Looking Back

The 1960’s

‘What fun we’d had, how beautiful we were.’ E. Lockhart

That’s me…the one in the middle totally outnumbered by beautiful looking girls, and still not quite believing my luck. Back in 1965, I was in the right place at the right time. The sixties were in full swing and London was the capital of cool. What had begun as a favour for a girlfriend was to escalate quickly into a career that spanned twenty-five years and saw my company, Marlowe Press, become the central publishers in the modelling world. We had offices in London, Paris, Munich and New York and throughout the 80’s Marlowe Press published 80% of all model cards, agency books and head-sheets in these major cities. Looking back, I can honestly say, it was a wild ride and one I am eternally grateful I got a ticket for.

The ride began by chance. After designing what was to become the first Model Composite for my then girlfriend Ruth Dumer, I was introduced to her agent Peter Lumley. He loved the Composites and promptly mailed them out to all the agency clients which resulted in a surge of forward bookings for Ruth. A few months later, in Paris, I was introduced to the famous American model agent Dorian Leigh who loved my idea and insisted I stay a few days in Paris to design Composites for all her models. That night, as her guest at a party in the Avenue Foch, I found myself drinking champagne served by white-gloved waiters and listening to the splash and giggle of models jumping into the pool. Sign me up, I thought. I could get used to this.

I soon learned that there were no models in Paris, or anywhere in Europe, with photos printed on paper, so 1965 became the year I chose to end my degree at London University and begin my Peter Marlowe Composites © business in earnest. From that point on, my doorbell rang all day, every day, with models asking me to go through their portfolios and design a unique composite for them. I had, by default, become both graphic designer and confidante.

Needing bigger premises led me to a studio building in Chelsea overlooking Lionel Bart’s house ‘The Priory’, but known as the Fun Palace on the basis of the endless parties he hosted. The songwriter responsible for both ‘Oliver’ the musical, and discovering Cliff Richard, hosted guests such as Princess Margaret, The Rolling Stones and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at 216 Fulham Road, the models kept coming; the athletic girls, the runway girls, the flawless-skinned girls perfect for cosmetic ads, and girls like Leslie Lawson, who later became Twiggy and Grace Coddington who went on to have a long career at Vogue and is currently director at large of American Vogue.

In 1966 I spent a lot of time working with innovative agents like the flamboyant South African Gavin Robinson, who later became well known for flying his models to the Quisisana Hotel in Capri. The hotel, a study in understated elegance, that has welcomed everyone from Rock-Stars to Royalty, would stage fashion shows for the British Designers to show their collections. It was Gavin who in 1967 accepted my design for the first ever Head-Sheet – a poster four and a half feet long, showing all the models portraits, which from then on became a major part of all model agencies publicity. By 1968 Gavin was a powerful agent with offices in Bond Street and many of the best show models in London.

By 1967 we were having up to ten models a day coming into the studio and so it was clear we needed our own darkrooms to cope with the sheer volume of prints. I leased a basement (and garage, which I sub-let to Rudolf Nureyev) in the next street under the famous Eyebrow restaurant, and to speed up the process of delivering up to 120 kilos of publicity per trip I bought an Aston Martin DB4. For several years I drove continuously to agencies all over Europe which was especially fun as there were no speed restrictions back then. Sadly, my beloved DB4 came to a rather dramatic end in 1967 after a head-on collision with a coach and finding myself thankfully unharmed but now without transport, I took the opportunity to upgrade to a DB6. By now I was working in so many cities that the driving was exhausting, so I switched to flying when a typical flight from London to Paris would cost the princely sum of £12 which included a full English breakfast.

Working between two buildings was also causing problems, so when my friend Shel Talmy proposed I lease the 3rd floor apartment of 124 Knightsbridge under his 5th floor studio, I jumped at the chance. Whilst upstairs Shel was busy producing records for The Who, The Kinks, and Cat Stevens amongst others, downstairs an endless array of pretty girls would be coming and going from the offices of Marlowe Press. The building became famous for models and rock stars and our joint Christmas Eve Pyjama parties, which were peppered with both.

Up to three hundred models, photographers and agents would celebrate the festive season in style whilst two local police were on stand-by to remove gatecrashers. One year things were shaken up with two 007’s both attending – the original Bond Sean Connery, and the model turned actor George Lazenby, one of the first models to be cast in a major movie role.

By now I was travelling to Paris every fortnight, meeting with agents and models by day, exploring the Latin quarter by night and being introduced to the joys of fine wines and that magical Je ne sais quoi the city is famous for. Paris in the 60’s was a wonderful city and shopping for French Fashion was such fun, with candy-coloured seersucker shirts and ties by Cacharel, suits from the Champs Elysée and the wonderful small boutiques in St.Germain. There was also a real sense of camaraderie amongst those of us in the industry with many of us being foreigners and most of us speaking little French. Life was good and the living was easy with nobody expected at the agencies until 10am and most of the fashion industry taking a whole month off during summer.

The modelling industry in Paris had some great characters back then such as François Lano, and Catherine Harlé whose agency became a home away from home for many of us. Housed in an authentic Art Nouveau building in Passage Choiseul it became famous for its friendly laid-back vibe. On any given day you might find models like Mick Jagger’s girlfriend Anita Pallenberg lounging around on the sofas in reception, or members of Andy Warhol’s Factory crashing there when they needed a place to stay.

François Lano was a childhood friend of Catherines and had been a theatrical agent before opening the Paris Planning Modelling Agency, which went on to become the most ambitious and professional in Europe at the time. A charming man both well dressed and good humoured, he always had time to welcome his visitors and over the next ten years he became my biggest client. François was also one of the first to see a reason to open an agency chain across Italy and Germany, which he called Talents. Meanwhile over in Milan, the first agent to set up shop was Colette Gambier followed two years later by former model Giorgio Piazzi, who founded Fashion Model (Milan) in 1964. Paris also had agencies founded by ex-models, like Simone Benazeraf’s ‘Models International’ and Christa Fiedler’s ‘Christa Modeling’.

Chelsea fashion in the late 60’s

No country in Europe produced as many monthly magazines as Italy and because very few fashion models were Italian, there was a large demand for foreign models in Milan. It was a great city for both photographers and models on the cusp of their careers and certainly one with no shortage of good food and willing company. Giorgio Piazzi was a great entertainer, regularly arranging weekends away with his entourage, which I was often a part of. We would stay at his friends’ palazzos outside Milan and enjoy the best of his Italian hospitality. Flying into Milan the models would often be met by aristocratic Italian playboys in their Ferraris and taken to dinner at Riggolo or Torre de Pisa in Milan and out dancing at nightclubs like Napenta. Consequently, it was not hard to persuade the models that Milan was an excellent first port of call and I was happily on hand to assist with how best to promote them.

Back in London, the explosion of youth culture continued to soundtracks of The Beatles. Whilst the girls in the King’s Road were wearing mini-skirts and knee-high Courrèges boots, I could be found shopping in Granny takes a Trip or I was Lord Kitchener’s Valet. Fashion was all about flights of fancy and we would think nothing of wearing velvet jackets by day or psychedelic shirts by night. I remember buying my first blue gingham shirt (whereas pre-1965 white was the only ‘done’ colour to wear), but this was the ‘60s and the generation gap was wider than ever before.

1970’s

‘They always say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.’ Andy Warhol

Working with Inge Schuckmann – director of Talents Munich 1972

By 1970 I was spending ¾ of the year abroad designing publicity material for the models, and travelling between London, Copenhagen, Munich, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, Vienna, Zurich, Milan and Barcelona.

Back in 1969 whilst visiting Jeanette Christjansen in Paris I met her boyfriend John Casablancas.  This was shortly before Gunnar Larsen, the visionary Danish photographer persuaded him to become a model agent, and in that same year John opened his first agency, ‘Elysée 3’. Three years later he left his brother Fernando to run Elysée 3, whilst he opened the first ‘Elite Model Agency’ in Paris and was soon causing a bit of publicity of his own by being a very alpha male in an industry full of beautiful girls.  John may have been new to the world of modelling but he had a canny knack for publicity and in 1975 I published the first Elite calendar to promote his top models.

Scouting was not something London model agencies organised, but in 1970, I spotted a teenager by the name of Sue Baloo in central London and it proved true in her case that getting into modelling can be about who you know. I took her to meet Lucy Clayton with some of my test shots where she was immediately accepted into the agency and booked by David Bailey for the cover of Linea Italiana the following week. In February of 1972 she entered the Vogue Hall of Fame landing a cover and went on to grace their pages many times throughout the decade.

In the summer of 1974, I was living in my new studio at 25 Blvd du Montparnasse when I got a call to meet Claude François also known by the nickname Cloclo, a French pop singer, songwriter and dancer. He wanted to enlist my help in opening a modelling agency in Paris and I spent a few memorable months, each weekend at his chateau outside Paris, helping him realise his vision. On Sunday night, he would give all his departing guests a magnum of the finest Bordeaux wine, which was typical of his generosity. His agency, Girls, opened its doors in the autumn of that year, with the recently scouted Scandinavians being put up in Paris apartments on credit. Within a week many were on the phone missing their boyfriends and threatening to fly home. Claude’s solution was to ask me and a few other trusted friends to take them out to L’Adventure Nightclub twice a week at his expense until they got over it. He didn’t have to ask twice.

In early 1977, John Casablancas, who had been building his reputation steadily as a real contender in the industry, confided in me his plan to open an Elite Agency in New York. This was a high-risk strategy, and since his American partner agencies Ford, Wilhelmina and Zoli (whose models he represented in Paris) would consider this treason, the plan was being kept top secret. Explaining that he had a very limited publicity budget, John asked me to come up with a promotional concept to launch the New York Agency, so I needed to find a way to raise the stakes and deliver a concept that would put Elite firmly on the NYC map.

Up until now no models had been told by their agents that they had to pay for a campaign, but it occurred to me that if John could persuade all his models to order a 2,4 or 6-page composite simultaneously, then we could publish 4000 copies on paper in addition to the models personal cards, and bind them into a book. When I proposed this idea to John he was elated, and to my delight had no problem in selling the concept to his models. By that autumn all the photos had been delivered to Marlowe Press, and by December tons of publicity were on their way to a mailing house at JFK airport. The books descended on the USA like confetti, and as far as stealth missions go, it was game set and match to Elite with the ensuing drama and lawsuits only serving to advance the agencies profile even more.

 Elite’s Promotion for its new agency in New York January 1978

After the launch of Elite Models in New York, the whole industry recognised that this form of promotion was a game changer and now they needed to publish their own books. That required a team of professionals, dedicated and experienced in publishing books containing up to 800 photographs. The business of modelling had stepped up and if you wanted to stay in the game you had to keep up. Thankfully I had developed relationships with the best printers in London, who would happily run 500 to 4000 copies for me, whereas in the US it was unlikely the best printers would entertain orders less than their normal 250,000 copies.

My earliest impressions of New York were exhilarating; watching the evolution of break-dancing in the downtown clubs, listening to live jazz in smoky basements and thankfully, due to my connections in the model industry, being welcomed to the most exclusive clubs with open arms. In the late 1970’s the party was often at Studio 54 with its mix of beautiful, eclectic and exotic guests hand selected by its owner Steve Rubell, who called this ‘mixing the salad’. I remember once at a private party there watching Eileen Ford ‘working the room’ in a circular motion, as if it were a government function, before leaving within 45 minutes. There was an air of foreboding when she entered a room as if the headmistress had come into class.

In the summer of 1977, I happily said goodbye to my bachelor days, and in July that year I married John van Geest’s daughter Hilary, known to all her friends as Gussy. With her easy charm, it was natural that she would take over our Public Relations and she was hugely helpful in the development of Marlowe Press for the next 13 years. 

Elite’s promotion in New York had been such a success that we decided to spend the Christmas of 1978 in the French Antilles, so we visited St.Martin, but finding it too commercial took a ferry to the neighbouring island of Saint Barthelemy , or St.Barts as it is now called, and our love affair with the island was instant. There were maybe 2 or 3 private cars on the island, and we chanced upon a small hotel with half a dozen or so rooms, called the Eden Rock. The owner, an ex-Jacques Cousteau diver called Rémy de Haenen, introduced us to two local goat herders who sold us some land very cheaply just up from the beach at Petit Cul de Sac. The island was stunningly beautiful and a haven of tranquillity. Over the next five years we spent fun times there every Christmas with photographer friends from New York, whose photo shoots resulted in publicity that would ironically change the island forever.

  Arriving in St.Barts – our new favourite holiday location

One of the people I met on the island was Marco Glaviano, who became my closest friend for the next few years. I rented part of his studio on 17th Street  in New York and would watch him shoot celebrities for the covers of Vogue and later Harper’s Bazaar. Both of us worked at the annual Collections in Rome, where we met the designers and their runway models who were often just young girls on the first rung of their career but later would become familiar faces…huge fun, but it was a lot of PR for me and all night magazine shoots for the photographers covering the clothes that the models had shown that day.

St.Bart’s became the hang out in the ‘80’s for the New York fashion crowd, and it became our favourite place to relax so we visited the island many times in the next two or three years.

1980’s

‘Whatever you do don’t let anybody talk you into doing something about the way you look, ever’. John Casablancas

During the holidays, St.Barts with its distinctly Gallic flair, was the perfect place to be with New York‘s fashion crowd. Back in New York, where it was standard procedure to escape the city on weekends, I could be found hanging out with Henri Lehner in the Hamptons or spending time in Pennsylvania with photographers and agents like Marco Glaviano and Monique Pillard. There was a great weekend in Coney Island with Karen Hilton from Wilhelmina’s booking tables and one at the home of Bill Weinberg, an extremely thoughtful man and a director of Wilhelmina. Bill had a tremendous gun collection and we spent a memorable morning in his gun club practising at the shooting range. The atmosphere in the agencies in New York was always fun, and working with the top models so regularly meant I was getting to know them quite well.

Working with Laraine Ashton on her agency’s promotion – Tatler 1968

 

And then it would be back to business in London and discussing the next round of promotions with agents like Laraine Ashton. 

 

Meeting the publishing deadlines

Some of Marlowe Presses biggest model agency contracts in New York included financial penalties by the day for loss of their models’ earnings if the books were not air freighted on time. I was now having to spend much more time visiting binderies, to ensure that our publishing dates were met for the dozens of books we were now producing annually .

 

Already by the early 80’s the financial impact of the Elite Promotions was having a big effect on their competition and so when I was invited to meet with Eileen Ford and her husband Jerry for lunch, I had a hunch it wasn’t a social call. Somewhere between the main course and coffee they offered me Ford’s entire account on the sole condition that I stop working for John Casablancas. It was an offer I refused and that showed a poor understanding of my neutrality in the industry, but The Fords were focused both on revenge and damaging Elite, filing a $32.5-million-dollar lawsuit shortly after.

The ensuing ‘Model Wars’, as the tabloids dubbed them, put Ms Ford and John Casablancas head to head and created a model merry-go-round that ultimately saw model earnings rise by 400%. Their impact is still relevant today with Cindy Crawford, the former supermodel on Elite’s books during that time, set to develop a drama based on the agency tensions, for the NBC network with the working title Icon. Turning down Ford’s offer that day did cost me their account, which is why Ford models appearing on this website are only identifiable under their secondary agency logos on their composites.

By now I was publishing for all the major agencies in New York except the Fords, so when I got a call from Irving Penn’s son Tom, whose publishing company had the Fords as a client, my curiosity was piqued. My wife and I made the journey to his parent’s home, and were given a polite reception. The conversation later turned to business and as I understood it Tom was implying that, as he was now my competitor, we should consider stopping our work in New York. The lines were drawn and there was no question of carrying on the conversation, so we left.

The 80’s was the decade of excess with big hair and power suits. This was also the decade that introduced us to the ‘Supermodel’ and in the agencies this shift could be felt by the type of girls in demand. Curves were back in favour and models started discussing boob jobs or proudly showing off their results to us in the agency, in keeping with the club atmosphere that prevailed back them. There was no shortage of money in the modelling industry in those days and the agencies would throw wonderful parties to mark significant milestones. To celebrate Storm’s 2nd birthday, they threw a magnificent bash with Richard Branson, a partner in the business, making his entrance on the roof by hot air balloon. The parties continued throughout the 80’s and there I was, still in the middle of it all and having the time of my life.

1989 with Richard Branson at a party celebrating the Storm Modelling Agency’s 2nd Birthday.

1990’s

‘There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.’ Frank Herbert.

July 1990 Working with Pauline Bernatchez on her forthcoming 1991 New York agency book .

By January 1990 it was becoming obvious to me that the looming threat of the internet had the potential to create a massive shift in the industry. This was not just a threat that would impact the booking and accounting side of the business but also, crucially, being able to transmit photos over the wires was inevitably going to revolutionise the way models could be promoted in the future.

Marlowe Press closed its doors in 1990 and publishing for the model industry rapidly moved online over the next 5 years. There is a certain irony in that I am now using the very medium which made our publishing redundant, to tell my story and to share these photographic archives with you all.

Looking back has reminded me of not just a wonderful career, but of so many special people, and it is to them that I dedicate this website.

 

 

And a special thanks to my friends, the models, who made it such fun.

Special Thanks & Acknowledgements

Over my whole career I became close to many agents, and I would like to express my gratitude here for their kindness and support. April Ducksbury at Models One who worked diligently in building London’s number one agency from the 60’s on; Christine Forgeur at Agence New in Brussels for welcoming me into her world and making me part of her family; Giselle, and Jerome Bonouvrier in Paris who was always the peace maker in bringing agencies together, but sadly died too young, and his Aunt Catherine Harlé , the original ‘mother agent’ loved by all who knew her; Trice Tomsen & Steen Andersson for making my initial forays into the Scandinavian market so welcoming;  Riccardo Gay and Evelyne for their friendship and hospitality in Milan; Edo and Corine Spier-Rottschäfer , Miss World 1959, for her friendship over the years and happy times together in Amsterdam;  Dorothee Parker & Sebastian Sed for their hospitality and many walks in Hamburg’s parks and sharing our insight into the model industry’s evolution; I would also like to thank my friends from Elites’ Agencies: Monique and Jean Pillard for our many weekends together in Frenchtown Pennsylvania, Lisa Hertzog and John de Sanctis in New York for memorable Thanksgivings, and Valerie Trott in Los Angeles for much assistance;  a big thank you to Bill Weinberg for having the faith to entrust the Wilhelmina Model Agencies advertising account to Marlowe Press across the pond – and Karen Hilton a booker who was instrumental in opening the door to the Wilhelmina account for me;  Maggie Foster in Munich who was devoted to our work and ran the Nova Agency, one of Germany’s best agencies for many years; and last but not least John Casablancas, who was unquestionably the greatest promoter of beautiful people the industry has ever known, for his unwavering support and confidence in Marlowe Press.

 

Peter Marlowe © November 2016