Woman finds 'different me' as model EAST COLUMBIA

November 10, 1992|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

On Page 25 of November's Harper's Bazaar magazine appears a collage of New York super models and Hollywood celebrities wearing "bondage dresses" with black leather straps at Italian designer Gianni Versace's Rock 'N Rule fashion show.

A few pages beyond in the fashion publication is a two-page spread featuring a more conservatively attired Lily Bengfort, businesswoman and mother of three.

The 31-year-old Long Reach village resident was one of three "regular" women selected from 1,500 finalists to represent Leslie Fay Women clothiers in a national advertising campaign.

Mrs. Bengfort, a home-based small-business consultant, also is scheduled to appear in the December issue of Cosmopolitan and possibly in Good Housekeeping, Vogue or Working Woman.

In the Harpar's Bazaar ad, the brown-eyed native of Guyana wears a steel-blue pants and blazer sportswear outfit with a navy and white striped shirt.

She stands against a white background, her hands in her pants pockets, looking straight into the camera with an understated smile. The photo runs almost the full page.

The opposite page reads, "Leslie Fay congratulates Lily Bengfort of Columbia, Md., on being selected as one of this year's Leslie Fay Women. We think they're the most beautiful women in America."

The only text on the page that includes Mrs. Bengfort's picture reads, "Photograph by Scavullo," which might mean nothing to those unfamiliar with fashion photography, including Mrs. Bengfort when she went to New York in July for a modeling session.

"He's very low-key. He said nothing," Mrs. Bengfort said of her trip to Mr. Scavullo's brownstone studio. "I had no idea who he was."

But when she told her friends she had been photographed by Francesco Scavullo -- a world-renowned fashion and portrait photographer whose work appears regularly on magazine covers they marveled.

Mrs. Bengfort's brief plunge into the glittery, trend-setting New York modeling world started with a trip to Hecht's department store, where she picked up an entry form for the search for a Leslie Fay woman.

The application required a 50-word essay explaining what defines aLeslie Fay woman and a full-length photo.

Mrs. Bengfort wrote that as a mother of three, including a baseball-playing son, and as a home-based businesswoman, "I need a wardrobe to take me from home office to home plate."

She sent a photo taken by her husband, Randy, of her and the children at the U.S. Capitol.

The entry impressed Bob Cox, president and creative director of Cox Landey and Partners, a New York ad agency that handles the Leslie Fay account.

"We were looking for women who looked attractive, healthy and real," he said.

"We were attempting to get women who weren't local models.

"We weren't looking for Gianni Versace top models to try to hang outfits on. We wanted real American women wearing Leslie Fay. This is who we price them for and intend them for. We want women to look at the picture and say, 'That's me.' "

A Leslie Fay representative informed Mrs. Bengfort that she was a national winner in June, which mean a $3,000 cash prize and $1,000 in Leslie Fay products.

Out of five national winners, three were chosen for a modeling session in New York.

Mrs. Bengfort met with several executives in New York, who showed her a collection of Leslie Fay outfits for her approval. She rejected those (wrong colors).

A second collection included brighter colors more to her liking. An outfit was tailored, and she headed for the studio.

Professionals worked on her hair and makeup for more than two hours before the photo session.

"In a sense, it was almost like our wedding day," said Mr. Bengfort, who accompanied her on the trip. "There was a lot of anticipation when she came out."

Professionals told Mrs. Bengfort to show a wide range of expressions and movements, but little else, she said.

"It's tough to do when you're not a model. I'm not in that world," she said.

"You've got to keep your face from freezing. I had to resort to looking at my husband so I could smile."

Breaking the silence, a professional told her simply to "work it."

"I guess for models it means twirl and move around," Mrs. Bengfort said. "I found it humorous. It helped me to relax and smile, but I'm sure I didn't work it fully."

The campaign is risky, but Mrs. Bengfort made it work, said Mr. Cox.

"It's a crap shoot," he said. "When you do a campaign like this, you don't know what will arrive on the Metroliner."

Mrs. Bengfort earned $1,000 for about two hours of modeling. She said she was amazed at how makeup and photography are used to "create a look."

She learned that even top models benefit from touch-ups, such as masking tape in key spots and airbrushing.

"I looked like me, but a different me," she said.

"It certainly was a different look, but not a transformation," said Mr. Bengfort, director of public relations and marketing at Howard Community College. "I think my wife is beautiful in an old, baggy sweat suit."

Leaving the studio that day, Mr. Bengfort said, his wife received "star treatment" in Manhattan. People turned to look as she walked down the street, and the man who took their fast-food order insisted on carrying their tray, he said.

"Every woman should have the opportunity to have a make-over," Mrs. Bengfort said. "They would realize how beautiful and unique they really are."

The advertising campaign could lead to other modeling opportunities with Leslie Fay, Mrs. Bengfort said. The company asked her to return to New York a few weeks ago for a show for retailers, but she had a conflict, she said.

"I'm open to occasional possibilities, but as a career I'm happy with what I'm doing," she said.

As for the children, they weren't awed by seeing mom in the magazine.

"For them, it was just another normal mom thing," she said, laughing.

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