Lisa Fonssagrives

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Lisa Fonssagrives
Lisa Birgitta Bernstone

(1911-05-17)17 May 1911
Died4 February 1992(1992-02-04) (aged 80)
New York City, U.S.
Other namesLisa Fonssagrives-Penn
  • (m. 1935; div. 1949)
  • (m. 1950)
Children2, including Mia Fonssagrives-Solow
Modeling information
Height1.70 m (5 ft 7 in)[1]
Hair colorBlonde[2]

Lisa Fonssagrives (born Lisa Birgitta Bernstone;[4] 17 May 1911 – 4 February 1992), was a Swedish model, dancer, sculptor, and photographer. She is widely credited with having been the first supermodel.[5][6][7]


Lisa Fonssagrives was born Lisa Birgitta Bernstone on 17 May 1911, in Sweden (variously reported as Gothenburg[4] or Uddevalla[3]) and raised in Uddevalla.[4] 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.[8] 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,[8] which then led to a modeling career.[3] She would say that modeling was "still dancing".[9]

While in Paris in 1936, photographer Willy Maywald discovered her in an elevator and asked her to model hats for him.[8] The photographs were then sent to Vogue, and photographer Horst P. Horst took some test photographs of her.[5][8] In July 1939, she appeared in the German illustrated weekly Der Stern and was photographed also by André Steiner.[10] Before Fonssagrives came to the United States in 1939, she was already a top model.[11] Her image appeared on the cover of many magazines during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s,[12][9] including Town & Country, Life, Time, Vogue, and the original Vanity Fair. She was reported to be "the highest paid, highest praised, high fashion model in the business".[12][13][14] Fonssagrives once described herself as a "good clothes hanger".[5]

Fonssagrives worked with various noted fashion photographers, including George Hoyningen-Huene, Man Ray, Erwin Blumenfeld, George Platt Lynes, Richard Avedon, and Edgar de Evia. She married Parisian photographer Fernand Fonssagrives in 1935; they divorced in 1949.[15] She married American photographer Irving Penn in 1950 and became his muse.[7][16]

After her modeling career ended she designed a leisurewear clothing line for Lord & Taylor.[3] She went on to become a sculptor in the 1960s and was represented by the Marlborough Gallery in Manhattan.[3]

Fonssagrives died, aged 80, in New York, survived by her second husband, Irving Penn and her two children: her daughter Mia Fonssagrives-Solow, a fashion and jewelry designer and sculptor who was married to real estate developer and art collector Sheldon Solow, and her son, Tom Penn, a designer.[3]

The Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn Trust was founded in 1994.[17]

In 1995, a retrospective exhibition of her work was held at Moderna Museet in Stockholm. Irving Penn donated photographs to the museum in her memory.[18]

The Elton John photography collection auction, held by Christie's on 15 October 2004, sold a 1950 Irving Penn photograph of his wife, Lisa Fonssagrives, for $57,360.[19]


  1. ^ "ADVERTISING: Billion-Dollar Baby". Time. 19 September 1949. p. 6. Archived from the original on 17 June 2008.
  2. ^ "ADVERTISING: Billion-Dollar Baby". Time. 19 September 1949. p. 5. Archived from the original on 2 June 2007.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Anne-Marie Schiro (6 February 1992). "Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn, 80, Artist Who Gave Up Career as a Model". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 March 2008.
  4. ^ a b c Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn; Nicholas Callaway; Alexander Liberman; Alexandra Arrowsmith (1994). Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn: sculpture, prints and drawings.
  5. ^ a b c Rosemary Ranck (9 February 1997). "The First Supermodel". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 September 2006.
  6. ^ Alexander, Hilary (30 June 2008). "The thigh's the limit at Christian Dior". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 17 March 2009. the iconic first super-model, Lisa Fonssagrives
  7. ^ a b Laneri, Raquel (17 April 2017). "The world's first supermodel was more than 'just a clothes-hanger'". Retrieved 9 April 2023.
  8. ^ a b c d Seidner, David (Spring 1985). "Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn". Bomb Magazine. Archived from the original on 16 April 2013.
  9. ^ a b Crystal Renn & Marjorie Ingall (8 September 2009). Hungry: A Young Model's Story of Appetite, Ambition and the Ultimate Embrace. ISBN 978-1-4391-0123-0.
  10. ^ Warren, Lynne (2005). Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Photography, 3-Volume Set. Lynn Warren. London. p. 1490. ISBN 978-0-203-94338-0. OCLC 1048820737.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  11. ^ "Noted Model Designs Late Late Wear". Life. 18 November 1957.
  12. ^ a b Wyllie, Alice (10 January 2008). "An enduring model". The Scotsman. Edinburgh.
  13. ^ "ADVERTISING: Billion-Dollar Baby". Time. 19 September 1949. Archived from the original on 17 June 2008.
  14. ^ Robertson, Nan (25 May 1956). "Model Life: Mannequin Turns Fashion Creator; Lisa Fonssagrives Uses Tricks She Learned On Runway to Develop Convertible Styles(subscription required)". The New York Times.
  15. ^ Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn: Sculpture, Prints and Drawings (exhibition catalogue), Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn Trust, 1994. p. 19.
  16. ^ Brubach, Holly (8 February 1998). "Style; A State of Grace". The New York Times. ...Lisa Fonssagrives, who in retrospect surely qualifies as the first supermodel.
  17. ^ "The Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn Trust | Fifth Ave New York, NY | Cause IQ". Retrieved 9 April 2023.
  18. ^ "Press release". Retrieved 9 April 2023.
  19. ^ Elton John photo collection nets $900,000 USA Today. 15 October 2004.


  • Fonssagrives, Fernand; Muir, Robin (essay), Fernand Fonssagrives; An Eye for Beauty, London: Guiding Light, 2003.
  • Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn: Bronzes (exhibition catalogue), New York: Marlborough Gallery, Inc., 1983.
  • Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn: Sculpture, Prints and Drawings (exhibition catalogue), Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn Trust, 1994.
  • Gross, Michael: Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women, New York: W. Morrow, 1995, ISBN 0-688-12659-6
  • Seidner, David (ed): Lisa Fonssagrives: Three Decades of Classic Fashion Photography, New York: Vendome Press, 1996, ISBN 0-86565-978-8

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