The Replacement Girl 77/90. Rizzo, Willy. Paris, 1956.
I always thought Willy Rizzo just made coffee tables; those swirling hulks of brass, travertine and exotic timbers that were standard issue for every jet-set playboy in the Sixties and Seventies. But the longer I spend researching Barbara Mullen’s story, the more I’ve realised how many lives one person can have. After he retired from photography, Roger Prigent opened a Manhattan antiques business, and Leombruno-Bodi became knitwear designers; Paul Himmel turned to psychiatry, Gleb Derujinsky became a ski instructor, and Bill Helburn made a successful transition to TV advertising.
At the other end of their careers, Serge Balkin and Gjon Mili began as engineers, whilst Karen Radkai and Lillian Bassman both came from editing backgrounds. Herbert Matter had been a trailblazing graphic designer, and both Peter Knapp and Bill Klein crossed over from abstract painting. Horst P.Horst, in his earlier days, had been a model himself. And almost all of that generation had had whatever careers they’d originally dreamed of interrupted or ended, in one way or another, by war.
But Willy Rizzo was only 12 when World War II began, and 17 when it ended. He emerged as the world’s love affair with Paris blossomed, winning assignments for France Dimanche and Paris Match that would take him everywhere from Hollywood to Indochina to the Nuremberg trials. His pictures had a direct, youthful playfulness about them. When he shot Dior’s latest collection for Paris Match in the spring of 1956, for example, he deflated the reverence that usually accompanied such pictures by flinging a tangle of photography equipment across the set behind Barbara Mullen. But she rose above it, unruffled — looking, if anything, more serenely elegant than she ever had.
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