Saturday, August 20, 2011

Enchantress of the Desert

Vera Ashby (1895-1985), better known by her pseudonym, Sumurun, was a British fashion model (who worked in Paris) in the 1920s.
Vera Ashby appeared as a showgirl in The Bing Boys during the war, but gave up stage work to become a mannequin. When Edward Molyneux left Lucile to open his own couture house in 1919, he hired Vera Ashby as his head mannequin. He named her Sumurun; and her persona was "Enchantress of the Desert, the world's most famous mannequin, courted and fĂȘted by many men, proposed to by at least a score" (as 'Vera Ashby' was too plain). She became the highest-paid model in Paris, though, as she said, "The money was very poor, 3,500 francs a month - today, the equivalent would be £50 to £100 a month." The Queen's couturier, Sir Norman Hartnell, remembers: "I went to a show at Molyneux. Sumurun was in a pink dress and coat and gave out a sort of vamp. I never thought she'd be working for me one day." She was photographed by Baron de Meyer and drawn by Drian. During the twenties, the Bal des petits lits blancs, in aid of children's charity, was held in Paris, and all the couturiers dressed their models to the hilt for the ball. Sumurun, as Molyneux's head mannequin, entered last. She describes the Molyneux creation she wore: "I wore an exotic costume, in golds and rich oriental colors, encrusted with jewels. There was another large jewel in my turban. These little jewels had little electric light bulbs in the center connected to a battery which was concealed on me. I was preceded by two little black boys who scattered rose petals for me to walk on. At a certain point the light were lowered, and I pressed the battery-light. All the jewels on my costume and my turban lit up, and there was such excitement among the aristocracy and famous, that they rushed forward to gather up the rose petals strewn before me."
After retiring, Vera became a vendeuse for Molyneux, then worked for Sir Norman Hartnell where she was appointed vendeuse to the Queen.

(Photos: my scans from Model Girl. First photo is from the Bal des petits lits blancs, and the second is a sketch of Sumurun by Drian.)

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