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August 1 2014

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Blasblog: A Parisian Belle, By Way Of Savannah

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Savannah is known for its old-world charm, and now that I’m down here—for the Savannah College of Art and Design’s annual Reveal Festival, which brings fashion types down to the Georgia city for a week of lectures and discussions—I can attest to it firsthand. I was in town for a talk called “Sartorially Speaking” with Decades’ Cameron Silver, debating the pros and cons of vintage (pro: the chances are slim that someone will show up in the same dress; con: although it’s “green,” recycling old clothes doesn’t exactly nurture new talent, which there’s plenty of here at SCAD). After our chat (and a quick signing of my book, of course), we had dinner at The Olde Pink House, a charming Southern restaurant housed in an original William Jay structure, one of the oldest in Savannah. It was there that I met the legendary Bettina, seen here with Gil Donaldson, Merchant Ivory Films’ Savannah-born, Paris-based president. Gil (a board member of SCAD) befriended the model in France and convinced her to make this Southern pilgrimage.

Talk about old-world charm. Now in her mid-eighties, Bettina is not only a quick-witted vision, she’s a living history of the fashion industry in the years after WWII. We’re talking Irving Penn and Richard Avedon portraits here—even her nom de couture, Bettina, was a pet name coined by Pierre Balmain himself. (She was born Simone Micheline Bodin Graziani.) Bettina came to Paris from the countryside and was immediately discovered for her “quick-paced, distinctive” walk, as she described it, and the unique facial features that she would—get this—make up herself for fashion shows and shoots. Not that doing one’s own hair and makeup, and bringing one’s own shoes and stockings, has been the biggest progression in the industry. Bettina also told me that shows would last for up to two hours, girls would wear 20 dresses in one couture presentation, and she would be in and out of those garments in seconds. I asked her if it was as romantic as I imagine it. “Yes, absolutely,” she said. “It was the best job a girl could have asked for. When I think back, even the smell in the couture salons was fabulous.”

Photo: Derek Blasberg

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  1. jkopp88 says:

    Thank you for coming to SCAD! I really enjoyed your lecture and can’t wait to crack open your book this weekend after I make a pair of pants and do 30 fashion sketches! ;) Come back soon.. you can stay in my apt! Haha..

  2. Bunsy says:

    Wait a minute — is that THE Bettina… the famous model who posed for Givenchy, and was hired because she looked very much like Audrey Hepburn?

    I have the famous b/w photo (shot by Horvath) of Bettina posing for 1950-something Vogue wearing a Givenchy hat and surrounded by dapper men in top hats morning suits. I think it is called “At Ascot.” (It is on my living room wall and it is GIANT!)

    There are several amazing photographs of her in the book: “The Givenchy Style.”

    What an honor to meet her.

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