Back in the day before the old queen died, I was gainfully employed to write interview scripts for a David Bailey three-parter on Channel 4 called Models Close-Up in 1997. Thanks to the lobbying of a dear old friend Gill Wilson, I landed the book to accompany the series. For me there are two definitive books about the fashion business: Michael Gross’s Model and Nicholas Coleridge’s The Fashion Conspiracy. Of the two Gross’s history of modelling is the more salty and piqued my interest in the late, great Dorian Leigh. As Carmen Dell’Orefice said in Models Close-Up ‘Dorian Leigh invented this business’.
Though she demurs and says Lisa Fonssagrives was the pioneering photographic model, Dorian Leigh was the first Supermodel superstar. In the 40s she was the model-muse of Beaton, Blumenfeld, Horst and George Platt-Lynes. In the early 50s she gave Avedon and Penn their first covers for Vogue and Bazaar. Though many gals claimed they were the inspiration for Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Dorian was Holly Golightly.
Capote was a regular visitor to the apartment Dorian rented on Lexington Avenue and shared with her Siamese cat called Posy. Like Holly, she was a good time girl; so much so that Dorian’s sister Suzy Parker said her autobiography The Girl Who Had Everything should have been titled The Girl Who Had Everyone. Dorian liked to lift a few so I wonder whether she wasn’t also Capote’s inspiration for Mags Wildwood.
Dorian was the first model to command her own destiny. She knew her worth and quadrupled editorial rates before dropping her agent and setting up her own office. Vogue’s art director Gene Lloyd said of her ‘when Dorian posed, it was like a jolt of electricity. She put out both feet in infallible positions, then she set her knees, then her hips, then her waist, then her arms and hands, and at the last minute an expression would come across her face. If a photographer didn’t wait for that, she’d look at him with such anger’.
Apart from her extraordinary poise, Dorian’s signature was her pronounced eyebrows and a sensuality like a raven-haired Monroe minus the innocence. Of her appetite for amorous adventures, Dorian’s friend Gene Lloyd said ‘there were very few that she missed’. I wish Bailey’s interview with Dorian Leigh had been longer and more detailed. What she said in conversation with Bailey and Carmen Dell’Orefice was tantalising and had I known now what I didn’t then I would have followed her answers with another twenty questions. Asked whether she’d be a model agent today, she replied ‘Never, I’m a terrible businesswoman. Eileen and Gerry Ford proved that to me’. Of models in the 1990s she said ‘I do get upset when I look at magazine covers and the models are clearly on drugs….They are victims, even if they don’t want to be’.
Dorian’s words echoed in recent weeks when belle-du-jour Cara Delevingne admitted modelling made her come up in a hideous skin complaint. Like Dorian, Cara is famed for her eyebrows. Unlike Dorian, she doesn’t appear to have sufficient sophistication or strength to beat the fashion industry at its own game. Dorian also knew her limitations. While sister Suzy had a modest film career, Dorian always turned down the advances of film directors. She spurned Howard Hughes – ‘the rudest man in the world ‘ – and gave as good as she got when Billy Wilder told her ‘all women are whores’.
If Dorian Leigh had a successor – and she was a hard act to follow after her mammoth success as Revlon’s Fire & Ice girl in the 50s – it is Linda Evangelista. They are uncannily similar and what makes Dorian and Linda unique is that, however they are styled, their fashion photographs never date. Love magazine could run 50s portraits of Dorian wearing Dior, Balenciaga or Balmain and they would look relevant and contemporary. Dorian Leigh died in 2008. Her aforementioned autobiography, The Girl Who Had Everything, was published in 1980 and, though divine, is perhaps economical with the truth. In the spirit of the great dame who wrote it, the book leaves you wanting more.
Excepting Judy Garland and Jodie Foster, I’m not a huge fan of child actors, are you? The aforementioned ladies had near preternatural emotional intelligence with eyes like windows on terribly old souls. So when Simon said he had tickets to see Daniel Radcliffe at the Noël Coward Theatre in The Cripple of Inishmaan I was less than underwhelmed at the prospect of seeing a multi-millionaire former child star attempting to flex artistic muscles in a play about a half-witted bog-trotter. What I saw was one of the most life-enhancing pieces of theatre I’ve ever had the privilege to witness.
Radcliffe by no means dominated but held together a superb ensemble cast and performed a play that was amusing, unsentimental and quietly moving. He’s a generous and true actor who has made incredibly brave choices on film and stage. Of all the Potter lot, I see greater things ahead for Mr Radcliffe and for Bonnie Wright. Speaking of the flicks, I’ve been asked for advice about an upcoming Matthew Vaughn movie in which Savile Row is integral to the plot of which more anon…