Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Amanda Lear and Salvador Dali

1965–1975: Modelling, Swinging London and life with Dalí

"I'd grown up thinking I was ugly, ugly, ugly. I was much too tall, I was much too skinny, I was flat-chested, I had my mother's Asian eyes and cheekbones so I looked foreign compared to all my girlfriends, my mouth was too big and my teeth were too big so I never smiled. And then Françoise Hardy had her breakthrough in France and everything suddenly changed. Before her you were supposed to look like Brigitte Bardot, blonde, curvy and busty. But I was about twenty when people started telling me "You know what, you look a little like Françoise Hardy, you could be a model" and then out of the blue this famous woman, the great Catherine Harlé turns up. By sheer accident she happened to see me in the street in Paris and asked me if I wanted to be a fashion model and I thought she was joking! And she said "No, no, no, you're exactly the type of girl we're looking for" and all of a sudden all of these flaws, all the things I'd been so ashamed of, became my greatest assets. By sheer accident, as most things in my career."
Amanda Lear on her modelling career
In early 1965, Lear was spotted by Catherine Harlé, head of a model agency, who offered Lear a contract. As a means to finance her art studies, Lear returned to Paris for her first modelling assignment; to catwalk for rising star Paco Rabanne. Just as Catherine Harlé had predicted, a girl with Lear's looks was very much in demand; soon thereafter, she found herself being photographed by Helmut Newton, Charles Paul Wilp and Antoine Giacomoni for magazines like Elle, Marie France, and Vogue and modelling for fashion designers like Yves Saint Laurent and Coco Chanel in Paris and Mary Quant, Ossie Clark and Antony Price in London. After some time, she dropped out of art school, began modelling full-time and went on to lead a bohemian and flamboyant life in the Swinging London of the Sixties, hobnobbing with people like The Beatles and fellow top models like Twiggy. She became a "stalwart of London's demimonde," an exotic name on the nightclub circuit and a regular fixture in the gossip columns, and would later in the 1970s occasionally moonlight as a reporter herself, covering both the London social scene and international celebrities and party animals in David Bailey and David Litchfield (editor)'s glossy in-crowd magazine Ritz.
While clubbing with Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones and her then boyfriend, the Guinness heir Tara Browne, in a Parisian nightspot named Le Castel in late 1965, she was, again according to her official biography, introduced to a man that was to change her life on many levels. The man was none other than the eccentric Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dalí, the self-proclaimed enfant terrible in the world of art, at the time some 40 years her senior. Dalí was not only struck by Lear's looks but also saw a kindred spirit in her; Lear has since described their close and unconventional relationship as a "spiritual marriage".Her biography My Life with Dalí which was first published in French in 1984 (original title: Le Dalí d'Amanda), and had Dalí's approval, gives a detailed insight into the lives of both the artist and his muse (the factual accuracy of My Life With Dalí, and most specifically the dates, is disputed by several researchers of Dalí's life and work). She accompanied him and his wife on trips to Barcelona, Madrid, New York and Paris and over a period of some fifteen years spent every summer with Dalí at his home at Port Lligat, near Cadaqués in Catalonia. Lear posed for some of Dalí's works such as Venus to the Furs and Vogué, took part in several of his film projects and could be seen by his side during press conferences and meetings with the media, events that in the age of flower power characteristically for its time and at this stage of Dalí's life often turned into happenings, as spectacular as the art itself, and then frequently with Lear as the central figure. Joining the court of the Dalís she also regularly socialised with celebrities. Dalí served as a mentor to Lear; travelling with him, she discovered the great museums of Europe, Parisian salons and restaurants, New York bohemia and his homeland, Spain, and especially the Catalan culture, while she, in return, introduced him to the younger generation of the counterculture in art, fashion, photography and music in London.
"I knew nothing when I first met him. He taught me to see things through his eyes. Dalí was my teacher. He let me use his brushes, his paint and his canvas, so that I could play around while he was painting for hours and hours in the same studio. Surrealism was a good school for me. Listening to Dalí talk was better than going to any art school."
Amanda Lear on Salvador Dalí
Although she remained Dalí's confidante, protégée and mistress all through the Sixties and Seventies, Lear was also romantically linked to Brian Jones, which resulted in the ironic Rolling Stones track "Miss Amanda Jones", included on 1967 album Between the Buttons. 1972 saw her first on-stage appearance when she introduced Roxy Music and Lloyd Watson at Rainbow Theatre in August. In 1973 Lear was also briefly engaged to Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music, and was that same year famously depicted posing in a skintight leather dress leading a black panther on a leash on the cover of the band's classic rock album For Your Pleasure,an image that has been described as "as famous as the album itself" and which brought Lear plenty of exposure in the world of rock and roll. She went on to have a year-long affair with the married David Bowie, with whom she appeared in the live performance of his 1973 hit song "Sorrow" at the 1980 Floor Show stage production which was televised in the United States by NBC for TV series Midnight Special on 16 November 1973, an appearance often referred to as the official launch of Lear's career in music. She also acted as the mistress of ceremonies for the show. She was briefly involved with guitarist Chris Spedding. On 13 March 1979 she however married French bisexual aristocrat Alain-Philippe Malagnac d'Argens de Villèle who, in fact, was the former lover turned adopted son of diplomate and controversial gay novelist Roger Peyrefitte. The marriage ceremony took place in Las Vegas, Nevada while Lear was promoting her disco album Sweet Revenge in North America, just three weeks after the couple first met in Paris at fashionable discothèque Le Palace, a French equivalent of Studio 54.Malagnac's career, often financed by Peyrefitte, included proprietor of Le Bronx, one of the first openly gay night clubs in Paris, and briefly managing French singer Sylvie Vartan, a less than successful undertaking which almost bankrupted Peyrefitte, who was forced to sell artworks and antiquities to pay the resulting debts.
Salvador Dalí and his wife Gala both strongly disapproved of the relationship with Malagnac, whose reputation in Parisian high society they were well aware of, and even attempted to persuade Lear to have the marriage annulled. As a consequence of this, and also as Lear's successful career in music and television now was beginning to take up most of her time, she and her mentor began drifting apart. While they still sporadically kept in touch via letters and telephone through the early and mid-Eighties, especially after his wife died in 1982, Lear only very briefly visited Dalí in Spain one more time in the second half of the decade, at Púbol in 1988 and then without her husband, shortly before Dalí himself died. Malagnac would go on to establish himself as a successful art dealer and antiques collector and, despite the misgivings of the Dalí's and others, was married to Lear for twenty-one years, until his untimely passing in 2000.

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