She no longer appears in society gossip columns. What remains is her beauty, which brought her fame as a model and later as a baroness. Still a beauty, inside and out, she remains one of the very few women who inspired not only generations of bold girls to become the absolute best they could, but also the fashion industry itself.  Baroness Fiona von Thyssen-Bornemisza de Kászon, is her name. And now, having inspired one of the shows of Vassilis Zoulias, one of the most respected and nobel fashion designers of Greece (he titled his latest collection, for Spring/Summer 2017, “Fiona”, in her honour), it was about time we talked about her.

Born Fiona Frances Elaine Campbell-Walter in New Zealand in 1932, she was at the top of her game in the 1950’s as one of the most popular models of her day. Some of the photos of her modelling are some of the most recognised for the era. Unlike Bronwen Pugh who modelled exclusively for Balmain she modelled for a plethora of designers such as Balenciaga, Schiaparelli and Fath…

Her aristocratic beauty had a mysterious, subtle sensuality that perfectly represented the glamour of a period in which elegance was never an opinion. She was a true English, better yet, Scottish rose.

Sir Cecil Beaton said that she was his favorite muse, with the type of mysterious, sophisticated face that he adored and the gracefulness of a lady.

Fiona Frances Elaine Campbell-Walter, better known as Baroness Fiona von Thyssen-Bornemisza de Kászon after her marriage to the steel magnate and super-art collector Hans Heinrich Thyssen, a.k.a.“Heini”, left her mark on almost three decades of the 20th century, starting in the fifties when she first worked as a model. She was born on June 25, 1932 in Auckland, New Zealand, to a rear admiral of the Royal British Navy and the daughter of Sir Edward Taswell-Campbell.

Her brilliant career, which was immortalized by interpreters of an evocative, sleek, dreamy photographic style such as Henry Clarke and Norman Parkinson but also by the nuanced modernity of David Bailey, brought her to incarnate the creative lines of Schiaparelli, Balenciaga, Grès, Nina Ricci, Lanvin, Dessès, Jacques Fath, Dior and Valentino.

Her chic look blended a neo-classical and impressionist artistic mood with a vibrant idea of modernity. Combining Edwardian references and the revolutionary youthful feel of Swinging London, Fiona passed from photos with extremely complex, theatrical poses to the simplicity of a beach, where she posed makeup-free and wrapped in a towel, as she was portrayed by Georges Dambier in 1954, draped in a Givenchy beach towel. Her marriage to Heini (who had reached his third wedding) that took place in 1956, twelve hours after first meeting on the ski slopes of Saint Moritz, floundered and ended bitterly in 1965.

She returned to London with their two children Francesca and Lorne, leaving behind the palazzo on Lake Lugano filled with fabulous works of art. Love would return again thanks to her tumultuous affair with Alexander Onassis, which was strongly contested by his father Aristotle also due to the difference in age because Fiona was 16 years older than Alexander. Today, still gorgeous and proud, as if time could not fade her beauty, Fiona mainly divides her time between the islands of Greece and Vienna. She is often seen in company of her daughter Francesca, who became the Archduchess of Austria after marrying Karl von Habsburg-Lothringen.

Now living a secluded life and taking care of the grandchildren, Fiona Thyssen is certainly far from the dazzling, frenetic and glamorous limelight.

 

[Cesare Cunaccia, excerpt from Vogue Italia, September 2014, n. 769, p.366.]