Monday, July 14, 2008

Tribute: Dorian Leigh, Fire and Ice queen of fashion

Dorian Leigh in Piguet evening dress, Ile St.-Louis, Paris, August 1949. Photograph Richard Avedon

It is becoming an annus horribilis for fashion... Dorian Leigh, one of the legends of fashion, died last week aged 91 in Falls Church, Virginia, USA. Her incredible beauty, with her brunette curled hair, her near perfect face, with blue eyes and almost always red lips, exuding class and style and her impeccably poised body helped her to forge an inimitable path through life, not only in modelling but in everything she put her hands into.

A Sam Shaw photograph

Dorian Leigh for Jean Patou, 1955

Born in San Antonio, Texas, in 1917, she was raised in New York, her father becoming rich by developing an etching acid. She attended Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia, and then NYU, where she studied calculus; that got her a job working for the US Navy as a mechanical draughtswoman. She then went on to Eastern Aircraft Corporation, helping to design aircraft wings. She discovered that the job strained her eyes: leaving Eastern, she then took a job with Republic Pictures as an apprentice copywriter.

Dorian Leigh for Jacques Heim

Her modelling career began at the relatively late age of 27. She signed up at the Harry Conover Agency; the owner advised her to go immediately to Harper's Bazaar and tell the editor, Diana Vreeland, that she was only 19. Vreeland was captivated and instructed her never to touch her zig-zag eyebrows. I do not know if she ever believed the age thing - Dorian surely must have looked like a diva from early on. Nevertheless, the next day Dorian was photographed by Louise Dahl-Wolfe wearing a black tulle hat trimmed with a pink rose. She appeared on the cover of the June 1944 edition of Harper's Bazaar and the rest is history. Her father did not approve of modelling (what father did back then?)and insisted that she drop the name Parker. That is why she became famous as Dorian Leigh.

Dorian Leigh in a hat by Paulette, photographed in Paris, from Harper's Bazaar October 1949

Seven Vogue and more than 50 other magazine covers show how loved she was by photographers and stylists and designers. Back then, throughout the 40s and 50s, there were runway models and photography models: a model either did one or the other. Dorian was a photography model, her 5-feet 5-inch frame more than suitable for the exquisite couture of those years (just say the names out loud: Dior, Balenciaga, Fath, Patou, Chanel, James... makes me drool just thinking about them), resulting in great photographs. She was a muse for Avedon, Horst, Penn and Beaton (history of photography anyone?) . In the 50s, she was the signature Revlon Fire And Ice girl, promoting in every company ad the Fire and Ice colours, almost becoming synonymous with the brand. "For you who love to flirt with fire; who dare to skate on thin ice" was the slogan, with Avedon shooting the photographs.

The famous Fire And Ice Revlon ad - Mattel even made a Barbie dressed like her!

In his Photobiography book, published in 1951, Cecil Beaton writes that Dorian Leigh could convey "the sweetness of an 18th-century pastel, the allure of a Sargent portrait, or the poignancy of some unfortunate woman who sat for Modigliani". Richard Avedon said that she was the most versatile model, and the loveliest, that he had ever worked with. Truman Capote called her "Happy-Go-Lucky", and it is said (though many notable women claim the distinction) that she provided him with the character of Holly Golightly for "Breakfast At Tiffany's".

Vogue USA December 1949 cover by Irving Penn - inspired by fairy tales. Ray Bolger is Santa.

Her career lasted until the 60s, her younger sister Suzy Parker becoming her natural successor (Suzy also became a legendary model, even more than her sister). Then, Dorian Elisabeth Leigh Parker moved to Paris and opened a modelling agency, one of the first in Europe (it closed in 1972 because her then husband embezzled the money). She then retired from the fashion world and decided to occupy herself with another one of her loves: cooking.

Clockwise from top left:
Unidentified fashion photograph;
Dorian Leigh with bicycle racer, Dress by Dior, Champs-Elysees, Paris, August 1949 Richard Avedon; Unidentified portrait;
Coat by Dior, Paris, August 1949 Richard Avedon.

She opened a restaurant, Chez Dorian, near Fontainebleau and ran it for two years. At the same time she was teaching at the Paris American Academy and La Varenne cooking school. She moved back to New York in the late 1970s, intending to take over a modelling agency, but instead ended up creating and selling food through her catering business. She catered in the Washington area in 1988 with a business she called Fête Accomplis and returned to Paris in 1999.

Dorian in a 1952 shoot

Vogue 1946 --- Model Dorian Leigh wearing a pale pink cloche by Madame Reine and a plunge-necked rayon crepe dress from B.H.Wragge. Photographer John Rawlings - Image by © Condé Nast Archive/CORBIS

After a diagnosis of a brain tumour, she moved to Falls Church in 2005. In addition to her autobiography, "The Girl Who had Everything" (Doubleday, 1980), she also wrote "Pancakes: From Flapjacks to Crepes" (1988) and "Doughnuts: Over Three Dozen Crullers, Fritters and Other Treats" (1994). She married five times and is survived by her daughter Ms. Paciello, from her second marriage to Roger Mehle, a son from her first marriage, T. L. Hawkins; and a daughter from her marriage to Serge Bordat, Miranda Bordat; three grandchildren; and two step-grandchildren. A daughter from her marriage to Hawkins, Marsha Lynn Smith, died in the early 1990s. A son, Kim Blas Parker, from her liaison with the Spanish racing-car driver and athlete Alfonso Cabeza de Vaca, marquis of Portago, committed suicide in 1977 at 21.

Photo from family archives

Adieu, ma chérie...

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Chill out: Visiting a Japanese garden

Last time I visited Kaiserslautern in Germany, I had a bit of time alone (the gang was working, I was the tourist), thus a chance to explore parts of the city I had never been to. One of these, and a very nice surprise, was the Japanese Garden, a veritable oasis in the city. Since back then it was springtime and that particular day was a bit rainy, I thought it would be a great post to cool most of us off with the soaring temperatures of the summer these days.

The entrance to the garden - the original entrance from the lower part was closed.

The Kaiserslautern Japanese Garden is the largest of its kind in Europe! It's 13.500 m2 and opened its gates to the public in April 2000, coinciding with the "State's Garden Exhibition Kaiserslautern 2000", the first ever garden exhibition in Rhineland-Palatinate.Within two years a devastated and inaccessible urban green area was transformed into a garden paradise for inhabitants and visitors alike. One can even schedule to attend yoga classes there as well as meditation sessions! I will not miss that next time!

Clockwise from top left:
The red inner gate; the big waterfall;
path in the garden;
the waterfall up close.

How did this exotic garden come to be in Kaiserslautern of all places? In 1993, a delegation from Bunkyo Ku, a sister city of Kaiserslautern, was visiting, thus the birth of the idea. Three years later the site was identified for the development of such a garden project. Situated in the very heart of the city, it was originally characterized by two villas built in the early 19th century, with corresponding romantic landscape garden patterns, which were destroyed in 1943 from the devastating bombings during the war.

Clockwise from top left:
stone path in pond; view from the bridge;
island in the big pond; red flowers.

Some of the original trees, 100 years old, witnesses of that romantic era, can still be admired in the park, originally designed in 1893 by the Siessmeyer brothers, then famous landscape architects from Frankfurt Main. After the war the gardens remained untouched for over 50 years and a dense woodland filled the grounds. It was only a matter of time before someone did something about this and the result can be seen in my photos.

The path amongst the bamboos leads to...

... a smiling Buddha!

The "Japanese Garden Association Kaiserslautern" was founded in 1997. It's aim was to build the garden as well as foster the spreading of Japanese culture. The design of the garden was donw with the collaboration of the University of Kaiserslautern. The resulting plans were presented in 1998 to the anticipating public, resulting in a big increase of supporters for it, ranging from individuals to big companies, even political parties (the association has 800 members today).

Clockwise from top left:
View of the big pond; the Tea House;
carp waiting for food; the Tea house.

The construction of the garden was done in various phases, the biggest of which were during 2004 and 2005, culminating in the erection of the Tea House, a 100 year old building, brought over from Tokyo, where it served as a guest house in a park, and re-build where it is now. The zen garden completed the picture. During 2007 the biggest part of the works was completed, but even during my visit, in April 2008, the garden was still being tweaked.

It does not get any better! And this is near the city centre!

A Japanese Garden always represents an idealized and designed landscape, an art work in which all the single elements - water, rocks and plants - seem to be arranged and composed according to the aesthetic rules of arts and painting. The garden either presents a single painting to its visitors, conceivable by one single view, or it presents a series of garden pictures that unfold their story to the spectator step by step, comparable to a walk through a picture gallery. This is the case in Kaiserslautern.

Clockwise from top left:
the water tap at the Tea House courtyard; stone path in big pond;
Japanes maple; view of the Tea House.

Visiting the garden was a near spiritual experience. I was lucky in being virtually alone there, there were only a couple of other visitors and some gardeners (who were extremely polite), so I was most of the time roaming by myself through the beautiful Japanese maples and the waterfall, the bridges, the stone paths through small ponds and the carp swimming in the big pond in front of the Tea House. The light rain that accompanied me in most of my time there only added to the Zen feeling.

One thing you can always see from the garden
(and from anywhere else in Kaiserslautern's centre) is the Town Hall.

A dwarf Japanese maple

I can now understand why most Kaiserslautern visitors say this is the best place in the city: you can totally relax there, away from people and noise, even though you are only two steps from the city centre. The lush vegetation and the flowers, the ingeniously designed garden pattern and the atmosphere created are unique and allow you to travel into another era and a totally different concept of how a garden should be.

A full view of the big pond with the Tea House at the end.