Maven to Know: Murph Damron

The stylist and model reflects on a life that took her from an Indiana farm to the pages of Vogue—and a chance meeting with Salvador Dali outside a liquor store.
Maven to Know Murph Damron Indy Maven

Murph Damron, Stylist and Model

As a child growing up on a farm in North Manchester, Indiana, Murph Damron dreamed of driving a big rig or soaring acrobatically on a circus trapeze. But the fashion goddesses had a different plan for her—sending her to Chicago to study fashion merchandising, then to New York, and then to the high-energy runways of London and Paris. Murph, who was known in the 1960s as the “American Twiggy,” appeared in the British and US versions of Vogue, Mademoiselle, and Elle, produced fashion shows, and worked with photographers like Richard Avedon.

Today, at 73, she’s one of the most stylish and captivating women in any room. Want to strike up a conversation with her? Ask her about her recent trip to the V&A in London to see the exhibition honoring her friend Mary Quant, the “mother of the mini skirt.” Or that time Murph met Salvador Dali outside a liquor store in New York—and what exactly he asked her to do next.

Best compliment you’ve ever received?

It came from my farm manager, when he saw a write-up about me and a pic: “Congratulations–I feel you have been overly modest about your life’s work. I should have been treating you with more respect!”

We can’t imagine you being scared of anything, but: What’s one thing you’ve wanted to try, that you’ve been too scared to do?

Sky diving, but definitely with a skilled diver.

What’s something about you that most people don’t know?

I have always lived within my means and strive to be mindful of others and their values.

What moment or period of your life would you want to relive?

Definitely my childhood summers outdoors, rolling down hills, wading in a large wash tub, helping pick garden vegetables, weeding the flower beds, and playing in the barns.

Who are three women (alive or not) that you’d love to go shopping with?

Dorian Leigh: famed model of the ’40s, the face of Revlon’s “Fire and Ice” campaign and the inspiration for Truman Capote’s Holly Golightly character in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Jennifer Garner and Jennifer Aniston: Both seem so down-to-earth and I’m sure they’d prefer to be out rummaging through old shops and ducking into obscure coffee shops and totally loving great independent food vendors with friendly faces.

That’s what I loved about Dorian as well, hitting the open market with her in Maule, just outside of Paris, on Saturdays.

“You’re Salvador Dali and I know friends of yours in London—the twin boys that model—and you all go to Ibiza and Formentera on your boat.”  
You’re stuck on a desert island with only one outfit to wear. Describe it to us.

For me, one of my favorite worn, gray t-shirts with the ribbing around the collar and sleeves cut off, as I hate them; old cut-off jeans; my Naot’s, and a large towel.

When are you the most creative or inspired? 

After a glass of wine or when I’m outside, putzing around in the yard.

Window or aisle seat?

Aisle, definitely.

Song you could listen to on repeat? 

“Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton, about the death of his 4-year-old son. It was like losing my father.

What’s one question we should have asked you that we didn’t—and what’s the answer to that question? 

What’s your most valuable possession? Mine was the family silver. I always kept a set out to use and got rid of all the flatware. I took the silver and some coins to (custom jeweler) Marc Aronstam so he could make me a pendant with a cross and a peace sign. Now, I have my mother and father with me at all times, and not in a silver box under my bed.

And finally, please tell us that story about how you met Salvador Dali.

 Ahhhhhh….hello, Dali! I was living in New York and modeling with Wilhelmina, going on rounds with my book. It was late fall and cold and I distinctly recall wearing my favorite green funnel collar swing coat. My hair was long and naturally auburn.

There was an amazing liquor store around the corner from a very old hotel, not far from where Wilhelmina was located between Lexington and Fifth avenues. The colors of the spirits in the small window were like a magical kaleidoscope, changing with the light of the day. I never went in, but it was so beautiful.

As I was gazing into the window, I heard this man’s voice: “Are you a model?” Like, well, this was a new one for me as nobody ever tried to pick me up—but then I looked to my side and it was Dali! I immediately said, “You’re Salvador Dali and I know friends of yours in London—the twin boys that model—and you all go to Ibiza and Formentera on your boat.”  

He was wearing the most elegant charcoal-striped three-piece suit, with a crisp white high-collar shirt, a royal purple satin seven-fold tie, and a lovely stick pin on the tie. He had on a charcoal/black cashmere/wool cape and clearly, it was Dali with his trademark cane.

He asked if I would like to join him for tea at the hotel. The area we sat in was near the back of the tearoom and we just talked.  He asked me to sit for him in his studio—artists always seek subjects for their ideas. At a later date, we met again over tea with another female, who became a friend and so the story goes…

(Post-script: Murph did sit for Dali a handful of times as he sketched her portrait, and she says he was the consummate professional.)

Amanda Kingsbury has never run into anyone outside a liquor store that she wanted to see. 

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