Joan Pedersen in “a big white linen hat, clustered with green cherries; velvet chin-bow. By Paulette.”Photographed by Richard Rutledge, Vogue, July 1, 1947
Joan Pedersen in a ruffled dress and shawl by Arpad. Shoes by Joyce.Photographed by Irving Penn, Vogue, September 1, 1947
Joan Pedersen in “the evening coat cut as a triangle of satin, over an ankle-length dress. Black fox cuffs. By Traina-Norell.”Illustrated by René Bouché, Vogue, June 15, 1947
Joan Pedersen, who appeared on three Vogue covers died Friday in California. She was 95.
Born on May 29, 1924 in Convent Station, New Jersey, Pedersen was raised on the Glynallen Estate where her father was employed as a chauffeur. She started studying ballet at the age of three, according to her son Kernan Coleman. As a teenager, she commuted into Manhattan to study at the Chalif dance school, but by 16 she towered over her male partners and became, as she said in a 2016 Vogue interview, “a very disappointed dancer.” Learning that the elegant Pedersen had been a ballerina, the younger model Carmen Dell’Orefice started taking classes, according to Coleman.
Joan Pedersen, left, in Mainbocher.Photographed by Horst P. Horst, Vogue, October 15, 1942
Having been recommended to the high profile Harry Conover Modeling Agency, Pedersen soon “slipped” into fashion. During World War II she entertained the troops alongside other Conover models with the USO (she was a member of the Copacabana Revue), and in 1946 Pedersen became the sixth model signed to the Ford Agency. “Mom always just gushed about what an incredible difference it was working for a woman-owned agency,” notes Coleman. “The thing about Eileen was that there was never any doubt that she cared. It was as if each booking she made for you was the most important in her life to date—so you felt that you should treat it that way too,” Pedersen said in Model Woman, a biography of Ford by Robert Lacey.
Joan Pedersen in grey mink and jewels by Van Cleef & Arpels.Photographed by Serge Balkin, Vogue, July 1, 1947
A muse to American designers Mainbocher and Norman Norell, Pedersen was photographed by Irving Penn for the cover of Vogue’s September 1, 1947 issue wearing a sapphire blue evening ensemble she had modeled in Norell’s showroom. “Joan was just naturally graceful and wonderful at all times,” says the Coty Award winning designer George Halley, who met the model in the late 1960s. “I was married to Claudia Halley, who was Norman Norell’s favorite model; Claudia was lovely but she couldn’t quite do it as well as Joan did.” Halley explains that “most of the models were society girls,” back then, but they couldn’t hold a candle to Pedersen. “She just had that wonderful look, she owned the clothes,” he says. “They didn’t wear her, she wore them—beautifully.”
Joan Pesersen in “the important skirt.”Photographed by Horst P. Horst, Vogue, October 15, 1942
Beverly Johnson met Pedersen when both were subjects of photographs shownin the 2018 exhibition “Icons of Style: A Century of Fashion Photography,” at the J. Paul Getty Trust. “There was a group of us veteran models there and [Joan] gracefully stood up from the wheelchair to be photographed with me and we exchanged model stories. I’ve come to realize [there] is a kind of model-to-model code of respect and caring for each other,” says Johnson. “It was a very poignant moment in my life. For a model, being on the cover of Vogue, that’s our Oscar, that’s our gold medal. It’s a small elite club. I know in my life, but also in Joan’s, it was a defining moment.”Joan Pedersen.Photo: Marian Moneymaker Thieriot / Courtesy of the photographer
Not only did Pedersen live through many turning points in history, she overcame many personal hurdles, without ever losing her sense of humor or her grace. “My mother was known as the Iron Viking in our family,” says Coleman. (Pedersen was of Norwegian and Swedish descent.) “She beat breast cancer in 1975; she beat a heart attack in 1994; she lived with congestive heart issues for 25 years, and she never complained, she never moaned, she never did anything like that. She was just tough—and on the outside, the most graceful human being. My friends in high school would always say, ‘I always think of your mom as floating.’ ”
Read Joan Pedersen’s 2016 Vogue interview here.