Photo of the Day

photos and stories from the Powerhouse Museum

Be my Valentine ( the model’s story)

February 14th, 2012 by


This photograph shows New York celebrity milliner, Mr John, with model Elaine Johannsen who is wearing a panne cap with heart-shaped decorations. The hat was part of Mr John’s Lucky in Love fall and winter collection of 1953.

Elaine Johannsen features in several other photographs from Mr John’s studio published previously on Photo of the Day. When Jennifer Karmel, her granddaughter, discovered these photographs on the blog, she contacted the museum and kindly provided information about her grandmother’s life and career.

Elaine Ethel Johannsen was studying millinery design at The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City when she won a beauty contest, “Miss Surfmaid of 1950″. The prize included a trip to Paris and set Elaine on her path to a modelling career. A photograph of Elaine Johannsen in Paris with her mother was even published here in the Sunday Herald on October 1, 1950.

Elaine Johannsen was from Brooklyn and was discovered by Ruth Roman on the beach in New York. She began working for Mr. John shortly after when a friend dared her to apply for a job as a designer. She was asked to model instead of design and worked for Mr John until sometime after her wedding to William Martin in 1954, the year after this photograph was taken. Mr John designed her bridal veil. Elaine Johannsen Martin eventually went back to school, earned her MS in Education and became a teacher.

John P. John, (1902-1993) was born John Pico Harberger in Munich and emigrated to the USA in 1919. He later studied medicine at University of Lucerne, and art at the Sorbonne and l’École des Beaux Arts in Paris. After being apprenticed to his mother, dressmaker Madame Laurel, he formed a partnership with Frederick Hirst, John-Frederics, in 1929. He started his own millinery company, Mr. John, Inc., in New York in 1948.

According to the New York Times, in the 1940s and 1950s, the name Mr. John was as famous in the world of hats as Christian Dior was in the realm of haute couture. His designs attracted attention from Hollywood and he worked with costume designers including Gilbert Adrian, Walter Plunkett, and Cecil Beaton. He designed Greta Garbo’s hat in Mata Hari, Marlene Dietrich’s cloche in Shanghai Express, Marilyn Monroe’s headdress in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and the headwear for Vivien Leigh as Scarlet O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. His clients outside of the film world included Eleanor Roosevelt, Gypsy Rose Lee, Jacqueline Onassis and Wallis Simpson. Mr John received the Coty American Fashion Critics award in 1943, the Neiman Marcus award in 1950 and the Millinery Institute of America award, 1956.

The prints from the Mr John studio were acquired with the archive of Madame Louise Lamoureux, who ran a Sydney fashion house specialising in embroidery and hand beading, including samples of overseas materials and styles. Some objects from the archive of Louise Lamoureux can be viewed on the Powerhouse Museum online collection index.

Post by Kathy Hackett, Photo Librarian, with thanks to Jennifer Karmel

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