Charlotte Payne’s job as a New York fashion model from the 1940s to the 1960s was to draw attention to apparel and not herself.
Her anonymity, in this era before supermodels, extended to her personal life as well. Few knew that the gorgeous Payne, who worked as a secretary in Laurel after her retirement from modeling in the mid-1960s, once graced the covers of Life, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.
Payne died in August, 2009.
She was very nice, but she was a really private person,” said Martha Noel, who remembers Payne, her cousin, occasionally returning home from New York to visit.
A family-donated exhibit of her fashion photographs at the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art sheds light on the life and work of Payne, a former “Miss Laurel” crowned in the 1930s.
It also covers other territory.
“We’re trying to do three things here,” said curator Jill Chancey, before an artist’s talk Sunday afternoon. “We want to outline the modeling career of Charlotte Payne, certainly, but we also want to show developments in fashion during that period as well as fashion photography.”
A quick scan of the exhibit, “Curator’s Choice: Focus on Fashion,” provides ample evidence of all three themes. Payne’s early work, after her discovery by a prestigious New York City modeling agency in the early 1940s, consists of demure girl-next-door head shots.
By the 1950s, Payne had moved into what Chancey calls her Grace Kelly phase – all blond and blue-eyed and sophisticated, Chancey says, but not sexy or exotic.
She then shifted seamlessly into the sexier 1960s, where her look follows the Ann-Margret model.
One photo of Payne, sleekly dressed in black holding a cigarette holder amid a wisp of smoke, tells the story. It’s all angles from her arched eyebrows and high heels to a sitting pose with one leg crossed over the other in an upside down “V.”
In addition to 60 photographs, the Payne exhibit also features tear-sheets, proofs and contact sheets.
There is even a 1952 newspaper article from the Laurel Leader Call with the headline: “Former Laurel Girl Charlotte Payne, Among Highest Paid Models in World, has earned $20,000 in 8 years.”
But there’s precious little publicity about Payne between her retirement and her death.
This despite the fact that Payne wrote several novels upon her departure from modeling, including three gaining publication.
“I think she got a lot of joy from her writing,” said friend Patsy Davis, who knew Payne through a working relationship with her sister Patricia Hill at South Central Regional Medical Center. “She would just stay at that computer and type away.”
Now this exhibit reacquaints the Pine Belt with a local beauty who made a big splash in the fashion world.
“It’s good for Mississippi,” said Davis. “It shows that if you put your mind to it, you can do what you want and make it big.”
TrackBack URL :