A friend of a friend of mine told me an interesting story about Barbara Mullen, one of the greatest — and perhaps least known — fashion models of the 1940s and 1950s. Mullen started out, (aged 18) as a Berdgorf Goodman salon mannequin in 1945, and was a fascinating model who enjoyed an extraordinary career. She opened the first Emanuel Ungaro show in 1965, modelled into her late thirties and worked with some of the best photographers of the twentieth century, including: Richard Avedon, Guy Bourdin, Lillian Bassman, Norman Parkinson, William Klein, Horst, Irving Penn. ‘It was Bassman who labelled Mullen ‘the replacement girl’ — a last-minute stand-in for a 1948 photoshoot, who stunned the photographer with her ability to transform for the camera’s gaze,’ explains friend-of-a-friend John Michael O’Sullivan who first interviewed Mullen for the Observer in 2013 and is writing the Irish-American model’s biography. ‘That chameleon-like quality would allow Mullen to adapt and survive as notions of fashion and beauty themselves transformed across the Fifties, from Dior’s frothy New Look romance to the slick, graphic style of rising stars such as Cardin and Givenchy,’

Bill Helburn, one of New York’s busiest commercial photographers, remembers an elegant woman who moved like a dancer; ‘She was just outstanding,” he declared, “as good a model as there was — every bit as good as Shrimpton or Twiggy. EVERY BIT. And she always nailed it.’ Jessica Daves, American Vogue’s editor for much of the fifties, called Mullen ‘one of the queens of the modelling kingdom.’

Barbara Mullen today

Beyond that, Mullen went on to launch a successful fashion boutique in Switzerland, and contribute to several magazines: from writing for Cosmopolitan in the 1940s to being a fashion editor at Annabelle in the 1960s.

To mark her 90th birthday, John Michael Sullivan has launched a crowdfunding campaign with Unbound to publish a book of the Barbara Mullen story (you can read an introduction to it HERE). ‘The Replacement Girl: A Life in 24 Frames’ will take 24 photographs from Barbara’s career, each one by a different photographer, and explore her life and the creation of each image.

I think it’s a story worth investing in. If you’d like to make a pledge, you can do so HERE. Thank you.

7 thoughts on “Celebrating one of the greatest models of the 20th century: the Barbara Mullen biography

  1. She has such a twinkly mischievous face! Barbara Mullen belonged to the age of grace poise and glamour. It is sad we have lost these attributes in current times of casual clothes and casual manners.
    I think Barbara is less known just because there was not the intense social media then and people admired from afar.

  2. Thanks Alison. Read the intro and loved it. We were young, thin and lucky, she said. She sounds like smart, sassy Runyon broad. Her American career ended because of an affair with the married head of the Ford modelling agency. I’ve always hated Madmen… Anyway this short Irish girl is going to contribute to the bio of this “big Irish girl”. ps love your blog

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