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Dorian Leigh, 91; Star Model of '40s, '50s

Dorian Leigh was the face of Revlon and a favorite of photographer Richard Avedon.
Dorian Leigh was the face of Revlon and a favorite of photographer Richard Avedon. (Family Photo)

For more than a decade, she dominated the fashion scene. Irving Penn and Avedon began using her regularly. The Revlon series was a sensation: "For you who love to flirt with fire . . . who dare to skate on thin ice," its copy teased, over a stunning visual of the brunette in vibrant red, flashing her fingernail polish. Avedon's portrait of her in Dior, hugging a sweaty bicycle racer on the Champs-Elysees, broke new ground by bringing together the fashion and sports worlds.

Despite her $1-per-minute rate, she was often broke because her agency was slow to pay, according to Linda M. Scott's 2004 book "Fresh Lipstick" and Michael Gross's 1995 book "Model." Ms. Leigh confronted her agent, and when he didn't take her seriously, she hired a secretary to take calls and make appointments from the Elyée Hotel in New York, and launched her own agency.

Blithe-spirited, oblivious to criticism, she was described as an outrageous flirt. In her 1980 memoir, "The Girl Who Had Everything: The Story of the 'Fire and Ice Girl,' " she wrote about her affair with the married Spanish marquis and race car driver Alfonso Cabeza de Vaca.

He promised to divorce, marry her and adopt the son they had together, she wrote. But before he could do that, on May 12, 1957, 30 miles from the end of Italy's famed race, the Mille Miglia, a tire on his red Ferrari blew out and he crashed through the crowd, killing himself, his co-driver and at least 10 spectators.

Grieving, she packed up her children and moved to Paris. She started a modeling agency, generally considered to be the first in Europe, which employed 115 models by 1961. The business thrived until her fourth, or maybe fifth, husband embezzled funds and she was forced to close it in 1972. (The number of marriages is unclear because of her relationship with an Italian, to whom her son said she was briefly married; she said in her memoir they did not marry.)

Always an excellent cook, she opened a restaurant, Chez Dorian, near Fountainbleau and ran it for two years while also teaching at the Paris American Academy and La Varenne cooking school. She moved back to New York in the late 1970s, intending to take over a modeling agency, but instead creating and selling food through her catering business.

In addition to her autobiography, she also wrote "Pancakes: From Flapjacks to Crepes" (1988) and "Doughnuts: Over Three Dozen Crullers, Fritters and Other Treats" (1994).

She catered in the Washington area in 1988 with a business she called Fete Acommplie and returned to Paris in 1999. After a diagnosis of a brain tumor, she moved to Falls Church in 2005.

Her marriages to Marshall Hawkins, Roger Mehle, Serge Bordat and Iddo Ben-Gurion ended in divorce. A daughter from her first marriage, Marsha Lynn Smith, died in 1992. A son, Kim Blas Parker, from the liaison with Cabeza de Vaca, died in 1977.

Survivors include a son from her first marriage, T.L. Hawkins of McLean; a daughter from her second marriage, Young Eve Paciello of Northport, Ala.; a daughter from her fourth marriage, Miranda Bordat-vanEtten of Lake Tahoe, Calif.; a sister, Florian Lee of Annapolis; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.


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