Remembering One of French Fashion’s Greatest Muses, Bettina

Bettina, 1956. Photo: Gordon Parks/Getty Images

The model known as Bettina passed away in France yesterday at the age of 90. Born Simone Micheline Bodin, she made her mark as France’s first supermodel in the late ‘40s and ‘50s, defining a new era of Parisian glamour. Known for her red hair, freckles, and sparsely made-up face, she rose to prominence as a model and muse to legendary couturier Jacques Fath, who reportedly gave her the name “Bettina” because he already had a model named Simone. Not long after, Bettina began modeling for one of Fath’s former assistants, Hubert de Givenchy, who, in 1952, named his debut collection after her (she was also the inspiration for the designer’s iconic Bettina blouse).

Though she retired from modeling in 1955, Bettina (who took the last name of her first husband, Italian photographer Benno Graziani) remained a mainstay in the fashion world for the rest of her life. Last fall, she was honored with an exhibition of portraits from her modeling heyday, including images by Irving Penn, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Erwin Blumenfeld, which was on view at the Galleria Carla Sozzani in Milan and Paris’s Galerie Azzedine Alaia. And while she inspired some of the century’s most masterful couturiers, Bettina’s own approach to style was refreshingly understated and relaxed. “I never wore those elaborate couture clothes in life,” she told Vogue in 2009. “Never! At the time, I used to wear men’s shirts and long skirts with flat shoes. It was my look.”

Click through the slideshow for a look back at France’s first supermodel — and one of the most influential fashion muses of the 20th century.

Remembering France’s First Great Supermodel