The Replacement Girl: A Life in 24 Frames

By John-Michael O'Sullivan

A biography of Barbara Mullen, one of the twentieth century's great fashion models

Thursday, 31 December 2020

New Year's Eve

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 Bassman's portrait of her, photographed at La Grand Véfour in Paris in 1949; an impossibly long streak of arm and neck, slicing across the frame - and a face twisted away from the camera's glare, disappearing into the shadows.

I've spent the last few days looking back on the journey that picture triggered. Countless days spent in archives, libraries, estates and archives in Austin, Berlin, London, Long Island, Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Rochester, Washington, Yale and Zurich, assisted by some of the most patient people imaginable. 

12,788 screenshots from Google searches. 4,269 downloads from online resources. 450 scans from Barbara's own archive. 95 interviews. Page-by-page scouring of 73 different magazine titles (English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Swiss), ranging from a single issue to fifteen-year runs. 263 non-fiction books, 95 biographies, 64 novels, 32 screenplays, 8 plays. And 1 endlessly surprising subject, less than six months away from her 94th birthday - but still, she would like everyone to know, sticking at 85.

The book, in structure and outline, is exactly the same as it was when I first pitched it to publishers in the summer of 2013; 24 individual essays, each one exploring a different moment of Barbara Mullen's long career. Some chapters were only written in the latest lockdown; one or two are older than most of my nieces and nephews. But now they're all condensed down into a single file - 84,000 words, in double-spaced 12-point Times New Roman - that measures only 750kb. It seems, after all that, ridiculously small.

All that's left is to hit send, and watch it go out into the world - or at least to an unfortunate editor, who's about to get swamped in the world of midcentury fashion modelling from 1945-1962.

And to wish you all a better, brighter 2021.

Back to project page
Share on social


Georgette Taylor
 Georgette Taylor says:

Thank you. So looking forward to this!

posted 4th January 2021

Top rewards

£30  + shipping
50 pledges


A hardback first edition of Barbara Mullen’s biography. At all pledge levels, supporters’ names will be featured in the book’s acknowledgments pages.
Choose this reward
£40  + shipping
44 pledges


A special edition of the biography, featuring an extra 24 images which focus on the behind-the-scenes world of fashion modelling. Drawn from Barbara Mullen’s archive, these include contact sheets, outtakes and unpublished alternates by William Klein, Milton Greene and Richard Avedon, as well as a number of personal photographs.
Choose this reward