Life at Leja, 1942-1943

Hjördis Genberg modelling for Leja, Stockholm. 1942-1943
Hjördis Genberg modelling for Leja, Stockholm. 1942-1943

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

“Rarely have I worked with such a patient model,” her manager Mrs Stjernström told Housewife magazine. “I don’t know if it was because she liked to see herself in beautiful clothes, but she was never too ‘tired’ to try them on.”

Hjördis Genberg's first appearance in the Leja store's advertising. April 1942
Hjördis Genberg’s first appearance in the Leja store’s advertising. April 1942

“Trying on dresses all day is tiring,” Hjördis admitted in mid 1942. “All dresses sewn in the studio must be tested on fashion models, as well as any purchased from abroad or during peak seasons. And customers always wish to see new collections demonstrated. Sometimes our legs and feet are so swollen that we can hardly walk home at night. I’m lucky to have a one month vacation coming up.”

“However, I love beautiful clothes, and the modelling profession is the best there is,” she declared, before limping off to pack her bags.

The ripples from the war surrounding Sweden were also a factor in the models’ workload. The threat of impending clothes rationing in the autumn of 1941 caused the public to “buy as never before.” At the end of Hjördis’ first year as a model, on New Year’s Eve in December 1941, material shortages finally lead to textile rationing. All clothing and textile goods with the exception of shoes, silk and artificial silk, wool and sewing thread were covered by the restrictions.

Confidence, vanity, and self-esteem.

Hjördis Genberg, February 1942
“Swedish Beauty”. A full page magazine photo of Hjördis Genberg from February 1942, taken less than a year after joining Leja as a student model.

Hjördis’ strides forward in the modeling world were nothing short of astonishing. From the shy, rosy-cheeked youngster photographed in 1941, she became the femme-fatale subject of a full-page pin-up in SE magazine’s February 1942 issue..

“This is not a refined film-vamp from Hollywood,” the accompanying text ran, “but an energetic, sweet and everyday Medelpad girl called Hjördis Genberg. She arrived some time ago from Timrå, outside Sundsvall, applied for a place as an illustrator, found the course unsuitable and instead became a mannequin at Leja. She has advanced quickly!”

In one of her first newspaper name-checks, from a July 1942 edition of Aftonbladet, Hjördis was described as: “The leading lady among Leja’s models. She only started a year ago as a student.”

Neither the newspaper nor Hjördis mentioned to what extent she was the leading lady, but it was obviously by some distance. There’s no two ways about it. She ruled. After a first appearance in April 1942, Hjördis Genberg was the only model photographed for Leja’s press adverts.

HJordis Genberg and her mirror. Nordiska Kompaniet, 1943
Hjördis Genberg and her mirror. Nordiska Kompaniet, 1943. Photo: Holmén, Erik / Nordiska museet

Despite Kim Andersson’s gracious assistance in her early days, Hjördis confessed: “I’m afraid I did not always have the same humble attitude towards my colleagues, due to my growing confidence, vanity, and self-esteem.”

“Once, we were to be photographed modelling dresses at Djurgården (an island park-land in Stockholm). There were five girls, and I had the immense good fortune to be allocated a fabulously beautiful and stylish dress. When I put it on I was so pleased with myself that I couldn’t take my eyes off my reflection. I ran from mirror to mirror, announcing: ‘Oh, I look so good!'”

“This should have been enough to annoy the other girls, no matter how nice they were, but when we got to Djurgården, things got worse. The three photographers mainly focused on me, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The other girls certainly felt, and rightly so, that I was absolutely unbearable.”

Below is a fair representation of Leja’s printed advertising between Hjördis’ debut in mid-April 1942, and her last appearance in August 1943.

Next page: Hjordis in the city 1942-1943

Or you can take take a brief detour to a page about modelling in Sweden from 1940s-1960s.

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