To some readers out there, the connection between high fashion and the gritty Motor City may seem like an oxymoron. But back in 1965, the idea was not so unlikely when Richard Avedon worked with a beautiful young model from Detroit named Donyale Luna. As a tribute to this unique Detroiter, her image graces the banner at the entrance to our special exhibition galleries where she stands over 15 feet tall.
Avedon first began using African American models as the subjects for his fashion sessions in the early 1960s. Donyale Luna had dramatic looks and a six-foot tall slender figure that suited bold and sometimes outrageous designs characteristic of the 1960s. Avedon photographed her for Harper’s Bazaar in 1965 and for Vogue magazine in 1966. The Vogue sessions featured gladiator-inspired metal mini dresses of designer Paco Rabanne, and although Luna’s image (seen above) is considered to be one of the most iconic photographs of his career, it was actually never published in Vogue.
Fortunately, the Avedon Foundation has allowed one of very few rare vintage exhibition prints to travel with the show. It appears in the exhibition with other photographs of Penelope Tree and Jean Shrimpton – Luna’s model-girl contemporaries well known to the world of 1960s high fashion.
Luna was born Peggy Freeman in Detroit in 1945. According to Duke University’s Richard Powell she was an aspiring actress active in Detroit theater circles in the early 1960s before moving to New York City to pursue modeling and acting. After working with Avedon, she scored assignments with other high profile photographers including David Bailey who shot her for a cover of British Vogue back in the 1960s. Luna also appeared in a small number of films – perhaps most notably in Italian director Federico Fellini’s Satriycon in 1970. She passed away in Rome, Italy, well before her time, in 1979.