By  on October 27, 2009

NEW YORK — Ellen Harth, the Sixties model who became a trailblazing modeling agent, died Sunday at the Dewitt Nursing Home here.

Harth, 71, died from complications of breast cancer, according to Barbara Flood, a friend and former modeling colleague.

In her years as a model in the late Sixties and early Seventies, Harth, a Berlin native, worked for many major designers, but it was her work with Rudi Gernreich for which she will likely be best remembered. With a graphic black haircut, dark eye makeup and long eyelashes, Harth embodied the spirit of the era alongside models like Peggy Moffitt and Leon Bing. She also modeled for Alexander’s and Ohrbach’s shows in the Sixties.

“She was German and very Germanic in a lot of the things she said, very excitable and temperamental, and a fabulous person and wonderful model,” Flood recalled. “She always said what was exactly on her mind. She didn’t pull any punches. She didn’t kowtow to any of her designers. She had the original Sassoon hair and very black eyes and long fingernails, and Rudi adored her. People will remember her black short hair, the dark eyes and that incredible German accent.”

Harth eventually started her own modeling agency, Ellen Harth Models, which provided models to Seventh Avenue fashion houses for fittings and shows. In 1983, her business became part of Elite Models as Elite Runway, and Harth worked with models such as Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford, and designers including Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Anna Sui and Bill Blass, according to Abel Rapp, who worked with her for three years in the early Eighties. As an agent, Harth was a pioneer by bridging the gap between runway and print models.

“She knew the industry incredibly well and absolutely loved it,” Rapp recalled. “She was tiny compared to everyone else, but you would never know she was on the runway. She had these amazing black eyes, and I once said, ‘How do you do it?’ It took her two hours to do her eyes, and she would cross-hatch them. She was a great friend, and totally impossible sometimes. I will miss her greatly.”

Michael Vollbracht, who drew an illustration of Harth, said she was one of Geoffrey Beene’s favorite models. “I remember watching Ellen Harth put on her eyelashes one by one, before she went out in a show. When she started her own agency, she really helped other models,” said Vollbracht.

Moffitt recalled Harth’s strong friendship with fellow German Gernreich.

“I will never forget her saying, ‘Whoodie, where is my wed dwess!’” Moffitt said. “I admired her very much, because she was a very strong woman, and she amused me a lot because of that strength. She would come out with the German baby talk, which was always very amusing to me.”

Moffitt remembered how Harth always tried to be part of the current American culture. “I remember once saying something to her about how fabulous her dress was, which was maybe Oscar de la Renta…a very frou-frou kind of thing. She said, ‘Oh, it is ‘faahnkee.’ The word ‘funky’ came from jazz and hipsters, and in the 1950s, funky meant down-home dirty. Here is Ellen saying this fabulous Oscar ballgown was funky.

“I once asked what was the first thing she remembered, and she said it was having bullets going over her head,” Moffitt noted. “She was a strong person and always a great beauty. She photographed like a dream. She sure was memorable and a very dear sweet person.”

Survivors couldn’t be learned at press time. A memorial service will be set, but the date hasn’t been determined.

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