VFJ presents your Vintage Vixen this month
Dorothea Towles was born on July 26, 1922, in Texarkana, Texas, the seventh of eight children in a farming family. She studied biology at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, and planned to go into medicine, but when her mother died, she accepted the invitation of a wealthy uncle to live with him in Los Angeles. She completed a master’s in education at the University of Southern California.
Mrs. Church was attracted by the glamour of Los Angeles, so her friends suggested a career in the movies. But there were few roles for black actors, and Mrs. Church described herself as more commercially minded. She thought she could succeed in modeling, and enrolled in the Dorothy Farrier Charm and Modeling School as its first black student. But her growing fame did not eliminate prejudice on the part of some designers. At Schiaparelli, she once overheard someone describe her as Tahitian. While working for Pierre Balmain, she recalled, he did not allow her to borrow dresses for a Ebony magazine photo shoot, fearing that would offend his white clientele. She took the clothes later on the pretext that she would wear them to a party, and the magazine then photographed them.
Dorothea Towles Church, the first successful black model in Paris, who discovered personal liberation on the runways of Christian Dior and Elsa Schiaparelli in the 1950s, died July 7 in Manhattan. She was 83.
Her death was confirmed by Michael Henry Adams, a curator at the Museum of the City of New York, where she was featured in an exhibition called “Black Style Now”.
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