The week after graduation I started teaching classes in grooming, posture, walking, finding the right style for your figure, entering a room and presenting yourself in an interview, everything that was part of the Barbizon curriculum except make-up, which I never mastered. I’d been a nervous wreck on my first day as a student, but I sailed into my first class as if I’d been a skipper all my life. I’d just taken the program, the teaching materials were excellent, and my fellow teachers were supportive.
We were encouraged to be creative and I had each of the girls make a personal style scrapbook of magazine pictures captioned with phrases that expressed how it felt to wear clothes that made you feel good about yourself. To provide an example I put my own book together and asked a friend who did calligraphy to design the cover with the words, “As you go down the runway of life, SMILE!” This was the message I wanted to give the half-dozen beautiful young girls who hung on my every word every other Saturday morning, and I needed to hear it as much as they did.
The modeling course ended with a luncheon at an upscale restaurant in Stamford, followed by a fashion show featuring the new graduates modeling clothes from Bloomingdales. I invited my mother and reserved a place for her at the VIP table, which turned out to be next to the director of the school. While I waited behind the platform for the show to start, I could see Jean Curt and Jean Luciani sitting side by side and it struck me that the only thing they had in common was their first name.
Mom was a sturdy-shoes scout-leader, a “no froufrou gal” (as she described herself), for whom combing her hair and brushing her teeth were a complete beauty routine. Jean Curt always looked like she was on her way to a photo shoot for Vogue. But I knew my mother was an amiable conversationalist and I wasn’t worried about them getting along. Besides, they were both in my corner.
Despite having practiced my turns hundreds of times while doing housework or taking the kids on walks, when I mounted the steps to the runway for the first time I was sure I’d trip, forget to smile or make a fool out of myself in some other way. Yet once I was up there, my fear vanished and my feet took over. I could feel myself gliding out and back with my head held high and my arms swinging in sync with my stride. I’d never moved with so little effort. With each change of clothes I felt more relaxed, and when the finale came, my full Dior in a flowing evening dress was perfect.