Open main menu

Lisa Fonssagrives (born Lisa Birgitta Bernstone;[4] May 17, 1911 – February 4, 1992), was a Swedish fashion model widely credited with having been the first supermodel.[5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12]

Lisa Fonssagrives
Lisa Fonssagrives.jpg
Lisa Birgitta Bernstone

(1911-05-17)May 17, 1911
DiedFebruary 4, 1992(1992-02-04) (aged 80)
Other namesLisa Fonssagrives-Penn
OccupationSupermodel, Dancer/Dance Teacher, Photographer, Sculptor[1]
Spouse(s)Fernand Fonssagrives
Irving Penn
(1950-1992; her death)
Modeling information
Height5 ft 7 in (1.70 m)[2]
Hair colorBlonde[3]


Fonssagrives at London Paddington station, 1951, by Toni Frissell

Lisa Fonssagrives was born Lisa Birgitta Bernstone on May 17, 1911 in Sweden (variously reported as Gothenburg[4] or Uddevalla[1]) and raised in Uddevalla.[4] As a child, she took up painting, sculpting and dancing. She went to Mary Wigman's school in Berlin and studied art and dance. After returning to Sweden, she opened a dance school.[13] She moved from Sweden to Paris to train for ballet (after participating with choreographer Astrid Malmborg in an international competition) and worked as a private dance teacher with Fernand Fonssagrives,[13] which then led to a modeling career.[1] She would say that modeling was "still dancing".[14] While in Paris in 1936, photographer Willy Maywald discovered her in an elevator and asked her to model hats for him.[13] The photographs were then sent to Vogue, and Vogue photographer Horst took some test photographs of her.[5][13] In July 1939, she appeared in the German illustrated weekly Der Stern. Before Fonssagrives came to the United States in 1939, she was already a top model.[15] Her image appeared on the cover of many magazines during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s,[6][14] including Town & Country, Life, Time, Vogue, and the original Vanity Fair. She was reported as "the highest paid, highest praised, high fashion model in the business".[6][16][17] Fonssagrives once described herself as a "good clothes hanger".[5]

She worked with fashion photographers including George Hoyningen-Huene, Man Ray, Horst, Erwin Blumenfeld, George Platt Lynes, Richard Avedon, and Edgar de Evia. She married Parisian photographer Fernand Fonssagrives in 1935; they divorced and she later married another photographer, Irving Penn, in 1950. She went on to become a sculptor in the 1960s and was represented by the Marlborough Gallery in Manhattan.[1]

Fonssagrives died, aged 80, in New York, survived by her second husband, Irving Penn and her two children: her daughter Mia Fonssagrives-Solow, a costume designer who is married to real estate developer Sheldon Solow, and her son, Tom Penn, a designer.[1]

The Elton John photography collection auction held by Christie's on October 15, 2004 sold a 1950 Irving Penn photograph of his wife, Lisa Fonssagrives, for $57,360.[18]


  1. ^ a b c d e Anne-Marie Schiro (February 6, 1992). "Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn, 80, Artist Who Gave Up Career as a Model". The New York Times. Retrieved March 6, 2008.
  2. ^ "ADVERTISING: Billion-Dollar Baby". Time. 1949-09-19. p. 6.
  3. ^ "ADVERTISING: Billion-Dollar Baby". Time. 1949-09-19. p. 5.
  4. ^ a b c Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn; Nicholas Callaway; Alexander Liberman; Alexandra Arrowsmith (1994). Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn: sculpture, prints and drawings.
  5. ^ a b c Rosemary Ranck (February 9, 1997). "The First Supermodel". The New York Times. Retrieved September 24, 2006.
  6. ^ a b c Wyllie, Alice (2008-01-10). "An enduring model". The Scotsman. Edinburgh.
  7. ^ Brubach, Holly (1998-02-08). "Style; A State of Grace". The New York Times. ...Lisa Fonssagrives, who in retrospect surely qualifies as the first supermodel.
  8. ^ "Christian Dior: Lisa Fonssagrives lives". China Daily. 2008-07-01. Generally credited with being the first ever supermodel, Fonssagrives'...
  9. ^ Alexander, Hilary (2008-06-30). "The thigh's the limit at Christian Dior". Telegraph. London. the iconic first super-model, Lisa Fonssagrives
  10. ^ Johnson, Geoffrey (March 2010). "On the life and work of photographer Beatrice Tonnesen". Chicago Magazine. ...1949, Lisa Fonssagrives, recognized today as the original supermodel
  11. ^ Cheesman, Chris (2007-10-19). "Pictures: Original stills from JFK assassination revealed". Amateur Photographer. Archived from the original on 2007-10-24. ...Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn, described as the 'world's first supermodel'
  12. ^ Singh, Anita (2008-11-13). "Photographs of Angelina Jolie, Kate Moss and Britney Spears for sale at Christie's". Telegraph. London. She has been described as the original supermodel, gracing the pages of Vogue in the 1940s and 1950s
  13. ^ a b c d Seidner, David (Spring 1985). "Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn". Bomb Magazine. Archived from the original on 2013-04-16.
  14. ^ a b Crystal Renn & Marjorie Ingall. Hungry: A Young Model's Story of Appetite, Ambition and the Ultimate Embrace. ISBN 1-4391-0123-X.
  15. ^ "Noted Model Designs Late Late Wear". Life. 1957-11-18.
  16. ^ "ADVERTISING: Billion-Dollar Baby". Time. 1949-09-19.
  17. ^ Robertson, Nan (1956-05-25). "Model Life: Mannequin Turns Fashion Creator; Lisa Fonssagrives Uses Tricks She Learned On Runway to Develop Convertible Styles(subscription required)". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  18. ^ Elton John photo collection nets $900,000 USA Today October 15, 2004.


  • Gross, Michael: Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women, New York: W. Morrow, 1995, ISBN 0-688-12659-6
  • Seidner, David (ed): Lisa Fonssagrives: Three Decades of Classic Fashion Photography, New York: Vendome Press, 1996, ISBN 0-86565-978-8

External linksEdit