Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Pattie Chronicles: Modeling, the 'Mod Bod,' and Photography

In the sixties, there was an ideal for a model – and Pattie certainly fit that mold beautifully. Despite certain photographers hesitancy to hire a model “who looked like a rabbit,” others quickly took to Pattie’s look – she was thin, blonde, and beautiful (the norm at that time) but her gap-toothed smile made her unique in a sea of blonde models. She attended a modeling school in order to improve her technique, and got herself a good agent in order to sell her ‘look.’

Obviously, her ‘look’ worked. Her thin appearance from her modeling days has long been admired – she was one of the original waif models. In 1965, she said “I’m five feet seven inches tall, I weigh 105 pounds, have blue eyes, and am what they call and pink and white blonde.” She became wildly successful, booking editorials and commercials all over London. She became an inspiration to many designers, but none more so than Ossie Clark. Her tiny, almost little girl frame, mane of pale gold hair, and childlike features were what Clark himself loved. In the 70s, she modeled for him in campaigns and worked Clark’s runway show at Chelsea Town Hall – a show that went down in fashion history as one of the most influential, most creative runway shows ever. She, along with Amanda Lear and Marianne Faithfull, modeled the floor-length floaty dresses Clark had made alongside partner Celia Birtwell. Pattie Boyd was also on the cover of “The Birds of Britain,” a book about the most fascinating dollies in England. In the intro to “Birds,” the writer alludes to Pattie’s “swirl of miniskirt, beneath which limbs flicker like jackknives and glimmer like trout.” Quite a description, no? But despite her popularity, Pattie just didn’t understand it. “I’ve never thought of myself as good-looking,” Pattie admitted in 2006. “I always thought, ‘How amazing I’ve gotten away with it [modeling].’”

Even so, Pattie understood the importance of keeping a slim frame in order to keep booking jobs. In 1965 she said, “A successful model has just got to be strict with herself and lay off all fattening foods. That means no bread, butter, spaghetti or sweets…. Watch out for ‘puppy-fat spread’…. Eat proper meals at regular times with lots of lean meat and green vegetables.” So no matter how enjoyable certain things were for her, Pattie understood restraint and made sure not to indulge every dietary whim. She admitted in her autobiography that she constantly took dangerous diet pills throughout the 1960s as a way to curb her appetite. For a period of time, she blamed the pills for leaving her infertile.

Besides the painstaking measures she took to keep her model body (or “Mod Bod,” if you will), Pattie also grew tired of the “demeaning” nature of modeling. Sure, she loved posing in front of the camera, but found “trotting around the studios trying to persuade photographers” to use her was quite tiring. She continued, “There were no makeup artists or hairdressers unless you were working for one of the big magazines. You’d have to take your own accessories, make-up and hairpieces” to shoots.

Toward the end of her career as a model, Pattie found her passion for photography – which up ‘till then had been only a hobby – growing. “I wanted to be on the other side of the camera.” In addition to photographing landscapes, portraits, still-life, Pattie also “learnt how to print, too, because then you are in control from the minute you take the picture to the end result. It’s so different from the lack of control that you have as a model.” Though technically a photographer since the early sixities, she didn’t start doing it professionally until the 1980s. “After my divorce from Eric,” she said, “I realized I had something I could do for myself as a career. I started working for magazines and then friends began asking me to do their portraits, or photograph their children; things just snowballed.” She compared her careers as a model and photographer, concluding, “These days, I’m much happier behind the camera.”

Nowadays, Pattie “keeps in shape by doing Pilates twice a week and power-walking” she told UK’s Telegraph in 2005. “I’d say I’m quite happy with the way I look…There are times when I look in the mirror and think I’d love to have a tweak here and there, but lines show that you have had an enjoyable life. I tried Botox once, but the pain was absolutely excruciating. I’m not tempted to try it again.” Despite those few insecurities, obviously people agree with Ms. Boyd that she is still very beautiful. In 2005, she returned to modeling after a self-imposed retirement for several decades to become the spokesmodel for Viyella’s winter campaign.


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