BATD ON May 12, 2014 AT 3:28 pm

by Valirie Morgan

Veruschka for Cutex.

Veruschka for Cutex.

In the 1960s and 70s, fashion’s biggest and brightest star was a model known simply by one name: Veruschka. But before gracing countless magazine covers or strutting across the catwalk for iconic designers, she was Vera Gräfin von Lehndorff-Steinort. Her supermodel transformation began after meeting fashion photographer Johnny Moncada, whose previously unpublished photographs of the German beauty have just gone on display in a new exhibition at Somerset House called “From Vera to Veruschka: The Unseen Photographs by Johnny Moncada.”

Of course, there have been numerous exhibits and books dedicated to the exotic allure of Veruschka, but what makes this one stand out is that it truly explores the model’s journey, from taking on a new name to being dubbed “the girl everyone stares at” by Life — and all through Moncada’s lens.

From Vera To Veruschka.

From Vera To Veruschka.

The exhibition’s photos are pulled from a book of the same name, published last month by Moncada’s daughter after his death in 2011. Rather than simply displaying examples of her work, visitors to the exhibition have the chance to see an authentic portrayal of Veruschka and follow her unique metamorphosis into a mainstay of the fashion world.

Though she’d been scouted in 1959, Veruschka’s first attempt to break into the fashion industry proved unsuccessful as she was judged too tall and “otherworldly.” Disheartened, she left New York and returned to Italy, where she met Moncada. He called her a “goddess” and began photographing her all over the country, helping her to develop her signature look of seductive melancholy.

Veruschka felt comfortable with him and was able to reinvent herself as a model, writing to her mother at the time: ”Having a look of sadness in my eyes is my biggest problem. The other day I worked with an Italian photographer who allowed me to be myself – even if that meant looking sad or melancholy. Can you imagine this? I cannot tell you how liberating this is.”

Soon after working with Moncada, Veruschka got her big break. The 6-foot-tall model towered over the fashion world, lending her influence and incredible looks to catwalk shows, photo shots, and even movies. She appeared in the 1966 cult film Blow-Up in one of the sexiest scenes in film history and launched into a distinguished career, her face covering Vogue a whopping 13 times.

Several of Veruschka's Vogue covers.

Several of Veruschka’s Vogue covers.

She retired in 1975 after a disagreement with former Vogue editor-in-chief Grace Mirabella (she apparently wanted her to become “bourgeois,” which Veruschka adamantly refused), but has made a few comebacks in recent decades, returning to the catwalk for Chanel and Giles in 1994 and 2002. And Veruschka still sincerely acknowledges Moncada’s impact on her rise to fame.

“Our encounters meant a lot to me, and they transformed my point of view on being a model.  The time I worked with Johnny was wonderful and liberating – like a dream,” she wrote in the book’s introduction. “Even though I had evolved into Veruschka, in Johnny’s photos I always remained Vera.”

“From Vera to Veruschka: The Unseen Photographs by Johnny Moncada” is free to visit at Somerset House in London, and runs until 1st June 2014. The accompanying book is available for purchase in the museum’s gift shop for £47.50. For more information, check out the exhibition web site.


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