Dorian Leigh was the first model to receive public attention and substantial name recognition. She was a supermodel during the 1940’s and 1950’s. Her younger sister, Suzy Parker, was also a supermodel during the 1950’s and early 1960’s.
Dorian Elizabeth Leigh Parker was born in San Antonio, Texas on April 13, 1919. (Other conflicting reports claim that her sister indicated that they were from Long Island, New Jersey and even Jacksonville, Florida). But what is known and confirmed is that Dorian dropped the “Parker” from her name because of her family’s opposition to her being a model.
As “Dorian Leigh”, she became the leading model of her day and earned an unheard-of- before (for a model) annual salary of $300,000. She signed with Eileen and Jerry Ford’s young agency, the now legendary Ford Models, and became one of its first stars.
She worked with photographers Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, etc., and got the covers of magazines such as Life, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. She was the very first of Avedon’s models to become celebrated in the industry. A woman of a subtle kind of beauty, she was his favourite model at the time and worked with him closely from 1948 to 1951. Avedon later stated that she was the most versatile model, as well as the loveliest, that he had ever had before his lens.
Her style, uncanny elegance, poise, sophistication and worldliness came across in photos, making women want to emulate her. Avedon’s photos of her for Revlon’s “Fire and Ice” campaign remain one of the most praised campaigns in Revlon’s long history. In it, Dorian is dressed in a jewelled gown and red cape. Her fingers are sprawled in front of her face, and she stands in all her majesty. She is also the beautiful model in the “Cherries in the Snow” advertisement campaigns.
In 1950, Dorian aided Avedon in adding additional depth to fashion photography. He shot her bursting into laughter with her arms thrown around the winner of a bike race in France. This shot stirred the industry greatly as for the first time, a fashion figure embraced a sports hero, and none than for the pages of Harper’s Bazaar.
She was a print model. She did not do fashion shows because at the time, modeling for photographs was the most prestigious domain in modeling. Photographic models were paid more than runway models. However, back then runway was considered work beneath the attention of photo/ad campaign models.
Dorian was a good friend of both Irving Penn, Truman Capote. Her other good friends included Eileen Ford, her sister Suzy Parker and other models like Dovima.
Dorian Leigh also did some film and stage work. From Jan 23, 1953 to October 23, 1954, she appeared in the Broadway comedy, The Fifth Season. In France in 1958, she appeared in the French film, Anna la Bonne. And in 1961, she appeared in another French movie, Les Mauvais Coups. And though she did not appear in the film Breakfast At Tiffany’s, her personality is said to be the inspiration of Audrey Hepburn’s character, Holly Golightly.
Dorian Leigh quit modeling and moved to Europe after falling in love with a Spanish nobleman. She later made history by creating the first modeling agency in Paris. Very successful at it, she collaborated closely with her former agent and friend, Eileen Ford. Their agencies would represent the others models abroad and protect them from the new “perceived threat of predators” who would dirty the image of the modeling business. Michael Gross detailed in his best-seller, Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful People, how Eileen Ford and Dorian Leigh created a transatlantic league designed at destroying John Casablanca! In interviews for the book, John Casablanca detailed how Dorian’s agency and the Fords would steal models from him and how they nearly drove him not only out of the business, but insane and bankrupt too.
In later years, Dorian was forced out of the modeling business and left Paris. She then opened a restaurant in southern France. In Suzy Parker’s 2003 obituary, it said that her sister Dorian still resided in France.
Dorian Leigh authored three books under the name Dorian Leigh Parker. Her The Girl Who Had Everthing (Subtitled: The Story of the Fire and Ice Girl) was about her life as a model. Then she published two other books relating to her passion for cooking, Pankcakes (Subtitle: From Flapjacks to Crepes) and Doughnuts.
The Fifth Season (Jan 23, 1953 – Oct 23, 1954)