Sunday, June 27, 2010

Models of the Past: Part 1

The July issue of British Vogue has a story entitled "History of the Supermodel" which looks at the top models and beauty trends of the last twenty years.

I would argue that the supermodel moment was unique and of its time; limited to the late 80s and early 90s when a group of beauties became serious movers and shakers in the fashion industry, moving products and magazines, commanding fortunes, dating rock stars and becoming mainstream celebrities. I know I was pretty obsessed with the supers in my early teens, but many other people who didn't salivate over Vogue every month knew just who Linda, Christy, Naomi and Cindy were too. No surnames needed.

While I know who the top models of today are, my hubbie, for example, would probably only be able to recognise Giselle and maybe Miranda Kerr (she gets an awful lot of press in Australia).

Vogue's story was interesting - a collection of quotes from the top models, photographers and casting agents of the last two decades - but there have been key models shaping the look of an era going back for yonks. So in this post I thought I'd take a look back at some of the top names of the 1950s.


Bettina - given that name by designer Pierre Balmain - was a French model and early muse for Hubert de Givenchy. Interestingly she married playboy Prince Aly Khan who had previously been married to Rita Hayworth, and she - pregnant at the time with their child - survived the car accident that killed him in 1960.

Post modelling she worked as a designer, poet and composer.

Jean Patchett - whom I've posted about plenty of times before - was an all American head turner famous for her beauty spot, not unlike Cindy Crawford would thirty years later. Jean was the first superstar of the Ford Modelling Agency and she worked from the late 1940s into the early 60s before retiring to raise her family.
Her family have actually started a website about her which is a must visit for anyone who loves 50s high fashion.

Mary Jane Russell was another American and star of Ford who, at 5ft 6, was rather short for a model, even in those days (Suzy Parker was 5ft 10 and was, before she became famous, considered too tall for modelling).

Mary's long neck and classically elegant features suited the New Look styles of the period and she was a favourite of photographer Louise Dahl-Woolfe.

Dorian Leigh's Wikipedia entry says that she is considered the world's first supermodel. As the term hadn't been invented yet (Janice Dickinson lays claim to coming up with the title), I'm not so sure about that, but she was certainly one of Ford's first top models who gained a reputation in the US and in Europe. While Mary Jane Russell was only 5ft 6, Dorian was only 5ft 5 (my height!) and was already 27 and had two children when she started modelling (it may feel like models are getting younger and younger, but there is certainly a history of teens appearing on the cover of Vogue).
Dorian was a neighbour and close friend of Truman Capote and legend has it that Dorian was his inspiration for Holly Golightly.


Dorian's little sister Suzy - who went by her real surname of Parker - became an even bigger star than her sister. She was the first model to earn $100,000 in a year, appeared on the covers of every major magazine of the age and went on to star in Hollywood movies.

The story goes that Dorian made Eileen Ford sign her little sister sight un-seen, and Eileen, expecting a petite, very thin, dark haired and blue eyed beauty just like Dorian was rather upset to discover she had signed a tall, freckle-faced red-head with a hip measurement of 36 inches (the ideal for a model is 34 inches which to me seems very slim, but I guess that's because I'm a pear shaped girl who is blessed/cursed with 37 inch hips).

Eileen later went on to call Suzy "the most beautiful creature imaginable" and Richard Avedon said of her "there were great models before and after Suzy, but she was something else - a red-headed force of nature, a wolf in chic clothing, the one flesh-and blood woman in a world of exquisite creatures."

Certainly I think she was one of the great beauties of the last century.

Born in New York City, Dovima's unconventional beauty made her one of the most sought after models of the 50s. Who can forget her glorious turn as snooty model Marion in Funny Face?


Cool blonde Sunny Harnett was another New Yorker who became famous in the 50s. Sunny, once she retired from modelling (and she shot campaigns for many top brands and appeared in both Vogue and Harper's regularly), actually became assistant to Eileen Ford.
The girl gave great cheekbones and I love the last image of her wrapped in a Jean Desses coat.

The images of Cindy, Christy, Noami et al posing together care of photographers like Peter Lindbergh and Patrick Demarchelier have become iconic in themselves, so I was exited when I found this old Edith Small advertisement featuring the three top models of their age: Jean Patchett, Suzy Parker and Dovima.
Are there any 50s ladies that I've forgotten?
Meanwhile next stop is the swinging 60s!

3 comments:

BaronessVonVintage said...

wow..what a fascinating post. So interesting to read about these earlier beauties. How far modeling has come from the early days when Coco Chanel and others referred to (and treated) models as "Mannequins."

The Countess said...

What an amazing post - love the info, LOVE the pics... a fab post!

maggie said...

i love the pics of Dovima! can't wait to see models of the 60's