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Looking Back at Christian Dior's 'New Look' of the '50s

December 25, 1987|DIANE REISCHEL | Times Staff Writer

Dorothy Rice had the right qualifications for the moment: "I had a very voluptuous body, with a young, very blank face."

And somehow designer Christian Dior saw in this Brooklyn teen-ager the right face and body for his legendary "new look"--the ultrafeminine, hourglass style that set the fashion tone for the 1950s.

The daughter of a New York artist, Rice, a fledgling fashion model at 16, suddenly found her image--adorned in Dior--in pages of Vogue and numerous European magazines. And although Rice's appearance became synonymous with the '50s woman, she never took the prescribed '50s course of domesticity and motherhood.

Rice remained a model for 15 years, later turning to acting. She now lives with her husband, producer Stanley Chase, in Los Angeles, where she records her impressions of L.A. life in a flurry of paintings that cover almost every wall in the couple's plush West L.A. condo.

Lately, she's also been spotting pictures of her former self in TV and print retrospectives celebrating the 40th anniversary of the new look. "It's such an eerie feeling" she says, remembering those self-absorbed modeling years.

Indoor Woman

"When you're a model, you're the center--all that matters is that you look a certain way for the camera. Now I find it much more interesting to look at the world around me," says Rice, who, sitting in her all-white living room, still has the air of a pampered, indoor woman.

Rice had been an artist's model since childhood and had just joined the John Robert Powers agency in New York, when she learned that the fashion industry was looking for females "who looked French."

She says photographer Serge Balkin took some shots of her with matte makeup and upswept hair--creating a grown-up image that soon had Vogue magazine sending the teen-ager to London and Paris, and Christian Dior seeking her out as his "new look" model.

"It was an acting job for me. I was being very sophisticated. But I just happened to be right for that French coquette look," she says.

The portfolio created during those months in Europe with Dior, Balmain, Balenciaga and others carried her professionally "for at least 10 years," she says. And although she made good money during those early times, she had nothing to show for it later.

'Help People With Talent'

"Unfortunately, I gave it to a lot of writers. I'm one of these people who likes to help people with talent," she says with a smile. "I was idealistic."

Rice was an actress until the 1960s, when she turned to art--and she's been painting ever since. But she continues to watch the changing flock of models. "There are so many beautiful girls today. Even the men are getting beautiful," she says. She admires a lot of American designers today, but considers their clothes overpriced and poorly made.

"I had better clothes to model," she confides.

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