Billie Blair

February 27, 2014 § 3 Comments

Billie Blair on the cover of Interview magazine, August 1974

Billie Blair on the cover of Interview magazine, August 1974. Image via Lipstick Alley.

Born in Flint, Michigan, Billie Blair (b. 1946) worked as a model at the Detroit Auto Show before becoming one of the highest-paid fashion models of the 1970s. Moving to New York City, she got a job at Halston and soon found success as an editorial and runway model. Blair was among the African-American models at the historic 1973 fundraising event, Le Grand Divertissement à Versailles, known today as the Battle of Versailles. (The event was the subject of a recent documentary by Deborah Riley Draper, Versailles ’73: American Runway Revolution [2012)].)

Billie Blair in Halston, 1979

Billie Blair in Halston, 1979. Image via Pinterest.

Billie Blair may be seen on a number of Vogue designer patterns from the mid-1970s. Here she wears a tweed skirt suit and pussy-bow blouse by Oscar de la Renta; this design was marked as ‘suitable for knits’:

Billie Blair models a 1970s Oscar de la Renta suit and blouse pattern - Vogue 1163

Vogue 1163 by Oscar de la Renta (1975) Image via PatternVault on Etsy.

Stan Herman designed this casual hooded top, skirt, and pants. The illustration shows some American Hustle-worthy aviator shades:

Billie Blair modelling a 1970s Stan Herman pattern - Vogue 1169

Vogue 1169 by Stan Herman (1975) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

Here Blair wears a girlish, vintage-style ensemble by Nina Ricci, a cream-coloured dress with matching cape:

Billie Blair models a 1970s Nina Ricci cape and dress pattern - Vogue 1175

Vogue 1175 by Nina Ricci (1975) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

From Jean Patou, this maxi dress may date to the period when the young Jean Paul Gaultier was assistant designer. Blair brings out the glamour of this haute couture loungewear:

Billie Blair models a 1970s Jean Patou loungewear pattern - Vogue 1344

Vogue 1344 by Jean Patou (1975) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

In Vogue Patterns‘ 1975 holiday issue, Jerry Hall wears the Patou dress while Blair models an off-the-shoulder party dress in an editorial devoted to evening sparkle (the headline reads, “Be a Star the Vogue Way”):

Designer evening wear Billie Blair Vogue Patterns November December 1975

Vogue Patterns, November/December 1975. Image via eBay.

Here she models a fabulous, evening-length Dior caftan with piped neckline:

Billie Blair models a 1970s Christian Dior caftan pattern - Vogue 1346

Vogue 1346 by Christian Dior (1975) Image via Etsy.

This Nina Ricci separates pattern includes a poncho with shirttail hem, convertible collar, and big patch pockets:

Billie Blair models a 1970s Nina Ricci pattern - Vogue 1376

Vogue 1376 by Nina Ricci (1976) Image via Betsy Vintage.

Blair is the model on this rare pattern by Sonia Rykiel, Vogue 1378—check out the matching coral sandals:

Billie Blair models a 1970s Sonia Rykiel pattern - Vogue 1378

Vogue 1378 by Sonia Rykiel (1976) Image via Etsy.

Billie Blair’s commanding presence and approach to modelling as performance don’t seem too unusual today. But she was unconventional for the time, and even felt the need to under-report her age when she first became famous. A 1974 profile of Blair in People magazine says she is 22 years old and remarks on her size 9 feet. (In a letter to the editor, a high school classmate wondered how Blair had stayed 22 when her peers were 28.) She continued modelling into her thirties—here she appears in a dynamic 1978 Vogue shoot by Andrea Blanch:

Billie Blair, Renée King, Toukie Smith, Iman, Alva Chinn, and Dana Dixon in Vogue, December 1978

Billie Blair, Renée King, Toukie Smith, Iman, Alva Chinn, and Dana Dixon in Vogue, December 1978. Photo: Andrea Blanch.

Zig-Zag Glamour

October 11, 2012 § 1 Comment

Speaking of aspirational marketing, I wanted to share this early ’60s, Mad Men-era ad for Singer’s Slant-O-Matic sewing machines and Singer Sewing Centers:

1960s Singer Sewing Centers ad showing a woman in evening wear leaning on a giant Singer Slant-O-Matic sewing machine

What is zig-zag sewing? Singer Sewing Centers advertisement, 1961.

The ad shows a model (Dovima?) in full evening dress, complete with long gloves and glittering parure; she leans on a monumental Singer Slant-O-Matic sewing machine, a length of her gown’s green fabric rippling underneath.

According to the ad copy, zig-zag sewing is an exciting, time-saving innovation that helps you sew drapes, mend Johnny’s shirts, and choose complicated designer sewing patterns without a second thought. The eveningwear design is a Vogue Paris Original by Nina Ricci, Vogue 1499.

I love how the ad plays with scale while juxtaposing mid-century high glamour with the latest sewing technology. The other ads I’ve seen from this series promote formal sewing for the winter holidays, but this one is from the June/July Vogue Pattern Book.

Singer 1961 detail

Vogue 1499 by Nina Ricci. Detail, Singer Sewing Centers ad, 1961.

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