After studying medicine at Sydney University, Ann Felton (KENDALL: 1953-56) was ‘discovered’ in 1958 and became one of the world’s top models, earning $1000 a week by 1960.
Ann has had cause to revisit her modeling career this year with the publication of In Vogue Australia: 50 years of Australian Style. Her image appears multiple times in the book including a celebrated photo by Helmut Newton under the wing of a Catalina, taken in Double Bay “I didn’t have a clue I was going to be in the book,” she says. “Friends saw a flyer in a newspaper with my picture on it. I was so surprised to see it – my modeling career was so long ago that I don’t tell people about it any more.”
Her career is legendary among her College contemporaries, as is her romance with husband Neil, who spotted her through the window in a friend’s room in the Williams wing as he walked past College with a group of friends from artillery school in 1956. The pair were engaged ten days later, with Principal Betty Archdale’s blessing. Ann had been enrolled in medicine but was concerned about the strain a medical career would put on her marriage. After her fourth year she wrote a thesis in pathology and graduated with a BSc (Med), taking a job as a food technologist before moving across to pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. It was while she was working at Pfizer that renowned Australian fashion photographer Laurie Le Guay asked her to do some modelling.
Ann worked as a model for two years in Australia before heading overseas. By this stage her star was on the rise: she was named model of the year in 1959 and influential New York agent Eileen Ford sought her out. Ann walked into Ford’s office one day in 1960; that same afternoon she was being photographed for Vogue in a fur coat in the vault of the Chase Manhattan Bank. Ann worked for the world’s top magazines and cosmetic companies until her second son was born in 1966, when she returned to Australia and retired from modelling. Throughout the 1960s she was feted by the Australian press for her “immaculate, band-box look.”
Ann says that although the level of professionalism was very high in the 60s, the modelling world has changed significantly: “It is so different today because there is so much ability to change the look after the shoot. Retouching was very expensive in my day and not often done. No one starved themselves either – Eileen Ford used to tell some of the girls to have blueberries and yoghurt for breakfast if they needed to drop a few pounds.”
Ann’s husband Neil has kept a comprehensive archive of her work: photographs, news clippings, and other memorabilia as testament to her stellar career. However Ann says she always saw herself more as a medical student than a model: “It was never that serious for me although I always worked professionally. I felt I was slumming it.”