Billie Blair

Billie Blair on the cover of Interview magazine, August 1974
Billie Blair on the cover of Interview magazine, August 1974. Image: 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 Donna Karan for Anne Klein, Virginia Slims advertisement, 1975
Billie Blair in Donna Karan for Anne Klein, Virginia Slims advertisement, 1975. Image: Stanford University.

Billie Blair can 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: 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: Vintage Pattern 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: Vintage Pattern 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: PatternVault on Etsy.

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: 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: 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: 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: 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.

Gia Carangi

Vogue Patterns campaign image showing Gia Carangi walking a Dalmatian. Gia wears Vogue pattern 2060 by Yves Saint Laurent. From Vogue, November 1978
Gia Carangi in Vogue 2060 and 7248, Vogue, November 1978. Photo: Andrea Blanch. Image: giacarangi.org.

One of the fun aspects of vintage patterns is that they sometimes show famous models, familiar to us from the pages of major fashion publications and the work of top photographers. This is the first in an occasional series on prominent models and commercial sewing patterns.

Gia Carangi (1960-1986) is sometimes called the first supermodel. (Cindy Crawford was nicknamed ‘Baby Gia’ when she first moved to New York.) There’s even a blog devoted to her editorials. Starting in 1978, the year of her first major fashion shoot—the Chris von Wangenheim chain link fence shoot dramatized in the HBO movie Gia—Carangi also did some work for Vogue Patterns.

The November/December 1978 issue of Vogue Patterns magazine has a few pages featuring Gia Carangi, including an Arthur Elgort portfolio showing Vogue 2008 by Bill Blass. In most cases, Carangi was photographed for editorials only, but she can be seen on a few Vogue patterns:

Gia Carangi models Vogue 2023, a 1970s pattern by Christian Dior
Vogue 2023 by Christian Dior (1978) Image: eBay.
Gia Carangi models Vogue 2014, a pink evening dress by Givenchy
Vogue 2014 by Givenchy (1978) Image: PatternVault shop.
Gia Carangi models Vogue 2010, a ruffled backless dress by Stan Herman
Vogue 2010 by Stan Herman (1978) Image: PatternVault shop.

Carangi also shot some Vogue Patterns editorials with Andrea Blanch which appeared in Vogue magazine in 1978 and 1979. Here are some of her editorial images promoting designer patterns—two Calvin Klein patterns, Vogue 1878 and Vogue 2027, and Vogue 1988 by Yves Saint Laurent. The Vogue 2027 coat was shortened for the photo shoot:

Gia Carangi models Vogue Patterns by Calvin Klein and Yves Saint Laurent. Vogue, October 1978. Photo by Andrea Blanch
Gia Carangi in Vogue 2027 (Calvin Klein) and 1988 (YSL), Vogue, October 1978. Photo: Andrea Blanch. Image: giacarangi.org.
Gia Carangi models Vogue Patterns by Calvin Klein and Yves Saint Laurent. Vogue, October 1978. Photo by Andrea Blanch
Gia Carangi in Vogue 1878 (Calvin Klein) and 1988 (YSL), Vogue, October 1978. Photo: Andrea Blanch. Image: giacarangi.org.
Gia Carangi models Vogue Patterns. Vogue, October 1978. Photo by Andrea Blanch
Gia Carangi in Vogue 1988 (YSL) and 2027 (Calvin Klein), Vogue, October 1978. Photo: Andrea Blanch. Image: giacarangi.org.

This May 1979 editorial image shows Vogue 2040, a tunic by Edith Head, made up in sheer black silk marquisette:

Gia Carangi wears an Edith Head tunic from Vogue Patterns in Vogue, May 1979. Photographed by Andrea Blanch.
Gia Carangi in Vogue 2040 by Edith Head, Vogue, May 1979. Photo: Andrea Blanch. Image: giacarangi.org.

The famous “Dead” photo was also part of a Vogue Patterns editorial (in the same issue as the Dalmatian photo shown above; the latter shows Vogue 2060, a top by Yves Saint Laurent). The patterns are two Calvin Klein designs: Vogue 1990, a wrap dress, and the pants from Vogue 2027:

Gia Carangi "Dead" photo 1970s Vogue Patterns, Vogue, November 1978. Photographed by Andrea Blanch
Gia Carangi in Vogue 1990 and 2027 by Calvin Klein, Vogue, November 1978. Photo: Andrea Blanch. Image: giacarangi.org.

Click the images to see more Gia Carangi / Vogue Patterns editorial photos.