Bettina Graziani inspired all Great Couturiers

20 Oct


I was a success in my job as a cover girl,” she writes, “and I owe that success more to an expressive face than to my good looks.”



Bettina Graziani


Simone Micheline Bodin (born in France, 1925), known professionally as Bettina or Bettina Graziani, was a French fashion model of the 1940s and 1950. Simone spends her childhood in Lavel, France. Her first job is tinting drawings for an architect, while she’s  dreaming of becoming a fashion designer. She moves to Paris and presents her drawings to couturier Jacques Costet at his atelier at 4 Rue de la Paix. Costet isn’t interested in her drawings, but takes Simone on as a model. “My round country-girl’s cheeks and healthy appearance made me look quite unlike all the other mannequins,” she will later write.

Simone meets Gilbert “Beno” Graziani, a genial man-about-town (who will later become a well-known Paris Match photographer). Together they move to the Cote d’Azur to run a bar in Juan-les-Pins to make ends meet. Back in Paris, Simone marries Graziani in a borrowed Jacques Fath dress.

In 1947 Jacques Fath hires Simone to model for him and transforms her “from a long-legged redhead with freckles to a supremely elegant, streamlined girl”. He renames her Bettina (because there is another model named Simone in his troupe) and she is photographed in Fath finery by Erwin Blumenfeld for Vogue. A year later Bettina makes her runway debut for Jacques Fath for spring.

Photograph by Irving Penn.Published in Vogue, September 1, 1950.

Jacques Fath directs her to shed her chignon in favor of a boyish “Greek shepherd” cut in 1949, which will spark a revolution in women’s hairstyles.. The same year Bettina makes her first trip to America, to work with Vogue’s Irving Penn. She gets offered a contract by 20th Century Fox, which she turns down. She is also invited by Christian Dior to join his fashion house, but  chooses instead to work for Jacques Fath.

Bettina divorces from Beno Graziani in 1950 and later befriends Peter Viertel, screenwriter of The African Queen.

After Jacques Fath’s tragic early death, Bettina goes to work for “handsome giant” Hubert de Givenchy, as a muse and press agent in 1952. Bettina organizes and models Givenchy’s first collection, which includes an embroidered and frilled, Byronesque “Bettina” blouse, which becomes a fashion icon in the early 1950s and inspired the bottle for the best-selling Givenchy parfum “Amarige.”. In his early seasons, Givenchy channels Bettina’s personal style, sending her out barefoot in cotton separates, revolutionizing the couture at that time. Together they travel to New York for the “April in Paris” benefit at the Waldorf-Astoria. Designer and muse do a television interview with newsman Edward R. Murrow.


Bettina in parfume ad for Canasta by Jaques Fath

Bettina blouse

Bettina blouse by Givenchy

The Alliance with Givenchy ends after two years and Bettina is now a freelance model. She  moves for a time to Hollywood with her boyfriend. Peter Viertel.  Approached by a Hungarian manufacturer, Monsieur Hein, to create a line of sweaters called Bettina.

In 1955 Bettina meets Prince Aly Khan, a playboy who briefly was the United Nations ambassador from Pakistan. She gives up modeling to be his constant companion. This, she’ll later write, requires a change of style. “When I looked in the mirror I sometimes found it hard to recognize myself. Where was Bettina, the leading mannequin, ever in the forefront of fashion? The Bettina I saw had hair as long as Mélisande’s, and extremely decorous dresses that were sometimes even longer than fashion dictated. But I accepted what I saw in the mirror with perfectly good grace, since I knew that this was how Aly liked me to look.”

Bettina & Prince Aly Khan

Bettina & Prince Aly Khan

“No. 1 topic among the marriage-makers of the International Smart Set these days is the romance of Prince Aly Khan, ex-husband of Rita Hayworth, and the beauteous ‘Bettina,’ . . . ex–cover girl.” Bettina receives two dozen roses from the prince daily, the press reports

In 1960 disaster strikes when Aly Khan is killed in a car accident, which Bettina survives, though she’ll suffer a miscarriage. She inherits Khan’s Chantilly château, Green Lodge (which she’ll later sell to Khan’s son, Karim).

In 1967 Bettina, “the green-eyed railway worker’s daughter” goes back to modeling at the age of 42. And all because she’s bored. Bettina works for Coco Chanel, but she has a problem, for as the couturier says of her, “She needs to lose a little weight. I have told her to follow my example and don’t eat at weekends.”  After presenting Chanel’s collection in July, Bettina says, “It was fun to do it once. I never will again.”

Coco Chanel & Bettina
Coco Chanel & Bettina

Bettina becomes director of haute couture at Emanuel Ungaro in 1976. “I needed to go to work for the money,” she later says.

In 2010 Frédéric Mitterrand presents Bettina with France’s Ordre des Arts et des Lettres award, saying, “You are, in a word, the embodiment of the modern woman.”








Interview Magazine

Interview by Colleen Nika,   publised: 18 December, 2008  

During the postwar creative boom of early 50s France, three fashion designers revolutionized couture: Christian Dior, Pierre Balmain, and Jacques Fath. Supermodel Simone Micheline Bodin Graziani, pet named “Bettina”, rubbed shoulders with all of them, and played muse to the youngest of them, Jacques Fath. With her red hair and fresh face, Bettina personified the innovation, wit, and accessibility of Fath’s brand. Fath died in 1954, but his bold silhouettes, dramatic necklines, and unorthodox flourishes—”flying saucer buttons,” popularized by Hollywood starlets and Bettina’s editorials—continue to influence designers like Viktor & Rolf, John Galliano, and Giambattista Valli. Bettina famously lent her name to an iconic blouse by Hubert de Givenchy, from his first collection, but she considers her formative Fath years the highlight of her career. .  

jacques Fath in studio with top model Bettina_ photo Louis Dahl-Wolfe

Jacques Fath in studio with Bettina. Photo Louis Dahl-Wolfe

Colleen Nika: History has come to associate you with Givenchy, but before your worked with him, you were a muse to Jacques Fath. How did he jumpstart your career?

Bettina: I started working with Fath when I was very young, back in 1947. I had modeled before then, but on a much smaller scale. And I worked with Fath longer than any other designer in my career—four years. From the draping process through our presentations and campaigns, he used me for all of his new collections. He liked that I was “different”: I was very young, very genuine. I wore no makeup and I had red hair. At the time, Fath was interested in conveying an American spirit and a brand new attitude. He wanted to communicate a modern image to the media; it was very important to him. So, I became the face of Fath. 

CN: What do you consider most memorable during your years as Fath’s muse?

B: Fath would throw costume balls in the countryside, at the Château de Corbeville. All the best buyers, stars, writers, even other designers like Balenciaga and Balmain would come. Sometimes we would throw 20s– and 30s–themed partiesm, or cowboy-themed parties. Imagination was everything. And we had a great time at Fath’s studio, especially during draping sessions. Givenchy, who worked there when he was very young, says it was a beautiful experience and that he learned so much during that time. Guy Laroche got his start there, too. This was just after the French liberation; we all lived for the creative moment.

Jacques Fath 1950Bettina in Jacques Fath, 1950


Bettina in Givenchy winter dress, 1955

CN: After your Fath years, what path did your modeling career take?

B: I worked for Givenchy for two years. I also did a lot of magazine work. I was everywhere: in Vogue, of course, but also in Elle, which was a very new magazine at that time. In those days, the models would have their name credited in the magazines, so I had a lot of publicity. I stopped modeling in the late 50s, but later, I did some work for Valentino and I was a US press agent for Emanuel Ungaro.

CN: What are your thoughts on the contemporary modeling profession?
B: The models are different now—they are so young, and they all look the same. Of course, I was young when I started, too, but there was so much less competition, less big names. But then, the entire business was different. The presentations were much smaller; collections were shown to select clients in salons, like a trunk show. You could reach out and touch the clothes. It was approachable. Back then, there was no ready-to-wear, only couture. Of course, because the runway events are so costly now, the industry is returning to smaller presentations. But the model’s role has definitely changed.
CN: Speaking of the present, how are you keeping busy these days? Are you still actively involved in fashion? What designers interest you?
B: Well, I travel a lot; I recently was in Malta and the Riviera. But I live in Paris, so I am still very engaged with fashion. I go the shows every season. My favorite designers? Azzedine Alaia and Yohji Yamomoto. But especially Alaia; he is the ultimate innovator. Actually, I am wearing couture Alaia now—he made this for me two years ago. [stands up to show sculptural black sheath]. And I still am very busy; I have many projects. People call me all time—they want to interview me: they ask me about the Parisian fashion scene of the 50s; they want my pictures and commentary. And I love talking about fashion history, so I am happy to do it.

2 Responses to “Bettina Graziani inspired all Great Couturiers”

  1. John T. Nichols 20 June 2019 at 22:51 #

    I met her because her friend, Edie Nichols, recruited me to carry her photography equipment (30-35 lbs, before cell phones) when she went to studio 54 to cover Faberge’s coming out party for Farah..

  2. Steven Gee 21 October 2020 at 14:55 #

    Bettina doesn’t represent a point in time as much as a model of authenticity. That is to credit the French aesthetic and obsession for invention, always assuming an attitude of inspiration. No one looked like her, and so fashion expressed her qualities as if the clothes were her exclusive designs, like when a great ballerina becomes Giselle: Pavlova was The Dying Swan. There were other great models like Dovima and Suzy Parker, but Bettina was a classical phenomenon in all her work.

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