Richie Williamson Pictures




Mind over Matter

Wednesday was the third day of our Bloomingdale’s Lingerie shoot and I was excited. Brian Burdine, the art director had told me the previous day that Vibeke Knudsen was coming for the shoot. We had an expensive peignoir set that wasn’t the most exciting and Brian told me that we needed a supermodel to pull off the look; he called it a divorce dress (you wear it and your husband wants an immediate divorce) and that this was one of Vibeke’s specialties. I had never worked with her before and I was thrilled to have her on my set. 

The doorbell rang early that morning and I answered the door since I was the only one at the studio. This first arrival was standing there and of course I invited her in. I had never seen this woman before and was surprised by the way she looked and wondered who she was. She was a homely, coarse looking woman and as she entered I noticed she had a clumsy clunking walk and was wearing manish heavy shoes. She wore glasses and had a squinty look – a plain Jane for sure. I thought she was the pinner/presser and sent her back to the dressing room to start preparing the clothes. Everyone else in working on the shoot started filing in and the day was getting off to a good start.

I was excited to shoot Vibeke as I had seen so many of her photos and was eagerly awaiting her arrival. When Brian came in the first thing he asked me was “Where’s Vibeke, has she come in yet?" I said “no not yet.”  Brian said “That’s surprising, Vibeke is usually early for her shoots.” He then walked around the corner and went into the dressing room, I heard him call out “VIBEKE” in a loud surprised voice. I thought “who could he possible be talking to?”  Maybe I had missed her arrival, I was confused. I ran back to see him talking to the “pinner/presser." There she was in baggy clothess and with no style or hair to speak of, and Brian was giving her a huge hug. At first I thought he was joking. That was Vibeke?

I freaked. I realized this was the famous Vibeke and I could not see a trace of this beauty in this woman. This was going to be large format shoot and I was terrified that I could not find “Vibeke” in my lens. I checked and re-checked my lighting and worriedly sat up the camera in preparation for the disaster that was coming my way. I heard the buzzing in the dressing room as the hair and makeup artists started their arduous task of transformation hoping that a miracle would surely occur. I was truly anxious and nervously paced around the set waiting for her to appear.

When she finally came out of the dressing room, my heart sank. She was made up and her hair was done but she still had that cigarette hanging out of her mouth and that terrible squinty look. She looked like someone’s over made-up auntie trying to look glamorous and failing miserably. She was wearing the gown but it hung on her like the divorce sack it so actually was. She walked over to me and introduced herself and took a look at my setup. She put out her cigarette and climbed onto the set. That’s when the amazement began. For a brief instant she peered up into the light. She swiftly draped the gown back slightly off her shoulder, curved her body sensuously and struck a pose. Suddenly there was Vibeke!

I was truly astounded. There she was in all her glory. The Vibeka we all knew, the one in all those Maidenform Bra Ads. The sexy one that Helmut Newton made famous. She was glorious and worked that divorce dress for everything it was worth. The softness, subtly and nuances of her expressions were breathtaking. She hit each pose with assurance and there was not one false move or anything but sheer perfection and beauty in every shot.

That day I learned a very important lesson. Beauty in a willed thing. One that exists inside a person. Her ability to exude this loveliness and grace came from within her with such completeness that I was truly moved. She defied any and all physical limitation and excelled in expressing such an ultimate mind over matter confidence and grace. I think many more women know this secret about themselves. This was something I had never witnessed before and it changed my whole attitude about what beauty truly is and where it resides. I will never forget this firsthand witness of the true power of beauty. Long live that power. Long Live Vibeke…