Gillis MacGil Addison


Gillis MacGil Addison of Southampton and Manhattan died on December 16 in Manhattan from cancer. She was 85.

Ms. Addison rocketed to a career in modeling after being plucked from the behind the lingerie counter at Bergdorf Goodman to become one of the store’s in-house models. It was there she was discovered by designer Nettie Rosenstein, who hired her to travel the country to model the latest fashions at major retail stores. Over the course of her career, she worked for many major designers, including Norman Norell, Bill Blass, Geoffrey Beene, James Galanos and Scaasi.

At the urging of fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert, she tried photographic modeling and almost immediately landed a Vogue cover. She was known for her style and beauty, as well as her brains, earning her invites to lecture at Pratt Institute, Drexel and the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Ms. Addison’s long list of accomplishments includes membership on the Board of Governors at the Fashion Group; being elected to the International Best Dressed List in 1972 and 1973; and participation in Barbara Walters’ “Not for Women Only” series on the World of the Model in 1972.

Having worn garments made by top designers, she had a personal style that was most influenced by French designer Coco Chanel. “I preferred a tailored look but always with something soft—a pleated skirt with a soft jacket or nubby wool sweater, perhaps. I love white shirts and could wear one every day,” she said. Her signature look was starched white collar and cuffs peeking out from a black sweater.

She met her first husband, Philip Stearns, on a blind date. They married in 1949 but divorced six years later.

In 1960, she founded her own modeling agency, Mannequin, specifically for runway models. For a time, she did double duty as a model and the manager of the agency; she rented space at Henri Bendel. The initial dozen models on the agency’s roster grew to 75. In between, she found time to write a book, “Your Future in Modeling,” published in 1964.

She shared many of her early career experiences with lifelong friend Missy Bancroft, a socialite, actress and model.

At one of the many dinner parties the two friends attended, then-Ms. MacGil met Bruce Addison, whom she would later marry, although the hostess of the party, playing matchmaker, had intended to introduce Mr. Addison to Ms. Bancroft. It was Ms. MacGil to whom he was drawn, and they married in 1961. The same year, they built their first house at the end of Meadow Lane. They built another house in Southampton in 1974 on Coopers Neck Lane, where Ms. Addison continue to live until eight years ago. She was happiest when pruning and weeding her property, and even more so when getting both her twin sons, Anthony and Blake, to prune and operate mowers and chainsaws, said Anthony Addison.

Ms. Addison was active with the Parrish Art Museum, where she was instrumental in helping to create the annual Parrish Presents event.

Ms. Addison and her husband’s parties in Southampton were very popular with the social set of the 1960s. They divorced after 20 years.

After ending her career and giving up her agency, she devoted her time to her sons; stepsons, Bruce and Mathew; and two young granddaughters, Anabel and Carolina, all of whom survive her.

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