A woman stands in a Parisian street wearing Christian Dior's New Look. On her head is a Coolie Hat. She has a light coloured tight fitting jacket with the characteristic flare from the waist. The dark skirt is ballerina length and flared. She is wearing black gloves.
1940s Fashion | 1950s Fashion | 1960s Fashion | 20th Century History | Fashion History | Historic Non Fiction | History of Couture | History Of Fashion Modelling | Kingston Upon Hull History | The House Of Mirelle

When Cherry Marshall Met Seignon: Making A Model and The Face Of Susan Small.

June 21, 2017

Seignon models a gabardine reversable coat in a mannequin parade filmed for British Pathe at a London department store in 1950. Image taken from "Sunshine and Showers." Pathe Film.
Seignon models a gabardine reversable coat in a mannequin parade filmed for British Pathe at a London department store in 1950. Image taken from “Sunshine and Showers.” Pathe Film.

Irene Pearson wouldn’t have become Cherry Marshall if it hadn’t been for Seignon – it took a chance meeting in 1946 to seal the deal.

Long before a marriage to writer Emanuel Litvinoff – or Manny – gave her that lucky break, she responded to an advert in a Nottingham newspaper for a ‘model in a factory showroom.’

Those words suggest an unglamorous launch into a modelling career and yes, she was let down. Being a model in a small showroom “is just like being a dummy,” she said.

World War 2 was in the first throes and female conscription was calling so she threw her dreams to one side and joined the ATS instead.

One war, a marriage and a son later, Manny took her to the home of his Army friend Carl Nystrom. He was a writer of, mostly, B movies but they’d stayed in touch – two post-war writers banding together.

It was there that his wife Seignon noticed Irene.

“Why don’t you try a bit of modelling,” she told her, as if she was suggesting something  everyday and mundane. “There’s a shortage of good girls and you’ve got a good figure. With the right make-up and decent hairstyle you’d be a wow.”

MarshallCherry
Cherry shows off the enviable figure that made her name.

Irene mumbled something about how her boobs weren’t up to scrutiny since breast feeding but Seignon was having none of it:

“Rubbish! Half the models in London have their tits around their ankles. All you have to do it stick them up with sellotape,” she told her.

Seignon knew all about the modelling industry. Arriving in Britain in 1939 to train to be a ballerina she soon found her other calling – being a professional mannequin or model.

Described as an ‘exotic Burmese’ – she had a unique look that would take her to Christian Dior’s atelier as well as give her prominence on the British modelling circuit.

The Big Ten fashion houses in London in the 1950s were hugely influential designers, including couturiers like Hardy Amies.

Seignon’s deportment and her real-life beauty was important to a fashion industry where viewing clothes at mannequin parades was the form of advertising clothes.

In Seignon’s days there were only a few top models – or names. Their presence at fashion shows was as exclusive as their beauty and they commanded attention from designers, advertisers, the public and fashion houses alike.

In their fame, they enjoyed attention, accolades for their work and invitations to social events that transcended the British class system so rife in the 1940s and 1950s.

They made good marriages also.

“Class marries class,” someone said, “beauty marries money.”

Seignon was well liked and well respected. In London in the 1950s The Big Ten fashion houses booked her regularly and she was in demand in the large cities of the North also.

Whilst modelling for The House Of Mirelle she said that she thought Hull was “equally as clothes conscious as London or other provincial centers.”

As Irene Pearson walked in the apartment for Seignon that day she took her advice.

Instructing her like a ballet teacher Seignon said, “turn your feet in” and loaned her a coat to make her look the part.

A 1952 newspaper advert
A 1952 newspaper advert for an evening dress by the Susan Small fashion label. By this time Cherry Marshall WAS Susan Small and made personal appearances throughout the UK as well as appearing in all the brand’s adverts. Image Courtesy the Dundee Courier and Advertiser.

Irene barely had taken that on board when Seignon took charge of her make up. She spent a grand total of 20 minutes on her face.

When she finished the reflection in the mirror showed her how Seignon’s signature look came about. She was horrified at the heavy pan stick spread all over her head and neck.

“Nonsense!” said Seignon, ”if you want to be a model, you’d better look like one.”

With that she took the soon-to-be Cherry Marshall to Peter Clark, one of the top photographers in the country. He then took her to the couturier Merenholtz and her first modelling job was born.

‘Irene Pearson’ didn’t have the right sound in this world of glamour so before long her name changed to Cherry Marshall.

Cherry became the face behind the famous British fashion label Susan Small – for petite women – and with that success she launched her own modelling agency and stayed in the public eye for decades.

Cherry talks to Woman's Own, June 13th 1964 about spotting the right girls for fashion.
Cherry talks to Woman’s Own, June 13th 1964 about spotting the right girls for fashion.

At the end of her life Cherry Marshall must have thought differently about that stint in the Nottingham showroom.

There she’d learned some essential skills of modelling; standing straight, keeping her shoulders level and standing motionless in front of buyers. She’d also seen what Seignon had seen – with measurements of 36,24,36, her figure was good.

It was serendipity that those were Christian Dior’s ideal measurements.

They were a perfect fit for his Corolle Line launched to the world in 1947. This was the New Look that transformed and affected international fashion for years to come.

Even Dior’s models wore complicated corsetry, padding and wadding to give them the New Look line. Cherry didn’t have to – she had the X shape ready made.

Cherry Marshall meeting Seignon in 1946 was perfect timing – she met Irene in time to make her a superstar.

© Carrie Henderson 2016

 

 

Dior's 1947 Corolle line - the look that launched a thousand copies for decades to come.
Dior’s 1947 Corolle line – the look that launched a thousand copies for decades to come
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