The World’s First Supermodel


Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn 1948
Very little is known about this Swedish beauty. No doubt, many of today’s supermodels would say that Lisa was lucky. She was actually able to have a private life, beyond the camera. Images of Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn graced the cover of every fashion magazine during the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s. Dressed in exquisite gowns; long, sexy gloves and truly spectacular hats, Lisa posed for George Hoyningen-Huene, Man Ray, Horst, Erwin Blumenfeld, George Platt-Lynes, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Norman Parkinson, Richard Avedon and Irving Penn. Penn, her second husband, claimed she was his favorite subject; that she knew exactly what to do for the camera but, most importantly, she knew exactly what not to do.

Irving Penn was the second famous fashion photographer to assume the role of husband to one of the world’s most photographed beauties. Lisa’s first husband was Parisian photographer, Fernand Fonssagrives. In fact, Lisa was one of Fernand’s earliest subjects. He photographed her for such publications as Town and Country, Life, Vogue and the original Vanity Fair.

Far from simply a “good clothes hanger”, as she is known to have described herself, Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn brought her considerable talents as a dancer, fashion designer, photographer, and sculptor to
her modeling, creating a persona at once earthly and larger than life.

Known for her seventeen inch waistline, Lisa carried a cloth tape measure which she handed to any who doubted this implausible measurement. Asked how she maintained her beautiful figure, she expounded the importance of eating in small quantities and she was known to consume up to ten tiny meals a day. A tiny meal might consist of six grapes, one cracker, one slice of cheese and half a glass of wine. She was always eating something; but never anything much.

Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn was muse and inspiration to the cream of fashion photographers. She died in 1992, at the age of 81.