This may be the first post I’ve done about Dovima, but it most likely won’t be the last, because I. Love. Her. She is truly a goddess, to my eye, and the most iconic model in fashion history, with perhaps the exception of Carmen Dell’Orifice. Actually, she is the most iconic, but Carmen has had a longer career, by virtue of living longer and modelling into her 80s. But Dovima. ::sigh::
Dovima hit the fashion scene in the 40s, and worked into the 60s. She came from an era where models brought their own accessories, shoes and makeup, and did things on the fly. They did their own hair, they did their own makeup, and often the photos were done in any location they could find quickly, especially after a fashion show, when all of the photographers were vying for pictures of the same garment. This is why you will see so many photos of that era outside, where they ran to shoot after a show, or in front of a plain backdrop. It’s some of the most recognizable fashion photography ever done.
The models of that era had an elegance you don’t see now. Dovima was especially so. The way she placed her hands and tilted her head could not be replicated. Her relationship with also-iconic Richard Avedon was muse and mentor, as he considered her one of the last elegant models and she trusted him to capture beautiful images. He shot the unforgettable image above, Dovima and the Elephants, shot at a circus in Paris and featured in Harper’s Bazaar in 1955. The original dress was the first one Yves St. Laurent did for Christian Dior, and it is now housed at Newfields Art Museum in Indianapolis. I have stood and stared at it in awe many times, imagining the scene as Dovima created the image of soft and hard, old and new, elegance and animal instinct. It evokes a lot of emotion for me.
Dovima, for all of her elegance, lived a complex life. Married three times, and the face of both Dior and Balenciaga, she ended up broke in Florida, waitressing at a pizza joint. She had a particular affinity for abusive men, and according to other models of the era, would sometimes arrive at their apartments in the middle of the night, crying about what had been done to her. They wanted to help her, but she always fell back into relationships with the wrong men. She retired from modelling as Camelot crumbled and the mod era arrived, never to be seen on camera again. She died from liver cancer in Florida in 1990, but her images will live forever.