Supermodels & Playboy

– The Evolution of Sex Symbols – 

Newbridge Silverware and the free to enter Museum of Style Icons (MOSI) launched a new photographic exhibition that charts the evolution of some of the world’s most iconic sex symbols. Entitled, ‘Supermodels and Playboy- The Evolution of Sex Symbols’ it features original signed photographs and Playboy magazine covers of well-known models.  Famous names include Naomi Campbell, Bo Derek, Christy Turlington, Heidi Klum, Cindy Crawford, Rachel Hunter, Elle Macpherson, Gisele Bündchen, Tyra Banks, Adrianna Lima and Liz Hurley among others.


From Marilyn Monroe the original pin-up girl of the 1950’s through to the supermodels who dominated the catwalks of the 1990’s, the exhibition provides an interesting insight into the evolution of the supermodel and some of the most famous women in the world.

The free exhibition includes original and signed ‘Playboy’ magazine covers of famous models and actresses who posed topless for the famous entertainment magazine.  The iconic actress, Bo Derek appears on several front covers, even posing with an Orangutan in one image when she was promoting her role in the movie, ‘Tarzan’.  Elle Macpherson appears on another cover in a pose that leaves no doubt as to why she is known as “The Body”. Rod Stewart’s wife, Rachel Hunter was also a Playboy model and the exhibition includes a signed cover of the topless blonde bombshell. The exhibition goes on to show that the models were becoming much more than just skinny clothes horses, they could move easily off the catwalks and onto the pages of Playboy with style, class and a sense of female empowerment. 

A particularly important item in the exhibition is a signed copy of a limited-edition book called, ‘Naomi’ which features beautiful, tasteful images of supermodel, Naomi Campbell. Encased in a book case in the shape of a female torso the book is signed ‘Love and Respect, Naomi’ and includes some of the most incredible photographs ever taken of Naomi, often fully nude. With multiple artwork by British pop art luminary, Allen Jones and Naomi’s own autobiographical text, this is an intimate and breathtaking encounter with a beauty icon.

Also, on display is a signed photograph of Elizabeth Hurley in the famous Versace safety pin dress often referred to as “that dress”. The actress and model wore the garment when she accompanied Hugh Grant to the movie premier of ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ in 1994.  The dress is regarded as Versace’s best-known creation and is largely considered to be the turning point of Hurley’s career, catapulting her onto the global stage.  Held together by strategically placed gold safety pins, the dress was wide open at the front, from the neck down to at least halfway across the bust.   Hurley said in response to comments about the revealing nature of the dress, "Unlike many other designers, Versace designs clothes to celebrate the female form rather than eliminate it”.


The celebration of the supermodel was at an all-time high in 1989 when photographer Herb Ritts took the now-iconic shot of Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, Tatjana Patitz and Stephanie Seymour huddled together completely naked. The black and white photograph is signed by each of the five models and is on display in the exhibition. It captures a moment in time showing the top five models of the day whose beauty was almost ethereal. The supermodel had become ‘superhuman’ she was no longer just a body to dress - she was an enigma.

The world went wild for the supermodels and they were known by their first name alone. Today Campbell, Crawford, Evangelista, Patitz and Turlington are still regarded as the ‘Original Supermodels’. Many became the faces of cosmetics brands, they had their own television programs and fitness videos and their own lines of lingerie. Indeed, the lingerie giant Victoria’s Secret enlisted Tyra Banks, Gisele Bündchen, Alessandra Ambrosia, Heidi Klum, Karoline Kurkova and Adrianna Lima to be part of their lingerie show. Each model walked the catwalk with giant angel wings attached to their backs, wearing the sexy lingerie which Victoria’s Secret is known for.  There are several signed photographs of these famous Victoria’s Secret models in the exhibition including photographs of the girls both on and off the catwalk. 


Right throughout the exhibition the viewer is brought on a pictorial journey which starts with the original camera of photographer Andre De Dienes whose 1949 Rolleiflex camera was used by De Dienes in his 1949 Tobey / Jones Beach photo session with Marilyn Monroe.  The images show Marilyn in a bathing suit in playful mood posing with a red polka dot umbrella, the original of which is featured in the exhibition and is on permanent display in the Museum of Style Icons. The photographs showed the world a different side of a girl who was to become known as the greatest sex symbol of all time.  However, even though she was in a swimsuit, the shots of Marilyn taken by De Dienes, were fun and youthful rather than sexy.   De Dienes showed all the youth and vigour that Marilyn possessed.  He showed that she was just a girl, playing with the surf and the sand and she looked happy and natural. The display of images is accompanied by De Dienes’ original brown leather camera case with its original serial number still clearly visible.

There is also a photograph of Marilyn Monroe dressed as a ballerina and taken by photographer, Milton Greene.  The photograph was shot in October 1954 at Milton Greene’s New York studio. Designer Anne Klein sent various outfits to Milton’s studio for Marilyn to wear, however, they were two sizes too small. The pose in this sitting shows Marilyn trying to hold up the ill-fitting tulle and satin dress. This image captures Marilyn appearing angelic yet seductive, a look that became legendary and defined her appeal. With her toes pointed inward, a smile on her face, and a finger on her chin, Marilyn evokes the demure child playing dress up. This image was chosen as one of Time Life’s three most popular images of the 20th century.  The original photograph in the exhibition is signed by the photographer on the back and is inscribed to Sammy Davis Jnr in Greene’s handwriting, “To Sammy / Love.”

The overall exhibition is interesting in that it shows how some models became part of popular culture. Some of them even made history – Naomi Campbell became the first black model to appear on the front cover of Time, British Vogue, French Vogue and the September issue of American Vogue, traditionally the year’s biggest and most important issue. Others, such as Elizabeth Hurley successfully moved from the catwalk to the big screen with the help of an iconic, sexy dress and a memorable photograph.  Meanwhile Marilyn Monroe’s legacy and mystique continues to live on through the many iconic images taken of her during her short life. She was probably the original supermodel, the girl who paved the way for the catwalk queens of today. ‘Supermodels and Playboy- The Evolution of Sex Symbols’ runs until 31st May, 2019.


The Museum of Style Icons at Newbridge Silverware is located in Newbridge, Co. Kildare. It is open 7 days a week and is free to enter. The museum also features garments and interesting artefacts from several Hollywood stars, musicians, and celebrities. For more see or call (045) 431301.