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Fashion: The Luna Year

4 minute read

If there is anything in the world of high fashion more vulnerable to whim than clothes, it is the models who wear them. They seem to emerge from nowhere, sparkle brilliantly, then plunge into Stygian darkness,* the victims of too much deja vu. Now rising into ascendancy is a new heavenly body who, because of her striking singularity, promises to remain on high for many a season.

Donyale Luna, as she calls herself, is unquestionably the hottest model in Europe at the moment. She is only 20, a Negro, hails from Detroit, and is not to be missed if one reads Harper’s Bazaar, Paris Match, Britain’s Queen, the British, French or American editions of Vogue. “She happens to be a marvelous shape,” says Beatrix Miller of British Vogue. “All sort of angular and immensely tall and strange. She has a kind of bite and personality.”

Gauguinesque to Egyptian. Last month Paris Match published photographs showing the way eleven photographers saw her. From a pose out on the landing gear of an airborne helicopter to an underwater dive with her diaphanous robe streaming behind her, Donyale never seemed the same. The slight hardening of a soft smile and a lift of the chin transformed her from Gauguinesque to Egyptian. Far more than the sum of her long (5 ft. 10 in.), model-spindly parts (31-21½-36), she is a creature of contrasts—one minute so phisticated, the next faunlike, now exotic and faraway, now a gamine from around the corner.

From the beginning, she has been under a lucky star. “I started at the top,” she says. Having played small roles in a Detroit repertory theater, she was spotted leaving a TV rehearsal and invited to New York by Photographer David McCabe. Her mother was against it. “She told me, ‘He’s trying to get you to New York to make a bad girl of you.’ ” But she went anyway, got an appointment through him with Harper’s Bazaar. The editors were so impressed when she walked into the office (“An extraordinary apparition,” said one) that they put a sketch of her on the January 1965 cover, and she was soon signed to work with Photographer Richard Avedon.

People Who Hurt. Such instant success was hard on her personally. A month after hitting New York, she married a young actor, divorced him after ten months, and now will not even give his name. “I love New York,” she says. “But there were bad things. People were on drugs or hung up on pot. There was homosexuality and lesbianism and people who liked to hurt.” Unhappy with that world but unwilling to give it all up and head back to Detroit, she fled to London and Paris last December.

There she is happier, fills her days with work and eating (“I eat more than most men”), her nights with discothèques. Though young, she is a thorough professional, arrives on time made up and ready to go. She is also a perfectionist down to her fingertips, which she enhances with nails imported from the U.S. because she thinks they suit her best. Most models make less money in Europe than they do in New York. But not Donyale, who despite her rate ($60 per hour and up) has hardly been out of a pose since she arrived in Europe. “Being what I am, I can get what I ask,” she says.

“Back in Detroit I wasn’t considered beautiful or anything, but here I’m different,” she adds. “And a year ago they were looking for a new kind of model, a girl who is beautiful like you’ve never seen before.” That is her secret, the reason why she may last longer than most in the fashion world. For she is not really beautiful; but like her namesake, the moon, she is different in every phase, yet always recognizably the same and herself.

-A few exceptions: Suzy Parker, Jean Shrimpton and Anita Colby.

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