Sunday 29 October 2017

Model Image at the Lady Lever Art Gallery

Very few of my local friends sew, so I don't have many opportunities for getting together with them and discussing latest projects etc. What they do do however is let me know about local events and exhibitions which they think I'll like. So when my friend S went to Model Image at the Lady Lever Art Gallery last week, she emailed me almost as soon as she got home to say, "You'll love this".

I went today, and she was right.

The exhibition is based on photographs of June Duncan. Born in Liverpool, she initially trained as an actress and dancer before becoming one of the top fashion models of the 1950s. As well as images of her childhood and working life, the exhibition includes a number of 1950s evening dresses from the collection of National Museums Liverpool.

Photograph of June Duncan 1951-2, 1950s evening dresses

The Jean Dessès dress is displayed to show off the embroidery on the back, but it's also possible to see the side zip on the left, and the hooks and bars which hold the wrapped-over left skirt section in place.

Ball gown, silk satin and silk chiffon, Jean Dessès, 1955-6

Born in 1924, June Duncan was always naturally very slim - she twice failed the medical for military service in World War Two for being underweight. Before and after the war she trained as a dancer and actress.

June Duncan (fourth from left) in chorus line with Lena Horne, 1947

1950, aged 26

She began modelling in 1948, and by the early 1950s was working in both London and Paris.

Aquascutum, 1952-5

Dior wool suit, 1951-2

As well as Dior, she also modelled for Worth and Fath.

Photographs of June Duncan modelling for Worth (left) and Dior (right)

The Daily Express included her in its list of the ten top-paid models of 1952, although by her own account even top models then were paid nothing like the sums they receive now. (What she was paid per day equates to around £200 in today's money.) For some jobs models were even expected to bring their own shoes, gloves, jewellery and hats!

The top ten models of 1952, June Duncan is on the far right

As well as photographic modelling, June Duncan posed for illustrations for advertisements.

1950 advert for Votrix vermouth on right

1952 advert for Horrockses towels and pillowcases on left

Many of the dresses in the exhibition are high-end brand names sold by upmarket stores in Liverpool.

Tina Berlyn dress, 1955

One dress is by the 'Jonelle' label, John Lewis Partnership's own brand, sold in George Henry Lees. The jutting pockets are reminiscent of Butterick 6877.

Jonelle dress, 1953-6

There is also one dress made by a local dressmaker, Beatrice McKenzie of Southport.

Rayon dress with beaded detail, 1953-6

Model Image runs at the Lady Lever Art Gallery until 15 April 2018.

Update, Nov 2019: When browsing the December-January 1952/3 issue of Vogue Pattern Book I came across this advertisement for Jacqmar fabrics. The model looked familiar, and Pauline Rushton of Liverpool Museums confirmed that it is June Duncan, so I thought I'd add it to this post.

Another June Duncan advertisement


  1. What a wonderful exhibition! So many fabulous dresses and lots of wonderful mid-century history, no wonder your friend recommended it to you. xx

    1. I'm very lucky living close to Liverpool - Pauline Rushton (the curator of Costumes and Textiles at National Museums Liverpool) puts on some fabulous exhibitions! xx