Penelope Tree is her real name. Only child of Ronald Tree, journalist, investor and British MP and Marietta Tree, US socialite and in later years American represent at the United Nations . Penelope is also related to retailer Marshall Field, Rev. Endicott Peabody and half-sister of author Frances FitzGerald. With Penelope Tree a change began in the way we perceive beauty. Penelope didn’t look like anybody else, she was a moon-child.
Penelope Tree’s well-to-do background could have been the foundation of a happy childhood, but it wasn’t. In a rare interview she gave a couple of years ago, she talked about a very unhappy childhood, a mom who was to busy having affairs with other man and her father, whom she felt very close too, but she only saw at school holidays.
Teenager Penelope Tree
She was 13 when the legendary photographer Diane Arbus photographed Penelope for a feature inTown & Country magazine. When Ronald Tree saw the pictures, he forbade them to be used. Arbus portrait Penelope as a spoilt rich kid, absolutely desperate at her own native habitat. Only one picture ever published is Penelope in their home living room.
At 17, she went to Truman Capote’s famous Black & White Ball (in 1966) and was spotted by Cecil Beaton, Richard Avedon and Diana Vreeland ,who all took credit for discovering Penelope. The next day Penelope was already commissioned by American Vogue to be photographed by Avedon, who was so taken by Penelope’s appearance he said; ‘Don’t touch her. She is perfect’.
Penelope had already begun to cultivate her own style, which sometimes triggered furious reactions in the street of New York, because of her barely-there minis and racoon-tail skirts. With the sudden change in her life she hoped to escape her background. Avedon and Beaton worked together to make Penelope a supermodel.
The start of her modeling career (pictures by Richard Avedon)
Not long after her modelling career took off, Penelope met photographer David Bailey, who was then married to Catherine Deneuve. Penelope went back to New York and didn’t see Bailey for almost a year, but there were sparks between them and she thought about him all the time. And then Bailey turned up in New York and Penelope fell madly in love, she was 18, Bailey (as she calls him) was 30. She thought he could save her from her parents and her upbringing.
For a year or so the relationship worked out. They lived together, travelled the world and when they were in London, Bailey and his muse were the epicentre of the sixties society. Then Penelope started to get jealous and somehow obsessed and inevitably it became claustrophobic to Bailey. ‘What an idiot! I had this Jane Austen view that once you have found your man, that is it’, Penelope says about this period.
Penelope Tree and David Bailey
Penelope’s look at the time was described as part Pipi Langstokking, part Egyptian Jiminy Cricket. She played up her Martian-like appearance by shaving her eyebrows. There are fashion observers who now say that she was a pioneer – she changed the notion of beauty and brought her own sense of style, which was copied by others.
But most of all she brought enigmatic luminosity to the pictures taken of her. While some photographers adored her, others refused to work with her, because they thought she was a freak…. John Lennon, in a famous quote, called Penelope: ‘Hot, Hot, Hot, Smart, Smart, Smart!’
Her favorite style: Bohemian
Penelope secretly suffered from anorexia. This started already at boarding school. She was so in control of her weight as far as knowing exactly not to go beyond a certain point, because she didn’t want to end up in hospital. Nowadays Penelope’s pictures sometimes appear on pro-anorexia websites and this horrifies her. In her twenties the anorexia turned to bulimia, something she didn’t get under control till her thirties.
Then everything started to go wrong. Her relationship with Bailey was in free fall and suddenly her face got swollen by severe late-onset acne. Her career ended as quickly as it had begun. ‘I went from being sought-after to being shunned because nobody could bear to talk about the way I looked.’ It got even worse, when Penelope got arrested for possession of cocaine during a drug bust. Scarred and looking rough the police refused to believe she was either a famous model or the daughter of wealthy parents who could easily afford bail. She was held in custody for the night. ‘In a way, I was stripped of my identity completely’, she said.
In 1974 Bailey ended their relationship and Penelope went to Los Angeles and later to Australia, where she met her first husband Ricky Fataar, a musician with the Beach Boys. They got a daughter, Paloma Tree Fataar and with Australian psychoanalyst Stuart McFarlane Penelope got a son, Micheal McFarlane. Through all the years she stayed friends with Bailey.
For the best part of the past 39 years Penelope has done her damnedest to stay out of the spotlights, but during the last years she has appeared again in some magazines and fashion ads like Burberry and Barneys Tree time spring 2012, photographed by Mario Sorrenti. Penelope is a student of Buddhism since the 1980s and works for a non-profit organization that supports education for vulnerable women and children in Cambodia and India, called Lotus Outreach and for the Khyentse Foundation, which promotes Buddhist scholarship. She is as true to herself as her photographs would have you believe!