About The Book
Every picture tells a story. And fashion, a world defined largely through pictures, has millions of stories to tell. But we rarely look beyond the beauty of the fashion image itself to consider what lies hidden behind.
When Barbara Mullen was born in Jazz Age Harlem, the profession of fashion modelling had barely begun. But by the time she’d graduated from high school, it was booming. Starting out as a department store mannequin in wartime New York, she would become one of the most successful models in the world. And then, after a series of personal tragedies and scandals, she disappeared from sight.
Today, Mullen exists largely through a series of extraordinary pictures, shot by some of the greatest photographers of the twentieth century; Richard Avedon, Guy Bourdin, Lillian Bassman, Norman Parkinson, William Klein, Horst, Irving Penn. Taken all over the world (Peru, Paris, India, Mexico, Sicily, New York) they tell fashion’s story in one of its most vital decades, as it transformed from an elite, luxury pursuit into a global mass-market phenomenon. Lillian Bassman labelled Mullen ‘the replacement girl’ — a last-minute stand-in for a 1948 photoshoot, who stunned the photographer with her ability to transform for the camera’s gaze. And that chameleon-like quality would allow Mullen to adapt and survive as notions of fashion and beauty themselves transformed across the Fifties, from Dior’s frothy New Look romance to the slick, graphic style of rising stars such as Cardin and Givenchy.
But what was it like to be a model then, at a time when editors such as Diana Vreeland, Bettina Ballard and Carmel Snow ruled the fashion world; a time when Madison Avenue’s Mad Men were conjuring up campaigns that needed spectacular, audacious images; a time when the designers and photographers we now venerate as gods were just inexperienced youngsters; a time when women weren’t expected to have careers (and certainly not ones which saw them become better-paid than most men); a time when models were expected to be their own stylists, hair and make-up artists, and luggage carriers; a time when you could be on the cover of every fashion magazine on a Manhattan newsstand, without anyone ever knowing your name?
Today, we live in a world where models can be superstars; thanks to social media, they now have the power to create their own images, and tell their own stories. But the voices of the women who founded and shaped the industry have largely gone unheard. Barbara Mullen’s biography offers a chance to examine modern fashion and beauty from the other side of the lens, through the eyes of one of that pioneering generation’s last survivors.
Updates From The Author
Or to be more precise, 'Ninety-FOUUUURRR'???? That's what Barbara Mullen shrieked when I called the other day. 'My birthday? Oh God, I forgot all about it. NINETY-FOUR. That's DIS-GUST-ING. That means...03.06.2021
It's been a while. Seven years, six months and eighteen days to be precise, since I first met Barbara Mullen. And nine years, two months and twelve days (give or take), since I first saw Lillian Bassm...31.12.2020
It's the most clichéd of clichés, but sometimes life just gets in the way. And so, for most of the last six months, thanks to an obstacle course of different events - work, family, health, Brexit - Th...23.04.2019
20 cities, in 4 time zones, in 4 weeks: it's been an action packed August for 'The Replacement Girl'. It's been quite a while since my last post - largely because, for the last month, I've been in the...11.09.2018
Yesterday was Barbara Mullen's 91st birthday. Or it would have been, if Barbara hadn't decided (very sensibly, quite some time ago) to stay put at 85. It was also the first anniversary of our Unbound ...04.06.2018
From Cote d’Azur beauty pageants to animal rights protests, and from couture salons to encounters with royalty and movie stars, Liat Sandys’ modelling career was — at the very least — never boring. I’...25.04.2018
Jean Dawnay, 1957 Most of the women whose lives I’ve featured (both here, and — in more condensed form — on Instagram) had neither the profile or the platform to share their perspectives. Jean Dawnay ...26.03.2018
Renée Breton, 1956 It seems only fitting to be writing about Renée Breton in Paris, in the springtime. Three weeks younger than Barbara Mullen, she spent most of her career as one of Christian Dior’s ...16.03.2018
Barbara Mullen spent two years as a department store mannequin before getting her first break at Vogue. But some women would spend their entire careers working in ready-to-wear showrooms and couture s...25.02.2018
2018 sees research for ‘The Replacement Girl’ shift to Barbara Mullen’s later career, in London and Paris. And so the second group of stories to be told are those of Barbara’s French and British conte...12.02.2018
It’s been just over eight months since Harper’s Bazaar published a book to celebrate their 150th anniversary. For its cover, out of all the iconic images produced across the magazine’s long history, t...18.12.2017
For some, modelling was an end in itself. But for Liz Benn, it was a springboard — one that catapulted her from a humble Canadian upbringing to life at the helm of the Caribbean’s most glamorous resor...22.11.2017
For much of the Forties and Fifties, American models dominated the world of fashion photography. The countercharge, when it finally came, started in Paris, where women like Sophie Malgat led the way f...07.11.2017
Joan Pedersen grew up dreaming about dancing. But fate led her to modelling instead, and to a successful career that flew largely under history’s radar. World’s Oldest Living Cover Girl. It’s a title ...23.10.2017
Howard Hawks promised he’d make her a star. But Katherine Cassidy decided to go her own way, and chose modelling — and money — over the movies. “It’s fine while it lasts,” Marie Icide yawned. “Like ma...08.10.2017
Ronnie Compton was one of the most glamorous models in America. Vera Lee was a merchant seaman’s daughter from Southampton. And Veronica Minette was the doomed widow of a Belgian count. But it would b...23.09.2017
Barbara Mullen chose a modelling career; Jeanne Florin tried to avoid it. But despite that, she became one of the most sought-after models in Paris — and, with her husband William Klein, would form on...10.09.2017
After a decade of modelling success, Tedi Thurman remained an unknown. But once she made the leap to broadcasting, she became a household name — and one of the industry’s first mainstream stars. Even ...26.08.2017
Many of the top models of the Forties and Fifties enjoyed exceptionally long careers. But even by those standards, Marilyn Ambrose was exceptional, enjoying two decades of top-flight success — forging...12.08.2017
You can’t have a good Cinderella story without having an ugly sister somewhere in the frame. In Barbara Mullen’s particular fairytale, that role falls to Bijou Barrington — a glamour girl whose career...30.07.2017
To borrow an expression that wouldn't become common currency till decades later, Muriel Maxwell had it all; beauty, brains, connections, and a glamorous life both in front of and behind the camera. Sh...15.07.2017
If any of Manhattan’s first generation of models could have successfully told (and sold) their story, it would have been Liz Gibbons. She did, in fact, over thirty years ago — a fascinating historical...01.07.2017
Barbara Mullen’s story is unique. But it’s just one of hundreds of stories that could have been written about the modelling industry’s early pioneers. While Unbound’s campaign to publish Mullen’s biog...17.06.2017
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