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Posts Tagged ‘fashion icons’

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It’s funny how clothes can be so emotional. They make you able to face the world in a spectacular way. 

Vivienne Westwood, British fashion designer and activist.

There’s a documentary on Vivienne Westwood just released and now showing at the Opera Plaza theater on Van Ness in San Francisco. But I have read that the designer is unhappy with the film, directed by Lorna Tucker. Apparently there’s way too much time spent on fashion and not enough focus on Westwood’s activism. She tweeted earlier this year that she does not want to be associated with the film.

Ah well, that’s too bad but it won’t stop me from seeing it.

Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist is showing at the Opera Plaza through June 29th, 2018.

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The always dashing Tom Wolfe in 1980. Photo from the book Legendary Authors and the Clothes they Wore.

You never realize how much of your background is sewn into the lining of your clothes. 

Tom Wolfe (1930-2018), American author/journalist.

In addition to his writings of fiction (Bonfire of the Vanities) and non-fiction (The Right Stuff) Mr. Wolfe was know for his signature white suits. The story goes that in the early 1960s, he purchased his first white suit to wear in New York during the summer months. But he found that the fabric was too heavy and warm (I wonder what it was). So he sported his white suit in the winter instead and caused some attention because as we all know, white is only for summer! He continued to wear those white suits throughout the rest of his life and he often added details such as a vest, pocket square, and a hat.

RIP, Tom Wolfe. Your sartorial guidance will be missed.

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Notice Fran Lebowitz doesn’t try to soften her look at all with an accessory such as a brooch.

I’m interested in the profoundly superficial; people’s innermost thoughts are never as revealing as their jackets. 

Fran Lebowitz, American writer.

Fran Lebowitz is known for her signature style of suits paired with wingtip cowboy boots and button down shirts with french cuffs. Or on more casual days – Levi’s 501 jeans.

She found her style early in life as a twenty-something newbie to New York City. It was 1970 and she crossed paths with Andy Warhol, who soon asked her to write a column for his magazine – Interview.

In her youth she sported jeans, Oxford shirts, pullover sweaters, and penny loafers. A simple preppy look, which was not uncommon at the time. At some point she decided that was “too childish” so she dumped the sweaters and went looking for men’s jackets and suits. A foot problem led her to cowboy boots, which she has to have custom made as they don’t come in wingtips.

A social commentator with a sense of (dry) humor and a sharp wit, Ms. Lebowitz has written two books and numerous essays mostly on American society. Law and Order fans may have spotted her playing Judge Goldberg in several episodes.

She’s a regular at NYC Fashion Week and hobnobs with the likes of Carolina Herrera and Diane von Furstenberg. She shares her tailor, Anderson & Sheppard, with Prince Charles and her shirts are from Hilditch & Key on Jermyn Street in London. (If Beau Brummell were alive, he’d be impressed.)

In 2007 she was inducted into the Vanity Fair International Best Dressed Hall of Fame.

So what does Lebowitz’s suit jacket say about her?

  • She likes things just so.
  • She’s confident.
  • Willing to spend on quality.
  • She does things her way.
  • Completely committed to the masculine look.
  • She likes her jackets a little on the big side.

 

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IMG_20180117_151930Marchesa Casati was quite the It Girl in early 20th Century Europe. With a family fortune backing her, she lived a large life in several Italian palaces and another one in Paris, bespoke and designer duds, jewels not just for her neck but also adorning the collection of the live exotic animals she kept close at hand – black panthers, snakes, and monkeys.

Infinite Variety The Life & Legend of the Marchesa Casati (University of Minnesota Press, 3rd ed.) by Scot D. Ryersson and Michael Orlando Yaccarino fills us in on all the details of the Marchesa and her surrounding admirers.

Her grandfather and father made their money in cotton milling during a time when Italy was a great exporter of the fabric. Luisa Adele Rosa Maria Amman was born in January 1881. Although pampered, Luisa was not the favorite of the family and not the beauty her older sister was, which made her a somewhat shy child.

As teenagers the girls lost both parents and inherited a great fortune. It was after marrying Camillo Casati at age 19 that Luisa began to reinvent herself, her style, and she discovered ways to spend her money. She was an unusual looking woman for the times standing tall and thin with a long neck, large dark eyes, and a mop of curly hair. Luisa decided to “exploit her type to the full” by chopping off her long tresses and dying it red and outlining her eyes with black coal.

Here she is described in 1920 by a Russian royal exile:

In the room where I was introduced, a woman of singular beauty was (reclining) on a tiger pelt with translucent veils outlining her slender body. Two greyhounds, one black and one white, were sleeping at her feet … I hardly noticed the presence of  an Italian officer … Our hostess raised her splendid eyes. They were so large in her pale face, you could not see anything but them. With a slow and undulant movement, like that of a royal cobra, she offered me a hand decorated with rings of giant pearls. The hand itself was ravishing. 

IMG_20180117_133130Sporting a new look and money no object Luisa was soon holding grand parties for which she created outlandish costumes. She caught the eye of artists Augusts John, Man Ray and a host of others who painted, sculpted, and photographed her. Isadora Duncan was a friend, Worth and Leon Bakst, costume designer for the Ballet Russes, are credited with dressing her.

Luisa overcame her timidity and successfully created a persona that men and women alike could not resist. She had that certain elusive something, which made her an early 20th century icon such as a modern day Lady Gaga. Indeed at first she reminded me of British fashion follower and muse Isabella Blow (1958-2007) but the Marchesa went way beyond the antics of Ms. Blow.

It was the aim it seems of the Marchesa to be seen, clothed or not, (she would have fit quite nicely into our modern world of selfies and social media). But why is the question I kept asking and this book did not answer. Although a great documentation of just about every outlandish party she ever held, what I found missing is any discussion as to what made this woman tick.

Infinite Variety is an interesting peek at an interesting woman but description after description of party after party and quotes about how extraordinary she was got repetitious. After awhile I got fed up with the Marchesa whose superficial ways cost her her only daughter and the family fortune. (Although I do applaud Luisa for stepping outside the conventions of the day. Something only a woman with money could do.)

For anyone interested in fashion, the Marchesa is worth knowing about since she was such an icon and muse even in recent fashion history to the likes of Alexander McQueen, Tom Ford, and John Galliano, but it’s hard for me to recommend a cover to cover read of this 259 page book. A brief skim and for sure spend some time with the images.

 

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I love fashion but I love fashion history even more. That’s all I read about lately and I’m even taking a class, which I’ve mentioned before.

In this class (Fashion Icons of the 20th Century) every three weeks we have to write a short paper and make a presentation on an icon or trend during the time period we have just studied. The latest was 1930s-1950s and I chose Hollywood costume designer, Edith Head.

Here’s my paper. Enjoy!

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Edith Head (1897-1981) worked in Hollywood for over 40 years costuming hundreds of films. She received 34 Academy Award nominations for Best Costumes and won a record 8 times. She dressed such stars Mae West, Lupe Levez, Bette Davis, Cary Grant, and Audrey Hepburn, to name only a few. An icon of her era and beyond, she was the inspiration behind the Edna Mode character in the 2004 animated film, The Incredibles.

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A former French language teacher, Edith got her start in Hollywood in 1924 after applying for a job as an illustrator in the costume department of Paramount Picture Studios. She didn’t know a thing about drawing but got the job using students’ work as her own. (A story she told on herself years later.)

Edith stayed with Paramount for the next two decades working her way up from assistant to taking over as Head Costumer in 1938. It was during that time that she developed her own personal style. Self-conscious about her appearance she kept her look simple, dressing in tailored suits and sporting a chignon with slick bangs inspired by actress Anna Mae Wong. Her signature accessory was round rimmed glasses with dark lenses, which she wore indoors and out to hide her one crossed eye.

Just as she masked her own flaws, Edith was a master at masking the flaws of the stars she dressed. A thick neck, plump figure, short legs – she knew all the tricks to hide, disguise, and distract. For example, Bette Davis refused to wear a bra and suffered from a sagging bust-line. In the film, All About Eve Edith designed an off-the-shoulder cocktail dress for Davis with built-in support and mid-length sleeves edged with fur, which distracted the eye from the offending area. She won an Oscar for that film in 1950 and the dress is almost as memorable as the film itself.

Although Edith was sometimes criticized for her lack of innovative design, she wasn’t an Oscar winner for nothing. Among her more memorable designs were:

• The sarong she put Dorothy Lamour in for The Jungle Princess (1936) inspired the fashion trend for tropical fabrics and sarong draping in dresses – a popular choice for evening wear throughout the 1940s.
• The strapless evening gown she designed for Elizabeth Taylor in the 1951 film, A Place in the Sun was a smash hit with fashion critics and women across the country, who anxiously bought copies at local department stores. The gown featured a fitted bodice covered in small velvet violets and layers of ivory tulle over a yellow underskirt. Strapless gowns became a popular option for proms and dances and are still a go-to choice. (Edith won an Oscar for this film, too.)

Not only did Edith create iconic looks for stars but she was an icon herself thanks to her specific personal style and her savvy self-promotion. Unlike her peers she was happy to interact with the public. All through the 1950s she appeared on radio shows and eventually television offering advice to women about style and how to dress. She wrote a book called The Dress Doctor and a syndicated newspaper column. Edith became as well known as the stars she dressed.

Edith left Paramount in 1967 to work at Universal Studios where she remained until her death in 1981.

References:

Chierichetti, David. The Life and Times of Hollywood’s Celebrated Costume Designer Edith Head. New York: Harper Collins. 2003.

Head, Edith. The Dress Doctor: Prescriptions for Style, From A to Z. New York: Harper Collins, reprint 2008. (Original copyright 1959.)

http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/79/lot/31995/ELIZABETH-TAYLOR-GOWN-FROM-A-PLACE-IN-THE-SUN

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