“Woman in a Chicken Hat” by Irving Penn 1949 – Featuring Penn’s wife, Swedish fashion model Lisa Fonssagrives widely credited as the first supermodel.
Fonssagrives was born in Sweden (variously reported as Gothenburg or Uddevalla) and raised in Uddevalla. As a child, she took up painting, sculpting and dancing. She went to Mary Wigman’s school in Berlin and studied art and dance. After returning to Sweden, she opened a dance school. She moved from Sweden to Paris to train for ballet (after participating with choreographer Astrid Malmborg in an international competition) and worked as a private dance teacher with Fernand Fonssagrives, which then led to a modeling career. She would say that modeling was “still dancing”. While in Paris in 1936, photographer Willy Maywald discovered her in an elevator and asked her to model hats for him. The photographs were then sent to Vogue, and Vogue photographer Horst took some test photographs of her. In July 1939, she appeared in the German illustrated weekly Der Stern. Before Fonssagrives came to the United States in 1939, she was already a top model. Her image appeared on the cover of many magazines during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, including Town & Country, Life, Time, Vogue, and the original Vanity Fair. She was reported as “the highest paid, highest praised, high fashion model in the business”. Fonssagrives once described herself as a “good clothes hanger”.