Jill Dodd’s first memoir, “The Currency of Love,” seems all but destined for on-screen adaptation. The former model and swimwear designer takes readers through her tumultuous modeling career in Southern California and Paris during the Seventies, when she was signed by Wilhelmina Cooper’s agency, and into her relationship with former Saudi billionaire businessman Adnan Khashoggi, who is known both for his work as an arms dealer and his lavish spending. (In 1988, his superyacht “Nabila” — featured in 1983 Bond film “Never Say Never Again” — was sold to Donald Trump for around $29 million.) Dodd eventually went on to leave her relationship with Khashoggi behind and pursue a career as a designer for swim- and surf-centric brands such as Roxy, which she helped establish.
“The Currency of Love” will be published by Simon & Schuster’s Atria/Enliven Books imprint in early June.
WWD: What inspired you to share your story, and in the format of a written memoir?
Jill Dodd: I’ve known for over 20 years that I wanted to tell the story and have several reasons for sharing it. There is not enough support or encouragement for young people to follow their artistic natures and I want to encourage other creatives in pursuing their passion. Life can really hurt sometimes — disappointments and setbacks are so discouraging, so I hope to demonstrate a life of never giving up on your dreams. Because of my artistic nature I tried to create an entertaining fun distraction from reality, take the reader on a journey, and at the same time encourage them to live life to the fullest, travel, and always say yes to adventure. I wrote in memoir form because of my own love of hearing people’s real stories.
WWD: What was your process for writing the book? Did you rely most on journals or written entries, photos, or consulting any of the people you wrote about?
J.D.: I re-read my journals, looked at thousands of photos, and talked with people who were there with me when the stories took place. I asked friends to read the book before publication to fact-check and make sure it felt true to their memories. Each time I wrote, my mind remembered more. Little by little I filled in the blanks down to the smallest details of how things looked, felt and even smelled. I woke up in the night to write on a pad by my bed, as more memories came. I began 12 years ago with small notes of scenes, then worked on it full-time for the past seven years. I had no idea it would take me this long.
WWD: Did you have any contact with Adnan [Khashoggi] while writing the book? Did you share any part of the book with him before publication, or have you gotten any feedback from him?
J.D.: I reached out to Adnan every way I could think of. I wrote to his friends and relatives trying to reach him. I really wanted to tell him I was writing about this, but was unable to find or contact him.
WWD: Which parts of the story were most difficult to recall or retell?
J.D.: The childhood abuse and sexual abuse was heart wrenching. I experienced full-blown panic attacks every time I rewrote or edited those parts. My husband could tell what I had worked on when he saw my face at the end of the day. I was a mess, but I forced myself to do it. I had learned through many years of therapy to face my demons head on. It wasn’t until the last year of writing that those parts got a bit easier to work on, but they still bring a sense of fear, panic, anger and deep pain.
WWD: Are you interested in writing another book? What topics or themes would you be interested in exploring next?
J.D.: I have a rough draft of a book on life as a fashion designer. I spent over 20 years as a swimwear and sportswear designer in California with Jag, Roxy and Sunsets, yet those stories are complicated. I was a single mother dealing with difficult ex-husbands and sometimes faced painful problems in the industry. I dealt with extreme sexual harassment, unfair pay, even fraud. I should have had a sub-minor in business-accounting and employment law! However, I loved my job as a designer every single day and have made many life-long friends from the industry. My friends are my greatest gift — that and my artistic nature.
Read an excerpt from the book below:
Earth crunches under the tires as we roll to a stop. “We’re here!” Victor shouts. All five of us pile out in the dark and wander instinctively toward the music and twinkling lights. I see a huge fire in the distance.
“Where are we?” I ask. Pepper body-slams me, singing in drunken French. We’re both a bit wobbly from drinks earlier at the pool and the champagne in the limo. I balance on the balls of my feet so I don’t trip in my heels. I’m charged up and happy about finally being on vacation.
Victor puts his hand around my waist. “Jill, this is the famous old Le Pirate, come on!”
The closer we get, the louder the music becomes. I can’t believe my eyes — I see hordes of long-haired, tattooed, shirtless pirates, banging tambourines and strumming guitars. A twenty-foot bonfire crackles, lighting up the night sky. Overhead, more pirates climb ropes with daggers clinched between their teeth. It looks like a scene out of “Pirates of the Caribbean,” except the movie hasn’t been made yet.
A long table sparkles with candles, crystal and silver. At the head sits a young Egyptian-looking girl with dark, exotic eyes and jet-black hair. Her blue, beaded dress shimmers in the candlelight. Sophisticated men and women animatedly converse. In the past, I might have felt out of place, but after modeling in Paris for a year, I can fit in anywhere. Suddenly, a suited man stands up and hurls his champagne glass into the fire. Another guy throws his on the rocks and shards of glass fly. Adrenaline rushes through me as pandemonium breaks out. Of course, I jump right in. “I love this place!” I scream to Pepper.
“It’s better than the Greek restaurants in Saint-Germain!”
“Hollywood doesn’t have places like this, I bet!” she yells back to me.
A dark-tanned, greasy old pirate hands us each a glass of Champagne. “Salute!” I take a swig, and another pirate pulls out my chair. Victor begins introducing the other guests at the table, which is futile with the thundering music. I shake hands, nod and smile anyway.
Pirates serve plates of baked potatoes topped with sour cream and caviar. I have never tasted caviar before and pucker at the salty tang. I gulp the Champagne and hurl the glass into the fire. A pirate promptly brings me another. As the Spanish guitars, tambourines and drums speed up, I want to dance, not eat, so I jump up and throw my plate in the fire.
In the midst of this frenzy, I turn back around and notice a man watching me, smiling, laughing slightly. Normally, this would be creepy, but it isn’t. I smile back and sit down. He brings his chair next to mine. He kind of reminds me of my friend’s dad, who I danced with at a wedding. I’m grateful that he isn’t some young guy who is going to try to sleep with me. He is shorter than me, broad-chested, and balding, which makes me feel in control of the situation.
I can’t hear a word he says, so he takes my hands and pulls me up to dance. We twirl all around the dusty ground together until he stops and grabs a chair, tossing it into the fire. We watch the blaze envelop the charred skeleton. He smiles at me, and I take it as a challenge and throw one in too. We look at each other, laughing, and slam together again tight, like two magnets, whirling around to the wild gypsy music in front of the flames.
It’s only us dancing. Everyone else is drinking, eating and laughing at the festive table, providing a pretty backdrop for our little world. Musicians circle us again, and he and a pirate grab my hands and feet, scoop me up, and swing me back and forth like a rag doll. I let my head fall back with my hair grazing the dirt, watching the flames from upside down. I am totally surrendered to the spirit of the party, euphoric with freedom.
They lower me to the ground, and I stagger to the table. The older man with the huge smile helps me into my chair, but he remains standing, watching me. Then he sits down slowly, leaning slightly toward my face, his eyes locked on mine. We sit looking at each other and start laughing again. His sparkling eyes are full of life. Then he tenderly pulls my left arm, palm up, onto the table, pushes my sleeve up, and writes I love you, in blood, down my forearm. It takes me a moment to realize its blood. I’m stunned, but I like it. It feels like we’ve made some kind of secret pact.
A pirate sees the blood and whisks him away for a bandage. Pepper’s off socializing somewhere. I sit at the crowded table among the partying, laughing guests, trying to take in what just happened. I’m lost in my own world, dizzy-drunk and surrounded by strangers in this mad place. All I can do is stare at my arm. Time stands still as my heart soars overhead like a bird. I like that he wrote I love you. I don’t wipe it off.
I don’t know who he is, but over the next two years I will know him intimately. He is Adnan Khashoggi, the billionaire, the Saudi Arabian arms dealer.
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