Jibby was indeed perfect at channelling the mischievous aunt every niece or nephew wishes they had. The cherub-faced William (now a successful chef) was our interpretation of the nephew Patrick and we asked Olivia Inge – in one of her first fashion shoots – to be the younger female presence in our fashion story. Should Olivia perhaps be his sister I wondered; maybe the siblings could be vying for the attention of their generous aunt. Watching the young pair flirt and cavort however I wondered if assigning sibling status was appropriate. Perhaps Olivia should be his girlfriend keen to get him away from the clutches of his adoring aunt. Jibby also looked a little too close for comfort in her affection for the 16 year-old Will. Concerned to get the tone right I asked Jibby for her view on how the three should interact: “Oh don’t worry about it dah-ling” she said as she threw herself on to her king size bed, “Let’s just call it a ménage à trois!”
“The best way to sum up Jibby Beane: she is the perfect blend of both Edina and Patsy from Ab Fab…”