News of the death of 1940s style icon Lauren Bacall got me thinking about the deep, historical connection between classic Hollywood cinema and high fashion.
One of the last stars of the golden era, Bacall was a muse to many designers, including Yves Saint Laurent, whose sharp tailoring was inspired by her onscreen costumes by Milo Anderson and others. And Bacall returned the favor, becoming a loyal client of Saint Laurent in the 1960s and '70s, when she was quoted as saying, "If it's pants, it's Yves."
Born Betty Joan Perske in New York City, she was "discovered" by legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland, who plucked her out of a model casting at age 17 and put her on the cover of Harper's Bazaar in March 1943. Pictured in front of a Red Cross office, wearing a black suit and clutching a fire-engine-red handbag, she was held out as an example of how the war was being fought at home.
Bacall described the cover as, "the twist of fate that changed my life forever."
The socialite Slim Hawks, director Howard Hawks' wife (who later became better known as Slim Keith), noticed the cover, and suggested her husband use Bacall in a film. The rest is Hollywood history.
Bacall never forgot her debt to fashion. In 1968, she even filmed a TV documentary on the subject, titled "The Paris Collections," interviewing Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin, Marc Bohan and others.
Anderson's costumes for Bacall in her first film, "To Have and Have Not" (1944) included a superbly fitted houndstooth peplum suit that Saint Laurent is said to have loved. The liquid-silk dress in that film, a wrap style with strong shoulders, is another classic that looks very '70s Saint Laurent. Considering their flair for strong tailoring and penchant for Hollywood glamour, Michael Kors and Giorgio Armani are undoubtedly Bacall film fans too.
But in real life, Bacall — like Katharine Hepburn — was a pants girl, who endured as an icon of old Hollywood poise and uniform style. I was struck in this 2011 Vanity Fair article about Bacall, by writer/director Matt Tyrnauer's description of how she appeared during their series of interviews at her apartment in New York's Dakota building. "She is dressed every time in black pants, black shirt and black orthopedic shoes."
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