Thursday, October 2, 2008
Wallis Franken was an American born fashion model. Her father worked in the fashion business, as well as her mother, who was also a model.
At 17, Franken was signed to the renowned Ford Agency in New York City. After a brief stint in Greece she came to Paris and never went home. She hung out with the other angular and exaggerated models of the day, such as Angelica Huston and Donna Mitchell. She worked with the best photographers of the 1970's, including Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin. With her off-beat and androgynous looks she came on the scene right on time as the cookie-cutter blondes were going out of fashion. Franken was always ready to take a dare in front of the camera, but in her personal life she couldn't have been more normal.
She would not be sucked into the perils other young models found themselves consumed by. As her wilder Paris friends danced the night away in a drug haze at Club Le Sept, Franken was a young mother by the age of 23, a vegetarian and a yoga-enthusiast who only drank herbal tea.
Franken's beauty never faded as it does for some models as they get older. Into her forties she was still vamping for the cameras of Steven Meisel and Tyen. Occasionally, you could catch her on the catwalks of Claude Montana or Chanel, where Karl Lagerfeld transformed her into a latter day Coco. In the Madonna video for "Justify My Love" you could spot Franken gyrating in a shiny leather outfit straight out of The Night Porter.
Franken had been a long time friend and muse to French fashion designer, Claude Montana. Montana was known for his refined, figure-hugging designs in lightweight materials or most notably heavy leather. On July 21, 1993, after eighteen years of friendship, Franken and Montana married with Loulou de la Falaise, muse to Yves Saint Laurent, as their witness. It was a marriage of convenience as Montana was openly gay. The news was a bit of a shock to some people, although liaisons of this kind are not uncommon in Paris. Franken had two children from her previous marriage and at 43, was already a grandmother.
Loyally, Franken only wore her husband's designs. Montana depended on her as a style guru, even if at this time he was not the hot fashion designer he once was.
In June 1996, a tragedy ripped through the fashion industry as Franken died after falling three stories from their Paris apartment. Montana, always a night bird, was not home while a friend of his only referred to as "Billy" was there. The death was ruled a suicide, but there are many who still ponder what really happened. Montana and Franken were married three years.