A supermodel long before the term was coined in the Eighties, Dovima was the highest paid mannequin of her time. Few knew that her fragile, slender frame, which was to perfectly show off Dior’s New Look, was the result of illness and came at the price of a sad, lonely childhood.

Born Dorothy Virginia Margaret Juba in 1927 in New York City, half-Polish, half-Irish, she was raised in Jackson Heights, Queens. When she was ten she  contracted rheumatic fever and was confined to bed. Although the usual treatment was a year’s bed rest, her overprotective mother kept her home for the next seven years.

To combat her loneliness, the little girl took up painting and had an imaginary friend, whom she called Dovima- using the first two letters of each of her given names. She was home-tutored, and her only contact to other children was by phone.

Dovima was discovered by a Vogue editor while waiting for a friend in Manhattan. Deeply impressed by her willowy frame, the editor took her to the Vogue offices on the spot for some test shots.

The very next day she did her first shoot with Irving Penn. Dovima perfectly embodied the new woman of the Fifties: sophisticated, elegant, poised and immaculately dressed. Her career took off quickly, and soon she was the highest paid model in the business, appearing on the covers of all the fashion magazines and working with every major photographer of the day.
dovima_photo1Richard Avedon, her favourite photographer, and “mental Siamese twin” would take the most famous photos of her. Together they created her Fifties haute couture look that was all about glossy red lips, arched brows, strong eyeliner and endless limbs.

‘Dovima with Elephants’, taken in Paris in 1955 by Avedon, is still one of the most striking fashion photographs ever taken. It shows her dressed in a column Dior gown – designed by Dior’s new fashion assistant, a certain Yves Saint Laurant – surrounded by circus elelphants.

Dovima died of liver cancer on May 3, 1990 at the age of 62.

After her death, Richard Avedon said, “She was the last of the great elegant, aristocratic beauties…the most remarkable and unconventional beauty of her time.”

“The ideal of beauty then was the opposite of what it is now. It stood for an extension of the aristocratic view of women as ideals, of women as dreams, of women as almost surreal objects. Dovima fit that in her proportions.”

Images: Conde Nast

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