The cause was emphysema, said Eileen Ford, founder of the Ford Modeling Agency who discovered Patchett in 1947, shortly after she had moved to New York from a rural area near Preston, Md.
Patchett’s face, distinguished by a trademark mole just above her right eye, crimson lips and dark brunette hair, was featured on more than 50 covers of Vogue, Glamour and Harper’s Bazaar in the Fifties in landmark fashion photographs by Irving Penn, Erwin Blumenfeld, Horst P. Horst and Cecil Beaton. The composition of her features was so widely admired that Patchett’s career developed into something of a precursor to that of the modern-day supermodel. After she made deals to star in a Breck television commercial for $4,000 in 1968 and a Helena Rubenstein ad the following year, Patchett’s salary was the subject of constant speculation in the fashion trade.
“I don’t guess there ever was a better model,” Ford said. “How many models did between 40 to 50 covers of Vogue and Glamour? She did beautiful, important covers — the Blumenfeld cover of Vogue with just the eye, the mouth, the mole; the Penn cover with the big hat and veil — she did so many it was hard to believe.”
Carmen Dell’Orefice, who is 70, said she sat with Patchett for a Beaton cover of Vogue around 1949 and found herself quite intimidated by her colleague.
“We were in Dior hats,” Dell’Orefice said. “She was very poised and mature. All I know is that this world has lost the best pair of legs that ever existed.”
Much of Patchett’s success was based upon a moment in fashion that was interested as much in precise expression as it was the look of a model. “I never smiled,” she said in a 1969 interview. That Face of the Fifties look was very severe.
“The idea was to look elegant, even at the risk of looking mean,” Patchett said. “You had to look as though you were waited on hand and foot. It was much harder to be a model then. You never had makeup men at the studios, and false eyelashes were not realistic enough to have become popular.”
She went on to describe how she applied her own makeup:
“We never used rouge,” she said. “But I did use something like Touch and Glow from Revlon as a matte foundation, and always very red lipstick and I always colored my mole. And no mascara on my lower lashes.”
Patchett, who married stockbroker Louis Auer in the Fifties and had two children, also became a fixture of New York nightlife, a regular at the Stork Club where famous models were preferred customers. “We must have lived for years with only four hours of sleep,” Ford recalled.
She began to step back from her career into family life, maintaining a home in Westhampton, N.Y., and eventually living between California and New York.
“You can’t stop abruptly,” she once said of her departure from modeling. “After you have had so much, it’s like becoming an alcoholic. The withdrawal must be handled with care.”
Patchett is survived by her husband and a daughter, Amy.