In the 1950s, Svetlana Lloyd began working as a clothes horse for the rich and famous.
She had wandered into a Christian Dior boutique and was promptly appointed a mannequin, or model, in the French designer’s Paris fashion house. Each day, she would be dressed in the latest pieces for the benefit of the house’s wealthy clientele.
Last week, Ms Lloyd, now in her eighties, helped launch an exhibition of Dior’s work at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne.
She spoke to Lateline about what it was like to work with the fashion great in 1950s Paris and the impact of his death 60 years ago.
On getting a job as a ‘mannequin’
Monsieur Dior had 15 regular models who worked the year round, five days a week, from 3:00 to 5:00 every day. And he wanted to have women of various shapes, sizes, ages and heights. He didn’t care if they were pretty girls as long as they had an allure, and were chic.
I walked into the boutique, and before I had time to actually ask for a job I was whisked upstairs during the lunch hour.
Monsieur Dior was seated together with [design studio director] Madame [Raymonde] Zehnacker and I said, ‘What do I do now?’ [He said] ‘Walk, then come back’… And there it was. I went downstairs and they gave me a [note] for the hairdresser the next morning. And they said ‘You arrive at 2:30 and be ready to show the collection at 3:00’.
On Christian Dior, the man
He was always very quietly spoken. He had a very quiet voice, a little bit high-pitched, and he was always solicitous of his girls and the models. He didn’t want us to be too tired or stressed.
For the first season you got nothing. If you stayed on for the next season you were allowed one free outfit but it wasn’t new — [it] had to be one either you had worn or somebody else had worn. [It was] the only couture house in Paris that paid overtime.
I loved working. I didn’t enjoy the life in Paris, because social life in those days, for a mannequin, was about zero, because [the job] was considered prostitution. It was a very dull time outside of work.
On fitting famous people
The majority of his clients then were private clients, ladies. Twice a year they allowed themselves two or three weeks to do fittings, because each outfit was separately made and had to have fittings, including the corset that was sewn into their clothes.
I wouldn’t like to say naughty words but the Duchess of Windsor was really very rude and a very unpleasant person. First of all, when she looked at you, she had a nasty expression and she always found something unpleasant to say.
There’s a photograph of me showing the Saint Laurent grey dress, which sold 9,000 times, by the way. [Italian actor] Sophia Loren is sitting in the front. It was the sort of outfit that would not have suited her at all, because she was so curvaceous. Well, she’s sitting there thinking: that’s not for me.
On the great designer’s death in 1957
He died of a heart attack; he was away in Italy. It was quite a shock. They brought the body back, and the director announced that nobody was to leave that six months. No worker, no model — no-one. You had to stay the six months that were coming. We were issued with black coats. The house was closed, but everyone had to come in and clock in, as you do in factories, which was the usual. In other words, we were not allowed to stay home.
The director announced, in effect, ‘the king is dead, long live the king’. And he announced that [Yves] Saint Laurent — who was the same age as some of us — we had to call him monsieur; he would carry right on, after that week’s mourning.
On life after fashion
[Now] I’m not involved in fashion at all. This was only my second career. My fifth career was lecturing and that’s what I loved most of all and did for 25 years.
I feel like a ghost [here at the exhibition]. Am I in ’57 or in 2017? It feels very strange.