Stockholm’s star mannequin, 1943-1944

Hjördis Genberg being arranged for a photo shoot, 1944
Hjördis Genberg having a cigarette break while being arranged for a photo shoot, 1944. Photo: Holmén, Erik / Nordiska museet

Carl Gustaf Arend Benjamin Tersmeden was born on 10th February 1917 into a prominent and wealthy Swedish family. He became known both as a very rich businessman, and later as Sweden’s most famous playboy. The label at the forefront during his time with Hjördis was “very rich”. During the Second World War he worked for the Swedish airline AB Aerotransport (later part of SAS), which astonishingly managed to maintain a European network throughout, running services to Scotland, German occupied Paris, Moscow – until 1941, and even Berlin into 1945.

By the time Carl Gustaf and Hjördis began to see each other regularly, he already had one marriage behind him, to mill-owner’s daughter Ingegärd Beck-Friis. The marriage lasted from June 1940 to February 1943. Ingegärd remarried three months later.

Franska

Hjordis Genberg with Carl Gustaf Tersmeden. Hjordis is being drawn by the cartoonist 'Mago'.
Hjördis Genberg with Carl Gustaf Tersmeden. Hjördis is being drawn by the cartoonist ‘Mago’.

“I still had other male friends and admirers who asked me out,” Hjördis wrote, “but it was Carl Gustaf Tersmeden whom I thought best of and liked being with the most. Through him I attended a swirl of happy parties, met a lot of people, made new friends, and opened up new horizons.”

“That was when I was offered employment at NK’s Franska (French) department. I had a good time at Leja, but at NK I would get better pay and working conditions. So, I took the offer, and never regretted it.”

What Hjördis was offered was in effect a promotion. Franska held exclusive Swedish rights to make and sell such famous French names as Chanel and Christian Dior.

Hjordis Niven with Designer Pelle Lundgren, 1954.
Hjordis Niven returns to NK as a customer, in 1954. She’s pictured with dress designer Pelle Lundgren.

The manager from 1907 until its closure in 1966 was Kurt Jacobsson, who named Hjördis as his favourite model during that time, even ahead of Greta Gustafsson (Garbo) who had quickly changed sides from model to customer.

“My managers, Kurt Jacobsson and (dress designer) Pelle Lundgren were very kind to me and my colleagues,” Hjördis recalled. “They cared about us, and were always willing to assist when we needed help or advice.”

“The rooms were unusually nice. The girls had a big dressing room, where we could also relax when we weren’t working. And it was so much easier having hair-styling, facial care and everything else, all under one roof. I also enjoyed working with my new colleagues, most of whom I already knew. ”

As well as having male admirers, Hjördis, drew the admiration of her fellow models, or ‘mannequins’ as they were known at the time. Star model Kim Andersson (who married in 1946 and maintained her fame as Kim Söderlund) also moved from Leja to Franska, and remembered Hjördis as both a dazzling model and a good friend.

Hjordis Genberg modelling for NK. 1944.
Hjordis Genberg modelling for NK. 1944. Photo: Holmén, Erik / Nordiska museet

“We had a lot of fun, and laughed and giggled together as girls do. She was an amazingly skillful model. She used these long, rapid movements that highlighted the clothes in exactly the right way. Her movements were natural. And she created an atmosphere, as if she was very proud of every garment she wore.”

“Hjördis was born to be a model. A woman may be beautiful and have a perfect figure, but that doesn’t mean she can show off clothes to their best advantage.”

Unsurprisingly, Hjördis became Sweden’s most popular photo and fashion model. While at Leja in mid 1942, she was already appearing in newspaper and magazine fashion articles. At Franska, she was pictured and name-checked on the front covers of magazines from 1944, such as Vecko Journalen (Weekly Journal) and Svensk Damtidning (Swedish Woman’s Weekly).

Over an intensive four-year period she claimed to have appeared on around 50 magazine covers. Vecko Journalen later looked back on her as “40s Sweden’s grandest star model”.

Here’s a slide show of Hjördis Genberg fashion photos, mostly dating from 1943-1944.

“Things worked out fine,” Hjördis recalled of her early days at Franska. “It was just that the most important thing, the thing that meant most to me, had gone askew…”

The Chilean Nightingale

Rosita Serrano
Rosita Serrano, “The Chilean Nightingale”.

“The famous international star Rosita Serrano arrived in Stockholm and took the entire capital by storm. She would’ve liked to have done the same for me, but the thing was that she had also taken Carl Gustaf by storm. He was completely charmed by her exotic beauty, her glamour and her fame. Tersan always had a soft spot for international celebrities, a weakness in which he was not alone.”

In January 1943, the Chilean-born singer and musician Rosita Serrano arrived in Sweden from her adopted homeland, Nazi Germany. She was flown in by the colourful AB Aerotransport pilot Carl Gustaf von Rosen. Rosita had been a huge star in Germany for a number of years, earning the title ‘The Chilean Nightingale’. She quickly set out on a 25 date tour of Sweden, throwing in a one-off performance in Helsinki in March. Sweden was neutral, and at the time Finland was a German ally on The Eastern Front, but Rosita was a firm believer that her music was for everyone – “Art can never be mixed with politics” she said [and was wrong].

While in Sweden, Rosita Serrano was under observation by the OSS (precursors of the CIA), who later questioned her chauffeur about her activities during a short return to Berlin in March-April 1943.  Nothing untoward was found. Her Berlin address was recorded as 21 Jenaer Straße. The same address now bears ‘stumble stone’ plaques commemorating Jewish residents who were murdered in 1941 during the Holocaust.

Rosita Serrano on the cover of a Swedish magazine in early 1943.
Cover girls. Rosita Serrano on the front cover of a Swedish magazine in 1943. (Hjordis was on the front cover of the same publication in 1944)

Rosita performed additional concerts in Sweden during the summer and autumn of 1943, and it was only announced in mid September that she would soon be returning to Germany: “for new triumphs on the continent”. However, any return quickly became out of the question. On 21st October, Rosita performed at what seems to have been a charity concert in aid of recently arrived Jewish refugees, on the same bill as Danish-Jewish opera singer Frantz Rabinowitz.

Frantz had only just escaped from his homeland. After news leaked that the German occupiers were about to arrest Denmark’s Jews, he was smuggled onto a ferry bound for the Danish island of Bornholm. As it passed near the Swedish coast, he jumped overboard and swam ashore, illustrating his dreadful desperation to escape. Days later he was in Stockholm, sharing a stage with Rosita Serrano.

Despite Rosita being out of reach, an arrest warrant was issued in Berlin on 5th November 1943, accusing her of espionage. The playing of her music in Germany was banned. She was now stuck in Stockholm, where she was referred to in the local press as Sweden’s “fugitive number one”.

(The OSS continued to bark up the wrong tree. In December 1943 they were informed that Rosita intended to travel to Turkey “no doubt on behalf of German Intelligence”. This was followed by a report in January 1944 that she wanted to return to Chile: “The reason for this change of plan is unknown”.)

Rosita Serrano singing in Stockholm, 1944
Video of Rosita Serrano singing in Stockholm, 1944. She appears from 4:50 . Filmarkivet SE

Fast forward to 1945 and Rosita was still trying to reach Chile: “I have a country house twenty minutes out of Stockholm surrounded by a big park  on the banks of the river Mellan,” she wrote in 1945. “I keep on being lucky in my artistic career. I have travelled all over Sweden and Finland with my guitar, but these countries are very small…”

Such was Rosita Serrano’s celebrity, she was able to continue recording and performing in Sweden throughout 1944-1945, while moving within the highest Stockholm social circles and living , according to the OSS: “in affluent circumstances”.

As well as beguiling Carl Gustaf Tersmeden, rumours also surfaced that she might marry Prince Carl Johan Bernadotte.

For more about Rosita Serrano, and her adventures in Sweden, check out the amazing Liberty Lady blog.

“I think what enchanted Tersan most about Rosita was her music,” Hjordis wrote. “Tersan himself was deeply musical, with real talent that he unfortunately never revealed. (Carl Gustaf’s brother Gerhard Tersmeden was a successful jazz composer.) He was too busy and restless. Rosita was not only a beautiful woman, she was also an exquisite artist. She was all music – and this became too much for Carl Gustaf Tersmeden to be able to resist. For a time.” The time in question may have included a sizeable chunk of 1944.

“For what it was, the romance between him and Rosita ended, and everything started up again between us. And yet, not really the same as before. For now we had become aware that our feelings for each other were something more serious than a flirt, or a romantic adventure. Carl Gustaf asked me to marry him and I said yes.”

(Rosita Serrano never managed to shake off her links with Nazi Germany. She died in poverty in her native Chile, in 1997).

Next page: Something big and demanding, 1945

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