The fashion world looks back on Lauren Bacall
Next spring, the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology will present a show of personal garments donated by actress Lauren Bacall, who died Aug. 12, that will focus on five designers who helped define Bacall’s subtle seductiveness.
The Associated Press
NEW YORK — Lauren Bacall had one condition when the Fashion Institute of Technology wrote recently to ask if it could turn hundreds of personal garments she donated into an exhibition about her style.
“She said, ‘Yes, it’s fine, as long as it’s high-quality — Diana Vreeland style,’ ” recalled Valerie Steele, director of The Museum at FIT.
Throughout her years, Bacall hadn’t forgotten the fashion editor who plucked her from a Seventh Avenue showroom floor and delivered her to Hollywood’s door via the pages of Harper’s Bazaar at age 19.
And next spring, Steele’s museum — with the help of FIT graduate students learning how to curate — will fulfill its promise in a show focused on five designers who helped define Bacall’s subtle seductiveness, her sophisticated mix of classic femininity and raw masculine authority in fashion.
Bacall, who died Tuesday, Aug. 12, at 89, was a fashion darling of a unique sort. A model at 16, later a pal of Yves Saint Laurent and a frequent wearer of designs by Norman Norell, she wore the clothes — not the other way around.
“She really epitomized this idea of effortlessness. It’s like she never was trying too hard and I think that sometimes is the most difficult thing to achieve,” said designer Peter Som.
Eric Wilson, fashion news director for InStyle magazine, fondly notes her role turning the tables on the industry when she played a designer in the 1957 film “Designing Woman.”
“There’s this dress, what appears to be a pale gray sleeveless dress with a loosely draped halter top, and it turns out to be her wedding dress,” he explains.
After a hurried wedding, she goes into an airplane bathroom and changes, emerging in a stretchy navy day look, a mink stole wrapped around her shoulders with a hat and leather gloves.
“That transformation, it’s amazing. It kind of demonstrates her simple, exquisite glamour,” he said.
It’s the kind of transformation that led Steele to include in the upcoming exhibit a Norell dress done up entirely in hand-sewn gold sequins with a matching camel-color cashmere coat that’s plain on the outside but lined with matching sequins on the inside.
“Once you take the coat off, it’s va-va-va voom,” she said, “but covered up with the coat you can wear it on the subway as just a simple little thing.”
The exhibit on FIT’s Manhattan campus will focus mostly on Bacall’s looks from the 1950s and ’60s. Some of her clothes by Norell will be joined by other designs Bacall donated from Marc Bohan for Christian Dior, Pierre Cardin, Saint Laurent and Ungaro. Bacall gave FIT roughly 700 garments, Steele said.
Style and beauty expert Mary Alice Stephenson said Bacall helped redefine beauty and femininity in fashion.
“Bacall made it sexy for all women to wear casual clothes. She would wear them in such a glamorous way,” she said. “She played up her makeup, hair and jewelry, all while wearing pants, button-down shirts, knits and flats.”