Dovima: From Poverty to Iconic Supermodel – The Inspirational Story of a Fashion Legend

Dovima: From Poverty to Iconic Supermodel – The Inspirational Story of a Fashion Legend

In the world of fashion, few names are as iconic and enduring as Dovima. Born into poverty in Queens, New York, Dovima faced numerous challenges and obstacles on her path to success. However, through hard work, perseverance, and an unyielding passion for fashion, she went on to become one of the most famous models of her time, and a lasting symbol of elegance and glamour. Dovima’s story is a testament to the power of determination and the enduring appeal of beauty and grace. Lets dive in together and discover the fascinating story of Dovima.

The early life of Dovima

I never saw myself as a great beauty, but I knew that I had a certain elegance and poise that I could bring to the camera.


Dovima’s early life was not without its struggles. Born as Dorothy Virginia Margaret Juba in 1927 in Queens, New York to Polish immigrants. Her father was a carpenter who struggled to find a steady, reliable income, while her mother worked as a cleaner. Dovima was the eldest of three children with the family living in poverty throughout her childhood.

As a child, Dovima had a strained relationship with her parents. Her father was often absent, and her mother was very strict – she evendisapproved of her aspirations to be a model. Dovima would later recall feeling like an outsider in her own family, this resulted in her seeking solace in fashion magazines and dreaming of a better life.

Despite her difficulties at home growing up, Dovima excelled in school and had a particular talent for art. She was especially skilled at drawing and painting – so much so, that her art teacher encouraged her to pursue an artistic career. However, her dreams of becoming an artist were squashed when she dropped out of high-school at 16 in order to support herself and her family.

Over the next few years, Dovima worked a series of jobs including a sales person at a department store, a waitress and a telephone operator. She never lost her passion for fashion and style, and still dreamed of becoming a model.

Dovima’s big break into the fashion industry

A model must be able to move well and have an innate sense of elegance and grace.


In 1949, when Dovima was 22, that she got her big break into the fashion industry. She was working at a department store when she was spotted by Vogue photographer Irving Penn. He was struck by Dovima’s unique beauty and poise, so he convinced her to do a shoot with him. The resulting photographs were so impressive that they were published in the magazine.

After this first modelling shoot with Penn, Dovima began to receive a lot of attention from the fashion industry. Those initial Vogue photos caught the eye of a number of top designers, and she was soon being booked for jobs all over New York City. Her unique looks and striking features enabled her to stand out from other models, and she quickly became known for her poise and elegance.

As her career began to take off, Dovima found herself surrounded by some of the most famous designers and photographers of the time. She worked alongside icons like Richard Avedon, Irving Penn and Christian Dior and was celebrated for her ability to bring their creative visions to life.

Dovima’s career continued to flourish throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and she became one of the most famous models in the world. Her image graced countless advertorials and magazine covers, her elegance and poise meant that she was the informal “face” of the fashion industry during that time.

Dovima’s most iconic photographs

The key to being a good model is to always be yourself. You can’t try to be someone else or put on an act – you have to let your personality shine through,


As the face of the fashion industry in the 50s and 60s, Dovima was of course in a number of iconic photoshoots – many of which have become legendary. Here, I share my favourites:

Dovima with elephants (1955)

This photograph shot by Richard Avendon for Harper’s Bazaar is perhaps the most well known Dovima photograph. She is seen wearing a Dior gown and poses elegantly elephants.

The image has become an iconic symbol of high fashion and has inspired countless shoots over the years.

Dovima with Sasha (1956)

Another shot by Avendon, Dovima is seen posing with Sasha, a circus performer.

She is wearing a Balenciaga gown – her pose and expression are stunning in this shoot.

Dovima in Lanvin (1955)

This photograph, shot by Henry Clarke, shows Dovima in a stunning evening gown by Lanvin. As she beautifully gazes towards the camera a handsome gent looks toward her- captivated by her charms. The dress itself features floral silk that is pleated and ruffled to the bodice.

The image captures the glamour and sophistication of the 50s and 60s perfectly.

Dovima in Egypt (1951)

Shot by Richard Avendon, Dovima is stunning in a dress by Claire McCardell. This shot is effortlessly sophisticated and shows just how skilled she was. She looks off toward the horizon, and even the camel seems to kneel in her presence.

Dovima and the leopard (1950)

Shot by Richard Avendon for Harper’s Bazaar this is one of the earlier shots from her career – but you can easily see why she captivated the attention of photographers and the fashion industry.

Dovima is seen posing alongside a taxidermy leopard, clasping it at the chest. She is simply wearing a fur stole accented with diamond jewellery and this glamorous simplicity is what makes it an enduring symbol of the 1950s.

The later life and legacy of Dovima

I always tried to approach my work with professionalism and dedication. Modelling was more than just a job to me – it was a passion.


Despite her massive success, Dovima was known for being down- to- earth and approachable. She would often be seen socialising with photographers and fellow models and was regarded by a mentor and friend to many within the industry.

Sadly, Dovima’s life and career was cut short at the age of just 62 when she passed away in 1990 from liver cancer. Her legacy lives on however, with her unique beauty and elegant style continuing to inspire models and photographers to this day with her influence seen in countless fashion campaigns and photo shoots.

Dovima was a trailblazer in the world of modelling, known for her striking beauty, unique features and refined elegance and poise. She remains an inspiration and revered figure by many to this day.

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