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An American In Paris
Jack McCallum
February 07, 1989
Jamee Becker Guilbert now stays busy as a working mother in France
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February 07, 1989

An American In Paris

Jamee Becker Guilbert now stays busy as a working mother in France

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Jamee Guilbert moves with long, studied strides through the Christian Dior boutique in Paris, touching a sleeve here and there, running her fingers along a hemline, peering at price tags. The clerks have no way of knowing that she's not there to buy, for Guilbert looks very much like the typical well-to-do Dior customer.

"Whatever you put on Jamee, she looked classy," says SI swimsuit editor Jule Campbell. "You couldn't hide it." What Campbell put on her for SI's 1969 swimsuit cover was a lot of rope necklaces and armbands—"This was 1969, after all," says Campbell—as well as a multicolored suit and skirt. Guilbert looks as good today as she did then, when she was Jamee Becker. She has the same flawless skin, the same graceful figure (she was 5'9" and 120 pounds then, and she's 120 pounds now), the same sparkling blue eyes, the same casual elegance.

"Jamee definitely has an upscale look about her," says Bill Weinberg, president of New York City's Wilhelmina Models, the agency that represented her in the States. "Always did, always will."

Guilbert glides over to the lingerie department and touches something lacy. She converses with a clerk in French and informs her English-speaking companion that the garment is called a d�shabill�, which translates roughly as "dressing gown." "Now, really," she says, lowering her voice, "could you imagine schlepping scrambled eggs in that?"

In fact, Guilbert's morning had begun in the kitchen doing just that, as she got her husband, Philippe, off to his job as a clinical psychiatrist and their daughter, 16-year-old Sydney, and son, 11-year-old Justin, off to school. The Guilbert house, which looks small from the outside, is actually a four-story structure with a ground-floor area that has a 20-foot-high ceiling; it formerly served as the studio of a sculptor. The house is located in the 15th Arrondissement, in the southern part of Paris, well off the usual tourist trails.

"It takes a certain amount of maneuvering," says Guilbert, "but you can live well in Paris." And she does. The Guilberts are a close and loving family—and an active one. Jamee has hardly a spare moment to herself. Besides being a full-time homemaker, she is European director for the Los Angeles-based Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM), a school of fashion, merchandising and interior design; a volunteer organizer of social affairs for the Franco-American community in Paris; and a vice-president of the United Service Organizations (USO), the group that looks after visiting American servicemen and women, in Paris. Guilbert, who's 41, doesn't look her age. "But believe me," she says with a laugh, "some mornings I feel it."

Modeling is a family tradition. Guilbert's maternal grandmother, Mildred Bolger, was a well-known model in the 1920s, and Guilbert's mother, Sheila Jackson, was a model and a television personality who hosted The U.S. Steel Hour in the '50s. Jamee, who was raised in Greenwich, Conn., struck out on her own in New York City as an 18-year-old in 1965. She struggled for a few months, modeling bridal gowns by day and working as a waitress by night. Her big break came when she auditioned for a client who needed a model to jump on a trampoline. She had been a gymnast in high school, so she got the job.

Becker's athletic appearance also helped land her the SI cover. "We wanted an outdoorsy, free-spirit type," says Campbell. The cover, which was shot on a beach in Puerto Rico, shows her looking slightly wet, as if she has just jumped off the surfboard being lugged onshore by the man behind her. "Actually I wasn't a bad surfer," Guilbert says. "I could get up gracefully, and I could fall gracefully."

Even after she married Philippe in 1970, moved to Paris and gave birth to Sydney in 1973, she continued to work as a high-fashion model until 1980. "I wasn't a Twiggy or a Jean Shrimpton," she says, "but I was pretty successful. I lasted a long time. I guess what I had was, well...."

"Versatility," says Philippe. "You can say it. Jamee could do anything." That includes preparing a home version of rabbit r�moulade that Philippe recently had enjoyed in a restaurant. Could there be any more substantive proof that Jamee has earned the dual French and American citizenship that she possesses?

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