To anyone who remembers the last two decades of the twentieth century, the Polo Ralph Lauren brand and its advertising are etched indelibly in the mind. An impossibly beautiful young woman peers coolly off into the distance, looking uniquely chic in an Anglo / American aristocratic way, seemingly living a dream of class and privilege. These images, many of them shot by photographer Bruce Weber were the currency of the hugely successful Polo Ralph Lauren Brand. It’s why you expected a Polo garment to cost more than other brands, and why you were ok paying the price. You were buying a little piece of that world in the ad.
Each chapter of this aristocratic story had its face as the brand evolved, each one seemingly more beautiful than the last. Who were these girls? Here is the story of the real women behind four of the most iconic faces of Polo:
Kristin ‘Clotilde’ Holby Darnell
Kristin Holby who modeled under the name ‘Clotilde’, grew up in Larchmont NY, daughter of a Norwegian mother and an American father. After graduating from Mamaroneck high school she went to Rhode Island School of design and was for working for a fabric manufacturing company when she was discovered as a model. Her work for Ralph Lauren started in the late 1970’s and helped establish the patrician wasp image of the Polo Ralph Lauren Brand. After her modeling career she went to Hollywood and appeared in Trading Places as Dan Akroyd’s wife. She has three daughters from a first marriage. In the early 90’s divorced her first husband, returned to Larchmont and married James Darnell, a professor of Biology at Roosevelt University. In 2007 she opened a dress shop there Clotilde – The Dress shop she is currently 65 years young and as pretty as ever.
Isabelle Townsend Deedes
Isabelle Townsend has a real English aristocratic life the equal of any Ralph Lauren fantasy. The Daughter of Group Captain Peter Townsend, who’s public Romance with Queen Elizabeth’s sister Margaret was one of the great scandals of the 1950’s (he was divorced and therefore unsuitable). After Queen Elizabeth forced them to break it off he was posted to Brussels in exile where he met Isabelle’s mother Marie-Luce Jamagne whom he married. After her brilliant career as a model, Isabelle became an actress and has numerous films to her credit including Barton Fink and Pollock. In addition to her career as a working actress she is married to Patrick Deedes-Vinke and in keeping with her storybook life, they purchased the former Duke & Duchess of Windsor’s pastoral French estate ‘The Mill’ where they lived in exile after he abdicated the British throne. They have restored the property which is a national trust site which can be visited by the public. Ironically Isabelle’s father spent time there with the Windsors after his exile to Belgium. They have two daughters and live in the gate house and manage the estate.
In the words of Michael Gross in his 2003 biography of Ralph Lauren ‘Genuine Authentic’ “Kim Nye rode into Ralph Lauren’s life and rode off with his heart”. Kim is the only one of Ralph’s model muses that it is publically acknowledged that he had an affair with. The tall blond Welder’s daughter from Wiconisco Pa. in coal mining country was working as a runway model in Cleveland and had been in Lauren’s runway shows for several years when she caught Ralph’s eye. in 1988 she was signed to an exclusive contract and in three brief years became the fit model for his woman’s collection, was signed to a contract to star in the huge Safari fragrance ad campaign, and then just as quickly disappeared. At the height of their fling Ralph installed her in an apartment around the corner from his Fifth Avenue home. It is rumored that Ralph’s wife Rickey threatened to end their marriage unless he put an end to it. Today the 45 year old Nye lives in Oak Bluffs Martha’s Vineyard. In 2008 she opened an art gallery there.
Saffron Aldridge Wace
Saffron Aldridge comes from a different kind of royalty – pop culture and fashion. Her father, Alan was a leading graphic designer in London’s swinging 60’s creating album covers for the Beatles and Rolling Stones. He created the iconic Hard Rock Café logo. Saffron was flipping burgers in Camden Lock when she was discovered by a modeling agent. Modeling took her to New York where she caught the eye of Bruce Weber when she appeared as an extra on one of his shoots. As they say – the rest is history. Her sister Lilly has picked up the family modeling mantle and is currently a Victoria’s Secret angel. Saffron married Financier and Hedge fund manager Ian Wace in 2012, she has two sons from previous marriages and is currently fifty years old.