by Anna Campbell
I thought we'd have some fun with gorgeousness today.
Recently, a very good friend of mine sent me a surprise present from the Book Depository - the hardback edition of Vicky Tiel's IT'S ALL ABOUT THE DRESS: WHAT I LEARNED IN FORTY YEARS ABOUT MEN, WOMEN, SEX AND FASHION.
The book is gossipy and great fun and talks about lots of celebrities of the last fifty years, particularly Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. But what sparked the idea of doing this blog today was that Vicky's best friend at school was the daughter of the first supermodel Lisa Fonssagrives.
That name rang no bell with me at all but curiosity prompted me to check out Lisa on Google. Wow! Suddenly I knew who was the woman in all those iconic 1940s and 1950s fashion photos that absolutely radiate glamour.
Perhaps because I grew up watching old movies, I love the fashions of this era. Think Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly. Think pure elegance. Think women who look like they just set foot outside a Paris atelier.
I think Dior's 'New Look' is one of the most romantic styles that ever existed. Apparently it (and I suspect quite a few of the dresses in these photos) was awful to wear. To get the correct silhouette, corsetry was enlisted in a way that had been obsolete since the Edwardian era. But the result was pure magic.
Lisa was born in Sweden in 1911 and didn't start her modeling career until she was spotted in an elevator at the age of 25. Quite old for a supermodel to get started in terms of current practices. She moved to the United States when she was 28 and lived there until she died at the age of 80 in 1991. As well as a model, she was also a dancer and a sculptor.
Aren't these photographs the bee's knees? I had a wonderful time picking out the illustrations for this blog. There's a sculptural quality to the images, isn't there? It fits the very ascetic lines of Lisa's face and body. She looks like she could have been carved out of marble. I love how in the photo above, the sharp point at the back of that fantastic hat somehow echoes the sharp point of the model's nose. It's a very distinctive beauty. She once said she was a "good clothes hanger" and while she was clearly much more, you can see how that long, lean body is perfect for displaying these elegant garments.
She clearly set the fashion for the look of that era. My very first Barbie doll had pointed features and sloping cheekbones and those heavy-lidded eyes. For a little girl, this was a little bit scary and I was much happier when my next Barbie was much softer looking. But now when I look at these hauntingly lovely pictures of Lisa Fonssagrives, I see where the inspiration for that first Barbie came from.
I love looking at old clothes. I can remember even as a kid, I'd spend hours looking at paintings of women in renaissance and medieval dress. The beautiful intricacy, the sumptuous fabrics, the pure romance of those clothes drew me in, and I think helped steer me toward wanting to be a historical romance writer. For me, it wasn't romantic unless they were tripping along in long dresses! Those old dresses were so exotic to me. And I think looking at these images from 60 years ago, there's a similar exoticism here.
I have a theory that one of the reasons the Regency is so perennially popular is that people love the fashions of the era. There's something about those empire-line gowns that whispers romantic intrigue, isn't there? Mind you, the Regency also had very nice male fashions to it's appealing across both genders.
Perhaps in the end, Vicky Teil is right - it IS all about the dress!
So do you have a favorite era in fashion? Do you like Regency dresses? What's the most glamorous dress you ever owned?
For me, it was a Princess Diana wedding dress knock-off in cream taffeta that always made me feel, well, like a princess. Suspect it would cause hoots of derision now with its puffy sleeves and big circular skirt, but at the time, man, I thought I was the cream in the coffee whenever I wore it.