Curators Kohle Yohannan and Harold Koda certainly came in “with a bang” last Friday evening as “The Model as Muse” series continued with its second presentation, Qui êtes-vous Polly Maggoo? But it would take more than a broken water glass to ruin Dorothy McGowan’s flashback evening.
Everyone seemed to enjoy the light satirical message expressed about the fashion industry, yet few were familiar with the film as it had never been screened in the United States. Still it was sweet and refreshing, and said to have been the first of its kind, created ingeniously in classic ’60s-style by the insiders themselves.
Luckily viewers were able to hear from the former model and film star during a short discussion beginning with a slideshow of her work, which led to the story of her career.
Born to Irish immigrants in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, Dorothy described herself as a hardworking young woman without a sense of fashion. “I wasn’t stylish, I just happened to be long and lanky with a baby’s face.” After years of working odd jobs, she took a chance and signed with an unknown modeling agency.
Work was slow for the $3-a-day fitness model until an ambitious new agent took interest in the fresh face. And it wasn’t long before she had booked four-consecutive Vogue covers, numerous campaigns, and a deal with Chanel. She gushed about her favorite designer and described wearing her silk-lined clothes as a truly dreamlike experience. “You forget yourself, float, and do magical things.”
When it came to photographers she also picked favorites, particularly William Klein who was also the film’s director. She smiled as she reminisced over their snarky “brother and sister” moments, but when asked how territorial the photographers were at the time, quickly replied, “Oh, nobody owned me.”
She recalled her modeling days fondly: “I was happy to be working when I did, breaking boundaries; there were no more rules in the sixties.” Dorothy also brought some perspective to the era as she reminded the audience the globalized world that we know today didn’t exist at the time. “It was an interesting responsibility and a privilege to be the first American that many people had ever worked with or seen,” she said.
Following the film she became suddenly scarce on the topic of the international fashion scene. “For me, happiness was always in the process of creating.” But fashion was merely a chapter of her life in the arts: “I stopped modeling in 1974…and began being a model for my family.” ~ Danielle Alvarez