You might not typically think of a fashion model as a groundbreaker, but Bettina Graziani certainly was. Born in 1925, Simone Micheline Bodin, known in professional circles as Bettina Graziani, was a woman of stunning beauty. Behind that beauty, there was talent and skill far above her famed good looks. Her childhood was difficult after her father abandoned the family. She was raised by her single mother on a school teacher’s salary during the war in Paris.
Bettina’s original plan was to become a fashion designer, not a model. She organized fashion shows and performed PR and marketing tasks for several design houses. Bettina was a muse first for designer, Jacques Fath, who used her as a model and helped her gain fame. She embodied the “wasp-waisted, cigarette-smoking, haute-couture sophisticate” of her day. She said in an interview, “I was very young, very genuine. I wore no makeup and I had red hair.”
As a model, Bettina worked with many famous designers including Hubert de Givenchy, who named an entire collection for her. The two had a long-lasting, committed friendship and the designer even named his first fragrance, Amarige, in her honor. She went on to become a fashion icon, even earning a reputed offer to act from 20th Century Fox studios, which she promptly turned down.
Simone Bodin was loved, admired, and respected by everyone who knew her. Givenchy once described the stunning woman’s inner and outer beauty by saying, “She had friends everywhere. Everyone adored her. She had great intelligence and personality. She never had anything unkind or cruel to say about anyone, which is rare in the fashion world!”
Bettina Graziani, as she was also known, was a poverty-stricken girl who grew up to become one of the first supermodels. The famous designers she modeled for include Chanel, Valentino, Grès, Jacques Fath, and Hubert de Givenchy. Her prominent cheek bones, striking figure and feline eyes quickly set the standard for models of the ‘50’s.
An in-demand model, she was also instrumental behind the scenes helping to arrange many of the shows where she modeled and even doing publicity for those shows as stated above. She was multi-talented and stated, “I owe [my] success more to an expressive face than to my good looks.”
Not a woman to rely solely on her good looks, Simone went on to become an integral part of the entire fashion world. She left her mark, even after her retirement, by writing her memoirs and leaving the world with an insight into what drove her unparalleled success. She also wrote poetry, composed music and eventually took small acting roles in two French films, Bete Balanco and La folie douce.
In 2010, she was appointed Commander of France’s Order of Arts and Letters, traveling to fashion shows, and promoting the work of designers she loved and respected. Her rise from poverty and her pivot from aspiring designer to supermodel demonstrate that a beautiful face can be a launching pad for a life of meaning and purpose.