When you say ‘What was the first…”, you need to be very careful how you end that sentence because it’s going to open up a can of worms big enough to go fishing with. What came first, the chicken or the egg? Who invented the first home computer? Who invented the paperclip? What was the first state in flight? You’ve probably had all of these debates before, but the one we’re covering today is much more complex: Who was the World’s First Supermodel?
This should be a cut and dry debate but it really isn’t; what is a supermodel exactly? What sets them apart from regular models? In truth, a supermodel is much like a regular model, but commands worldwide recognition. We’re not talking about the models that appear in the Sears catalogue, but models that appear in publications like Vogue or Vanity Fair. So who was it? Who came first? If you ask enough experts or historians you’re going to get two different answers: Lisa Fonssagrives or Dorian Leigh. So who is it? Let’s take a quick look at the lives of both women.
The story of Lisa Fonssagrives is not unlike that of many other models; she was discovered by a photographer, and the photographs were sent to a popular magazine, Vogue in this case. Following that, Vogue photographer Horst shot some test photographs, leading to her showing up in a 1939 issue of Der Stern, a German publication. After that, the rest was history. She began to show up on magazines throughout the 1930’s and 1940’s, all the way into the 50’s. Some of the most noteworthy publications included Life, Time, Vanity Fair, and of course, Vogue. The biggest drawback she faces in this contest is that she was never actually referred to as a supermodel. Still, she is regarded by many as the world’s first supermodel simply because she fits the bill.
Dorian Leigh took a slightly different path in that she actually went to a modeling agency at the age of twenty-seven, and she did so in 1944, several years after Lisa Fonsagrives made her debut on the cover of Der Stern. Interestingly enough, at twenty-seven she was extremely old by modeling standards, and she was actually told by her agent, Harry Conover, to tell the staff at Harper’s Bazaar that she was 19. It worked like a charm, proving once and for all that age is just a number. They were not only shocked to find out the truth later on, but also quite shocked to find that she had already had two children. She appeared in many publications, numbering more than fifty, actually, and she was one of the first to sign with Ford Models.
So here we are at the big question: which one was the world’s first supermodel? In our humble opinion, the answer is going to be Lisa Fonssagrives as she did the job first, even though there wasn’t a title for it at the time. Still, the achievements of both these women are phenomenal, and neither are to be overlooked.