Lisa Fonssagrives – Supermodel Numero Uno

Swedish-born Lisa Fonssagrives has a face that is synonymous with French and American fashion. Her image has graced more Vogue covers than any other model and despite the claims of Janice Dickinson to have not only been the first, but also to have coined the term supermodel, it was Lisa who can lay claim to that title – even though she described herself as no more than “the clothes hanger”. The term supermodel was actually dreamt up in the 1940’s by a journalist to describe the top models of the day.

Lisa’s career is impressive in model terms, having spanned three decades [1930’s – 1950’s]. Yet another example how society and the media’s attitudes to women in terms of body image and ageing have gone awry in recent times. Can you imagine one of today’s supermodels still being at the top of her game into her 40’s? I think not…

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Woman in Palace – 1951. Photo by Irving Penn (her husband).

Ah, such elegance. I suspect her headwear is supposed to be a turban of some description, but it reminds me of a towel… and there is always something quite beautiful and fresh about a woman with her hair in a towel. I love the exotic locale and the graceful lines of Lisa’s face and neck, juxtaposed with the shapelessness of the robe/sack/blanket she is wearing. What is that thing, anyway?

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Lisa with Harp – 1939. By the wonderful Horst P. Horst.

What a wonderful photograph. I adore photos from an early vintage where the photographer has obviously used experimental techniques to create optical illusions and the like. I’m not sure what this photo is supposed to convey, but whatever it is, I like it. To me, she appears to be entrapped within a cage of harp. What do you think?

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Sur la Tour Eiffel. Photo by Erwin Blumenfeld

At one point around the middle of the 20th century, there seemed to be quite a trend for people to have their photo taken at a great height, whether in the rigging of bridges, or high up on a building site. Or, as we have it here, the Eiffel Tower. Despite looking like the wind might catch her skirt and cause her to plummet to her death, there is something quite joyous and life affirming about this photo. Especially if you don’t suffer from vertigo.

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I have no information about this photo, except that at a guess, it was most likely taken some time in the 1940’s and I doubt very much it was seen by the mainstream populace of the day. I can’t be sure, but the statue looks very much like Marie Antoinette and Lisa’s wig is obviously mirroring the hair of the statue, but other than that, I really have no clue what is going on here. Whatever it is, I like it.

I have more lovely photos of Lisa, so stay tuned for part deux.

Thanks to Agent Lee for most of the images.

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~ by at her discretion on February 15, 2008.

7 Responses to “Lisa Fonssagrives – Supermodel Numero Uno”

  1. “Can you imagine one of today’s supermodels still being at the top of her game into her 40’s?” — It is a shame. Women with no life experience reflected in their eyes scan get a tad dull.

  2. […] Vintage Super Models. At Her Discretion […]

  3. I knew Janice couldn’t have been the first supermodel. Way to go Lisa.

  4. amasing images! love the harp and eiffel tower – wow!

  5. I like your blog

  6. […] Lisa Fonssagrives – Supermodel Numero Uno Swedish-born Lisa Fonssagrives has a face that is synonymous with French and American fashion. Her image has graced more Vogue covers than any other model and despite the claims of Janice Dickinson to have not only been the first, but also to have coined the term supermodel, it was Lisa who can lay claim to that title – even though she described herself as no more than the clothes hanger. The term supermodel was actually dreamt up in the 1940s by a journalist to describe the top models of the day. […]

  7. […] for whom the word ’svelte’ seems especially fitting, she crafted iconic portraits with Horst P. Horst, Blumenfeld and Irving Penn, whom she married. Her career spanned three decades; she retired with […]

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