More than 30 years after she first packed and jetted off to join her sister Janice in Paris, Debbie Dickinson is getting back into modeling.
Ten years ago, she stepped away from the fashion world to spend time with her ailing mother and to raise her son, Evan. She continued to hone her acting skills — something she dove into during high school in Hollywood, Fla. — and started E.D. Enterprises, a marketing and public relations business she still has today. Not long ago, while trying to help a friend's teenage daughter get into modeling, Dickinson took her to meet Click founder Frances Grill. Grill asked Dickinson, "What about you?" and encouraged her to make a comeback. Within days, the Seventies model found herself onboard with Click and phoning in clothes from friends like Stephen Burrows, Nicole Miller and Valentino to shoot film noir-ish photos with another pal, Antoine Verglas. When he looked at the images and compared her with Catherine Deneuve, Dickinson recalled, "I told him, 'In your lens.'"
Contrary to her sister Janice's over-the-top personality, Dickinson is more your friendly neighbor type. Along with Christie Brinkley and other top-dollar models, they tore up the modeling scene, defecting from Ford Models to join John Casablancas at Elite in the Seventies, setting the stage for supermodels — a phrase Debbie Dickinson said her sister came up with after a stranger on the street asked, "Who do you think you are, Superman? 'No, I'm supermodel,'" she said.
The 50-year-old Debbie Dickinson said, "I'm stepping sideways from my sister's stuff, which is shock and awe. I'm more the Procter & Gamble person in the family — I'm more about developing and nurturing.
"My mother said to look at the people around you as a brother or a sister as opposed to someone who might be able to do something for you," she said.
Next month, she aims to walk in a few Bryant Park runway shows and is in talks with publicist Sylvie Grumbach about appearing in the Paris shows. Dickinson has already been booked for Jean-Paul Knott's show. Much has changed in the City of Light since she ventured there in 1975, when "artists ran rampant" and mornings called for coffee in the cafes, days were spent shooting in the studio and nights were spent dancing at Club Sept and La Palace. Paris was her home for seven years, including the two she pretty much lived with photographer Guy Bourdin, his wife, dog, the husband-and-wife hairdressers Katya and Valentine Mordacq and makeup artist Heidi Moravetz. Dickinson still has Polaroids of Bourdin and would like to do a book about that stretch in her life, when ironed hair, severe fuchsia eyeshadow and false eyelashes were all part of her poupée, or doll, look. Working with Bourdin, as was the case with Helmut Newton's wife, June, and Issey Miyake, created "monster illusions and things that were irreplaceable," she said.In those days, Azzedine Alaïa, Valentino and Karl Lagerfeld were "unbeatable" in terms of design, Dickinson said. Designers like Ralph Lauren, Giorgio Armani, Kenzo, Michele Klein, Chantal Thomass and Claude Montana instigated the contracts, she said. The bonds between designers and models went beyond handwritten thank you notes and post-shoot gifts, she said, noting how Issey Miyake once invited her to Fiji for a monthlong sketching trip.
"What broke fashion was big contracts. The end of fashion happened when the surge in supermodels came in. Large companies started paying higher bills to secure top girls," she said. "The balance changed at that point. It became all about time efficiency and artistry became very costly."
With that in mind, she turned to more artistically minded lensmen Christophe von Hohenberg, Alex Beauchesne and Verglas to shoot her portfolio. Dickinson hopes to break new ground by appearing in ads that appeal to Baby Boomers who she said are largely excluded from ads even though they have the most spending power. "What is the appeal for a 50-year-old woman to see a stick-thin 20-year-old in an ad? What is designers' rationale?" she asked.
Her autobiography is due out later this year, as is her first single. A sitcom is also in the works and Dickinson has a supporting role in the yet-to-be-distributed feature film "5 Up 2 Down." "What's holding everyone back [from using older models] are the cosmetic companies and designers. Their ideal is still toward using younger skinny women — we're past that point," she said.
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