Who's That Girl?

Penelope Tree photographed by Richard Avedon
Penelope Tree Penelope Tree as she entered Truman Capote's Black and White Ball, 1966

How did Penelope Tree become the enigmatic face of 1960s fashion and modeling? The right dress. The right place. At the right time.

Every once in a while, that romantic story of Lana Turner being discovered sitting at the counter in Schwab's Pharmacy repeats itself. American author Truman Capote threw a party in November 1966 for 500 of his closest friends; the party came to be known as the Black and White Ball and it is one of the most significant moments in American social history. Penelope Tree was invited to the party as an afterthought because her mother, Marietta Peabody, was a famous American socialite and her father, Ronald Tree, was a British journalist and member of Parliament. But the paparazzi at the Black and White Ball took notice of Penelope.

Along with her otherworldly beauty, her youthquake fashion sense was pitch perfect. Her dress for the party drew gasps from the other guests; it was a very revealing tunic worn over black tights and a bikini bottom (it also attracted attention for the then relatively unknown designer, Betsey Johnson). Among Capote's revelers were fashion photographers Richard Avedon and Sir Cecil Beaton. They were both taken with Penelope's nonclassical looks and the bravado with which she carried herself in Johnson's avant-garde couture -- and they decided separately that they would make her the face of American fashion. Within months, photos of Tree were gracing the covers of Vogue, WWD and Bazaar. She became and remains the iconic face of the late sixties.

Fresh City Life debuts its fall series of events, How to Be Lovely, beginning in October. Celebrating Truman Capote, his Party of the Century, gracious living and the seriousness of frivolity.

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