Even in the 1940s and 50s, a time in modeling not especially synonymous with diversity, Bettina’s arched eyebrows and quick smile set her apart. Discovered by Jacques Fath — who threw out her given name, Simone Micheline Bodin, saying she looked more like a Bettina — and courted by the rest of the couturiers, she’s most closely associated with Hubert de Givenchy, who named his first postwar collection after her. Paris Match at the time called her “the most photographed French woman in France.”
Bettina enjoyed enormous success posing for the likes of Christian Dior, Madame Grès, Balenciaga, and Balmain, but, not entirely comfortable in front of the camera, she quietly bowed out in 1955. Determined to be a self-made woman, she tried her hand at art direction for Emanuel Ungaro and PR for Valentino. She later married, for a short time, the French photographer Benno Graziani and, following the divorce, took up with the American screenwriter Peter Viertel. Much later, in 1960, she suffered a miscarriage after a car crash in Paris that killed her Pakistani fiancé, Prince Aly Khan. By all accounts, she avoided the public spotlight from that point on.
But, wonderfully, Bettina is still with us. Now 90, she may or may not (probably not) make an appearance at an exhibition in her honor at the Galleria Carla Sozzani during Milan Fashion Week. The show will trace her pioneering career with more than a hundred images signed by some of the greatest photographers of the 20th century: Irving Penn, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Erwin Blumenfeld, Jean-Philippe Charbonnier, Jean Chevalier, Henry Clarke, Gordon Parks, Emile Savitry.
Bettina, Sep 16 – Nov 2, 2014, Galleria Carla Sozzani, 10 Corso Como, 20154, Milan