Dorian Leigh, Evening Dress by Piguet, Hlena Rubinstein's Apartment
Ile Saint-Louis, Paris, August 1949
Photograph by Richard Avedon
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Dorian Leigh (April 23, 1917 – July 7, 2008), born Dorian Elizabeth Leigh Parker, was an American model and one of the earliest modelling icons of the fashion industry. She is considered one of the first supermodels and was well known in the United States and Europe.
Dorian graduated from Newton High School in Queens, NY, in 1935 and enrolled at Randolph Macon Women's College in Lynchburg, Virginia. There she met her first husband, Marshall Powell Hawkins, whom she married on a whim in North Carolina in 1937. They had two children: Thomas Lofton ("TL") Hawkins (1939) and Marsha Hawkins (1940). The couple separated in the 1940s.
Dorian then worked as a file clerk at a department store in Manhattan and as a tabulator keeping track of radio program ratings. She found that she had an aptitude for math, mechanical engineering, and drawing. She began to go to night school at Rutgers and said she learned about mechanical engineering at New York University.
She worked at Bell Laboratories and then, during World War II, she was a tool designer at Eastern Air Lines (with their Eastern Aircraft division). Dorian assisted in the design of airplane wings, beginning at 65 cents an hour and ending up with an hourly wage of $1.00. After failing to be promoted because of a wartime freeze on positions, she quit and took a job with Republic Pictures as an apprentice copywriter. While writing ad copy for the B movies Republic rented and distributed to movie houses, she was encouraged by a Mrs. Wayburn to try modeling.
Taking Mrs. Wayburn's advice, in 1944 Dorian had professional photos taken and went to the Harry Conover modeling agency. At 27, she was not only old by modeling standards, but at barely 5'5", she was shorter than other models at the agency. Conover immediately sent her to see Diana Vreeland, the editor of Harper's Bazaar. Dorian met with Vreeland and fashion photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe who were intrigued by her zig-zagged eyebrows. Vreeland warned her, "Do not-do not do anything to those eyebrows!" Vreeland asked Dorian to return the next day, to be photographed for the cover of the September 1944 issue of Harper's Bazaar, her very first modeling assignment. Conover told her to tell them she was 19 years old. Later they were shocked to discover her real age and that she already had two children.
Dorian instantly became busy with modeling assignments, landing on the covers of major magazines such as "Vogue," "Harper's Bazaar," "Paris Match," "LIFE," and "Elle,".