Born 1934 in Montmorency in the northern suburbs of Paris, French model and actress Marie-Hélène Arnaud started at Chanel as a house model and rapidly grew to be Coco’s favorite and eventually the directrice at her fashion house.
At 24 Arnaud became the public “face of Chanel”. After she left Chanel, Arnaud set herself up a designer, launching a line of clothes for the department store Grande Maison de Blanc in the Place de l’Opéra, with five seamstresses working from her Paris apartment. The line was not a success and was short-lived.
Like many models of the era, Arnaud branched out into acting in films. She had a number of minor speaking roles, but the biggest film she featured in was her non-speaking role in the musical Gigi, which won a record-breaking nine Oscars in 1958, including Best Picture and Best Costume Design (for Cecil Beaton). Wearing a Beaton-designed evening dress and playing the part of a Maxim’s girl, she made a dramatic entrance on the arm of Maurice Chevalier.
Arnaud was found dead in her bath one morning in October 1986. Was it suicide or a simple heart attack? No one will ever know. Just remember her as the luminous beauty who remains for ever the ideal ambassador for the Chanel style around the world.
Take a look at these stunning photos to see the beauty of Marie-Hélène Arnaud in the 1950s.