Nina Sheila Dyer was born in the former British colony of Ceylon, now Sri Lanka in 1930. Her father was a British tea planter while her mother was Indian although some claim her to be Burgher. Little is documented of her childhood in Ceylon but at the age of twenty she took wing to England. Her dream was to become an actress. Moving to Liverpool, Nina enrolled in a drama school where she took classes in acting after which she moved to London. As fate would have it, instead of film or theatre producers it was the eminent fashion designers of that era that noticed her.
Nina was blessed with a splendid figure which had been sculpted by her love for swimming and thus embarked on a career as a swimwear model. Attesting to her enviable figure a British newspaper columnist of the time noted “ Nina Dyer didn’t make her way through the modelling ranks in the usual way. Instead, she exploded onto the Côte d’Azur in the summer of 1950, with a body newspapers dubbed ’the best friend a bikini ever had.” However despite such plaudits Nina’s face proved to be an obstacle. At that time English Fashion houses considered her high cheekbones and full lips as “excessively exotic for conservative British tastes.”
Undeterred Nina made it her mission to contact several French fashion houses where she believed they would appreciate her beauty. Her mission proved successful as when Nina moved to Paris, the capital of haute couture she met Pierre Balmain. Considered a renowned couturier, Blamain had dressed movie stars such as Marlene Dietrich, Katherine Hepburn, Vivien Leigh and aristocrats such as Queen Sirikit of Thailand and Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor.
Soon Nina became one of Balmain’s favourite models. Thanks to her association with Balmain, she came into contact with many elite members of Parisian high society. They embraced Nina as one of their own and made Nina feel at home in Paris. During this transition, Nina created an image of an enigmatic heiress originating from the colonies. Nina possessed a natural ability to switch from playful lover to elegant dreamgirl as the occasion dictated and took to the job and its lifestyle. This coupled with her unique physical attractiveness, her open nature and her taste for extravagance and luxury proved popular to the society circles of that time. Her lifestyle enabled her to also be a fixture on the Riviera as an habituée of the yacht and villa party circuit. This all contributed to Nina regularly being featured in various newspaper columns.
Newspaper reports state that one of the first men to be captivated by her figure was Nicolás Franco, the elder brother of dictator General Franco of Spain.
Despite the moral slogans that were spread across his homeland of Spain where his brother ruled with an iron fist, Nicolás Franco had earned a reputation for not following those strict moral codes and was known to be quite blasé.
It was in 1950 while on a vacation on the Côte d’Azur that his friendship with Nina became public. On its back cover, Italian magazine L’Europeo published some photos in which swimsuit-clad Nicolás Franco could be seen ogling a radiant woman, none other than Nina dressed in a provocative bikini.
The picture was captioned as “For Franco No. 2, life begins at 50 years old. The brother of the defender of Christianity does not seem to be the defender of chastity.” These same images also appeared in ‘Sunday Pictures’ a British publication which adopted a courteous stance about Nicolás’s intention to take the model to Spain to make her “the first star of the country”, and about the change in customs that she would have to adopt, “because in the Spain of his brother Francisco, no woman can bathe with such minimal clothing.” When the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Martín Artajo, showed the “scandalous” report to the Generalissimo, he limited himself to making an anatomical observation by commenting “How fat Nicolás is.”
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