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)
Other namesLisa Fonssagrives-Penn
Children2, including Mia Fonssagrives-Solow
Modeling information
Height1.70 m (5 ft 7 in)[2]
Hair colorBlonde[3]

Lisa Fonssagrives (born Lisa Birgitta Bernstone;[4] 17 May 1911 – 4 February 1992), was a Swedish fashion model widely credited with having been the first supermodel.[5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12]


Fonssagrives at London Paddington station, 1951, by Toni Frissell

Lisa Fonssagrives was born Lisa Birgitta Bernstone on 17 May 1911, in Sweden (variously reported as Gothenburg[4] or Uddevalla[1]) 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.[13] 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,[13] which then led to a modeling career.[1] She would say that modeling was "still dancing".[14] While in Paris in 1936, photographer Willy Maywald discovered her in an elevator and asked her to model hats for him.[13] The photographs were then sent to Vogue, and Vogue photographer Horst took some test photographs of her.[5][13] 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.[15] Her image appeared on the cover of many magazines during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s,[6][14] 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".[6][16][17] Fonssagrives once described herself as a "good clothes hanger".[5]

She worked with fashion photographers including George Hoyningen-Huene, Man Ray, Horst, Erwin Blumenfeld, George Platt Lynes, Richard Avedon, and Edgar de Evia. She married Parisian photographer Fernand Fonssagrives in 1935; they divorced in 1949[18] and she married another photographer, Irving Penn, in 1950. She went on to become a sculptor in the 1960s and was represented by the Marlborough Gallery in Manhattan.[1]

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.[1]

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. ^ a b c d e 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.
  2. ^ "ADVERTISING: Billion-Dollar Baby". Time. 19 September 1949. p. 6. Archived from the original on 17 June 2008.
  3. ^ "ADVERTISING: Billion-Dollar Baby". Time. 19 September 1949. p. 5. Archived from the original on 2 June 2007.
  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. ^ a b c Wyllie, Alice (10 January 2008). "An enduring model". The Scotsman. Edinburgh.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ "Christian Dior: Lisa Fonssagrives lives". China Daily. 1 July 2008. Generally credited with being the first ever supermodel, Fonssagrives...
  9. ^ 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
  10. ^ Johnson, Geoffrey (March 2010). "On the life and work of photographer Beatrice Tonnesen". Chicago Magazine. ... 1949, Lisa Fonssagrives, recognized today as the original supermodel
  11. ^ Cheesman, Chris (19 October 2007). "Pictures: Original stills from JFK assassination revealed". Amateur Photographer. Archived from the original on 24 October 2007. ... Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn, described as the 'world's first supermodel'
  12. ^ Singh, Anita (13 November 2008). "Photographs of Angelina Jolie, Kate Moss and Britney Spears for sale at Christie's". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 16 September 2009. She has been described as the original supermodel, gracing the pages of Vogue in the 1940s and 1950s
  13. ^ a b c d Seidner, David (Spring 1985). "Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn". Bomb Magazine. Archived from the original on 16 April 2013.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ "Noted Model Designs Late Late Wear". Life. 18 November 1957.
  16. ^ "ADVERTISING: Billion-Dollar Baby". Time. 19 September 1949. Archived from the original on 17 June 2008.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn: Sculpture, Prints and Drawings (exhibition catalogue), Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn Trust, 1994. p. 19.
  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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