Dorian Leigh-America’s First Supermodel

Revlon Fire and Ice Ad

Originally I was going to do a post inspired by one of my  favorite vintage ads,  Fire and Ice lipstick and nail polish by Revlon.  Back in 1952  their brilliant ad campaign  depicted women as independent, adventurous,  willing to take chances.  Women who wore makeup for themselves, not to please men. Believe it or not, back in the early 50s that was considered revolutionary.

For you who love to flirt with fire, who dare to skate on thin ice….Revlon’s Fire and Ice for lips and matching fingertips. 
A lush and passionate scarlet….like flaming diamonds dancing on the moon!

I always admired the photograph,  the model’s glamorous  gown, who her son claims was covered in rhinestones, the billowing red taffeta wrap, the interesting reflective backdrop. But I have never really researched anything about it until recently. Apparently the model is Dorian Leigh photographed by Richard Avedon. I was certainly familiar with both names But I had never really looked into the background of the model. I just knew she was famous back in the 40s and 50s. The more I read, the more fascinated I became. That’s how the subject of this post morphed from Revlon ad campaign into a story about America’s first supermodel, who, it turns out, was so much more than just a pretty face.

dorian leigh 1953

Dorian Leigh 1953

Source

Dorian Elizabeth Leigh Parker was born on April 23, 1917  in San Antonio, Texas.  And she didn’t start her modeling career until 1944, at the ripe old age of 27, when she landed on the June cover of Harper’s Bazaar magazine. But her life took some interesting turns before she became America’s first supermodel.

Dorian Leigh Harpers Bazaar June 1944
Source

After graduating high school in Queens, New York, she attended Randolph Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Va, where she met and married her first husband, Marshall Hawkins. They had two children and divorced in 1937. After her divorce she moved back with her parents in Queens, New York. She worked in a department store and attended night school. She studied at New York University and eventually got a BA in mechanical engineering.

Dorian Leigh 1944

Dorian Leigh for Enka Rayon ad-1944 (Source)

During WWII she got a job with the US Navy doing mechanical drafting, then at Eastern Aircraft Division of General Motors,  helping to design airplane wings. She supposedly quit because she resented getting paid less than her male counterparts. Jobs were tough to come by in her field, so she ended up as an advertising copywriter. Needing to supplement her income she decided to apply for a modeling job at the Harry Conovor Agency in NYC. Mr. Conover, recognizing a face that was perfect for the times, sent her right over to see Diane Vreeland at Harper’s Bazaar. He told her to lie about her age and say she was 19, as 27 was considered much too old to be a model. Next thing she knew, she was being photographed by  Louse Dahl Wolfe. After her cover shot appeared on the June issue ,  she was well on her way to fashion stardom.

Dorian Leigh became a favorite model to well known fashion photographers Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Helmut Newton and Milton Greene.  Over the course of her career she appeared frequently on covers and in editorial spreads in all the popular womens’ magazines at the time, including Vogue,Harper’s Bazaar and McCalls.

In his book, Photobiography, Sir Cecil Beaton said of her

“She conveys a remarkable variety of moods, the sweetness of an 18th century pastel, the allure of a Sargent portrait, or the poignancy of some unfortunate woman who sat for Mogdigliani.”

Dorian Leigh 1949

Dorian Leigh-Harper’s Bazaar cover 1949 (Source)

She eventually joined Eileen Ford’s elite modelling agency under the condition that they also hire her sister, Suzy Parker, who became a famous model as well. In an interview with the Roanoke Times in 1997 Eileen Ford said of her….

“Dorian was truly the best model of our time, She instinctively knew what every photographer wanted, and she came alive just at the moment the shutter clicked.”

Dorian Leigh-Bergdorf Goodman ad 1948Dorian Leigh-Bergdorf Goodman ad-Avedon photo-1948 (source)

Dorian Leigh was quite the party girl, travelling the world and socializing with A listers everywhere,  including Howard Hughes, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Chaplin, Coco Chanel, Harry Bellafonte, Buddy Rich and Truman Capote. Mr. Capote nicknamed her Miss Happy Go Lucky and when he eventually wrote Breakfast at Tiffany’s his character Holly Go Lightly was supposedly inspired by her.

Dorian Leigh-Simonetta Visconti dress-1952

Dorian Leigh modeling  Simonetta Visconti  dress-1952n (source)

Because of her youthful appearance, Dorian was able to model well into her 40s. At that point she started her own modeling agency in Paris where she ended up discovering Twiggy and Veruschka.

Dorian Leigh-Nina Ricci 1954

Dorian Leigh modeling Nina Ricci gown-1954 (source)

After some major financial setbacks in the 60s (her husband basically stole all her money) she had to close the agency and make another new start. She attended Le Cordon Bleu to study cooking, then opened a restaurant in Paris. In the 1970s and beyond she worked with Martha Stewart, published some cookbooks and wrote an autobiography, The Girl Who Had Everything-The Story of the Fire and Ice Girl

She died in 2008 at 91 years old, having lived a long, glamorous life, though not without its share of tragedy. One of her sons suffered from drug addiction and ended up committing suicide.  Dorian Leigh was a fascinating, multi talented women and her story has all the makings of a riveting mini-series or Hollywood movie.  After reading about her, I’m shocked no one has produced one yet.

Dorian Leigh-Jean Patou 1955

Dorian Leigh modeling Jean Patou gown-1955 (source)

 

Dorian Leigh-Lilli Anne suit 1955

Dorian Leigh modeling Lilli Ann suit 1955

Sources
NY Times obituary,
Love Me Tender, The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Songs
The Fashion Spot,
Encyclopedia Britannica 
Legacy.com obit

Till next time,,,

By | 2020-03-02T09:26:55-04:00 March 2nd, 2020|Fashion, Memorable people|1 Comment

About the Author:

Theresa
Hi, I'm Theresa, owner and chief classy dame at the Blue Velvet Vintage online boutique. Lover of mid century fashion and home decor, classic films, Old Hollywood, pretty dresses, red lipstick, swing dancing and retro culture in general. Between my ecommere site and vintage style blog my mission is to revive the eras of classy dressing and inspire women to add more glamour to their lives! So don't be shy! I love to hear from others who share my appreciation of the styles of the past.

One Comment

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    Ann March 2, 2020 at 2:39 pm

    I wasn’t familiar with the name, but what a fascinating lady Dorian Leigh was. Definitely so much more than just a pretty face. Thank you for sharing her biography and showing us these drool-worthy ads. xxx

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