Accessing Audrey
November 25, 2009

I’ve been on a ’60s kick lately (even though I’ve been absent from the blog for a bit) and now comes the news of an auction of clothes largely from that decade from the wardrobe of the incomparable Audrey Hepburn. The big numbers are from Givenchy, her lifelong designer and friend, like the silk cloqué dress above from his autumn-winter 1966 collection that’s a most distinctive shade of blue. Seriously, the woman could even make a pastel look sophisticated. And as the catalogue notes, she ordered the dress (no loaners for Miss Hepburn!) for her publicity tour for Two For The Road, one of my all-time favorite movies.

Of course the auction includes loads of little black dresses, her trademark, and the story behind it is pretty rich. In 1951, Audrey, then 21, met Tanja Starr-Busmann, the 15-year-old daughter of a Dutch diplomat, in London where their families were neighbors. It was the start of a life-long friendship, and periodically Audrey would load up a big box with her haute couture cast-offs and send them off to Tanja. It really was a different world – Busmann even gave one of the Givenchy gowns to the nanny! Now all these years later, Kerry Taylor Auctions in London has acquired “the collection” and it’s set to go under the hammer on December 8, with half of the proceeds going to Unicef and the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund. Experts expect the sale to net north of $150,000, but authenticated Audrey pieces rarely come on the market and, after last week’s Yves St. Laurent sale where his old pots and pans went for $22,000, I think it’s anybody’s guess. I mean it’s Audrey Hepburn!

And then there is her wedding dress – for the marriage that never was. While she was filming the star-making Roman Holiday in 1952 in Rome, she sought out out the Fontana Sisters – renowned in postwar Italy for their full-skirted romantic gowns – to create her wedding dress. But as she finished the movie she called off her engagement to an Englishman and implored the sisters to give the dress away,”to the most beautiful, poor Italian girl you can find – someone who couldn’t ever afford a dress like mine.” (An impoverished farm girl, Amabile Altobella, wore it, stayed happily married and said the dress brought her luck.) Could you die?

Speaking of weddings, Audrey Hepburn also wore a lot of Valentino in the ’60s, and from his legendary Spring 1968 all-white couture collection there is a lacy vanilla mini, a version of the dress that Jackie O chose for her Skorpios ceremony with Ari. Val-hollah!

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Mad Men – and Women
August 18, 2009

Mad Men premiered Sunday night and I loved the episode. But I have to question some of the costuming choices of the series, especially now that we are well into the sixties – 1963, to be exact.  Let’s start with the men, which is the series’ strong suit (as it were). Jon Hamm’s Don Draper is so perfectly turned out that I rarely notice what he is wearing, his clothes are so at one with the character.  Sexually confused art director Sal is more appropriately a bit of a show-off, in florid styles that just barely fit his beefier frame and gild-the-lily accessories – pinky rings, vests, flashier ties. Newly-promoted account head Ken wears his suits as easily as his sunny disposition while his counterpart, tortured Pete, is correspondingly costumed as all-wound-up in his dark woolen armor.

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Where I often part company with the show is with the women, whose clothes largely seem stuck in the fifties. I know everyone doesn’t replace a wardrobe all at once, and especially in those days when clothing purchases were meant for the long haul, but on the other hand we’re talking about an ad agency in New York City, albeit a second-string one, but with some pretty major accounts. As someone who was roughly the age of Don’s children at the time, I have a pretty good memories of the shift dresses and two-piece suits my non-working young mother wore in those days – and we were far from New York.

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I get it -the costumes telegraph that Joan’s a vamp and Peggy’s still hiding behind her girlish exterior (the jury’s out on Don’s wife Betty, right now she’s pregnant; in previous seasons she struck me as a looking like a perfect Hitchcock’s blonde heroine of the fifties with her full skirts and side-parted hair).  But the early sixties were a sea change in women’s fashion  and the youth and freshness of young Jackie Kennedy’s simple sheaths and easy suits completely banished the image of the corseted post-war silhouette.

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In retrospect, nothing in fashion ever seemed that unforced and innocent again and then it all came crashing down – in 1963.