Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Whatever Happened to?

For someone who was one of the top models of the 1950’s and who had a high profile marriage and affair it is surprising that so little information seems to be available on Fiona Campbell-Walter before and even after she achieved her fame. Lots of photographs out there, but as to the lady herself; nothing. Invariably when doing research all I came up with the names of the famous, titled and wealthy men she was associated with.

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.

In Schiaparelli
Royal photographer Cecil Beaton claimed her as his favourite model, and she regularly graced the cover of glossy magazines such as Vogue, earning 2000 Pounds a day, considered a fortune in the mid-50s.

In Balenciaga
One photographer said of her: "She was so young then the make-up wouldn't stay on her face. Her skin wouldn't support make-up; she was so fresh and beautiful, with that marvellous profile and great allure."

In 1957, after an engagement that lasted just 12 hours she married the Swiss billionaire Baron Hans Heinrich von Thyssen Bornemisza, who even at this stage was amassing one of the greatest private art collections the world has ever seen. He also being one of the world's richest and most sought-after playboys, it seemed a match made in heaven.

Theirs was a glamorous life as can be seen by the photos of the Baroness languishing underneath a fur blanket while in the Swiss Alps.

Life was hard for the ex-model who now “as a housewife she sees that the pictures on the wall hang straight as they should in a great collection of art”

Their daughter Francesca married Karl Habsburg-Lothringen heir to the headship of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine.

Fiona and her husband divorced 1965, and she went on to have a well-publicized relationship with Greek shipping heir Alexander Onassis, the only son of Aristotle Onassis, who died in 1973 aged 25 in a plane crash. She was 16 years his senior and of whom his father strongly disapproved. It is believed now that Onassis had intentions of marrying her despite his father's energetic attempts to break them up.

After this highly publicized affair she is now completely off the radar, as it seemed that after her divorce from the Baron it was the beginning of this raven-haired beauty’s fall from grace. With the Baron’s death there was a scrabble by family, numerous ex wives and governments for the art collection, but as to Fiona, well …………


  1. Love this post! Thanks for all of the background information. Fiona is such a relevant icon today.


  2. I must admit I didn't know her until now. So, thank you for a great informatory post.
    I never had the chance but I know, if I had, I would never marry a billionaire or a man who owns a plane. Maybe it sounds stupid but too much money and private planes scare me.

  3. Fur blanket while in the Swiss Alps...sable fur I assume? Charmed Life!!

  4. Fascinating story. And some wonderful images.

  5. I'm still stuck on the photos of her in the Alps wrapped in fur. Incredible images! I recognize her from Cecil Beaton photos I've seen, but honestly didn't know her name. Great post!

  6. David, you've presented us with so many interesting stories about famous models - I could see you compiling a very fine and marketable photo album on this subject. You've certainly become an authority ... Mark

  7. Another fascinating story . . .
    there are always great trade offs for marrying well (VERY Well) and great beauties are seldom prepared for the consequences of dealing with powerful families.
    She's truly stunning in that
    last photo -

  8. She is stunningly beautiful - but sometimes TOO much money is a mixed blessing...

  9. what a great story - i love these spotlights. and that balenciaga shot is oerfection!

  10. Extraordinary story and so wonderful of you to remind me of this lady. Something tells me that despite the bautiful life she was not all that happy. I love your choice of pictures, all of them are feeled with grace and beauty.

  11. Love all thepictures, they are amazing.
    xoxo, Angie




  12. Thanks all for your comments and welcome to my new followers.

    One would hope that the fur in the snow was sable or mink.

    I also think that she wasnt that hpppy also.

  13. She is my mother's cousin, nine years younger, and must be 81 now.


  14. Very cool, should have been a Bond girl. Though I suppose she was, really.

  15. Gabrielle RothwellAugust 12, 2013 at 5:17 AM

    I remember reading about her a lot and as she was born in my hometown of Auckland I found her always an interesting person. Wow! She certainly lived the high life but happy? A big question mark. That last photo of her at presumably the Baron's funeral - she is still beautiful.

  16. Clive Doyle.
    I am old enough to remember seeing Fiona and the other great model of the era Barbara Goalen in the
    newspapers in the early fifties.Beautiful women modelling beautiful clothes

  17. Thank you for this great article on Fiona von Thyssen. I remember her very well and i tried to copy her look.
    I adored her style and looks but alas
    i felt very sad for her when alexander onassis died. The pain she must have felt.

  18. The very first image, the lady in fur with veiled hat & sidelong look, is actually French model Simone d'Aillencourt...

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  20. I had the privilege of doing the baroness hair in the 80’s in London.
    Really nice lady and down to hearth.
    Only 1look at her and you knew.
    Charisme,élégance strong presence.
    Really lovely lady.


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