He worked on wardrobe design for stars Loretta Young and Marilyn Monroe through his association with the house of Jean Louis. His film and television credits for costume design run the gamut from the classics to the comics.
He is Maxwell Barr, originally from Sydney, Australia, a man who has dedicated life and career to the world of fashion design. Today, he teaches and lectures worldwide, predominantly on his own particular passion: the 18th-century French royal court. Among his favorite subjects: the style and fashion sense of Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV's notorious mistress.
Recently, Barr appeared on the runway at Elizabeth An's chic AnQi dining room at South Coast Plaza. The invited guest host for the Women of Chapman University's spring luncheon confab, Barr presented a unique program based on "Fashion in the Age of Louis XV."
Using an elegant, very slim, very pale-faced model with powdered platinum blonde hair pulled back and fashioned in 18th century style, Barr, with assistance from two female wardrobe dressers attired in all-black tunics over trousers, proceeded to dress her and narrate in detail the fashion trends of women of means more than two centuries ago.
From petticoat to ball gown, the model was attired in authentic period costume, each garment created with painstaking detail at great expense by hand over weeks. Barr based the design of the clothing on his extensive historical research as well as drawings and paintings from the period, again focused in particular on Madame de Pompadour and Marie Antoinette.
The AnQi dining room was a sellout, filled with the O.C.'s very well-dressed philanthropic crowd seated at long, rectangular tables placed at 90-degree angles off of the fashion runway. Event co-chairs Donna Bunce and Donna Calvert led the glamour charge, which included Chapman donors Patricia Cranford, Nancy Burnett, Adrienne Brandes, Donna Anderson, Bette Aitken and Women of Chapman President Donna Bianchi.
Also in the crowd were Pat Allen, Zee Allred, Tricia Bailey, Laura Baratta, Kathy Hamilton, Sue Hook, Joan Riach Gayner, Eve Ruffatto, Grace Thelen and Susan Van Cleve, to name only a few. The ladies celebrated with a pre-event champagne reception before sitting down to a wonderful three-course luncheon prepared in the signature AnQi Asian fusion style, offering unusual and memorable flavorful delicacies.
As the final course was served, Barr was introduced to the Chapman women by major event underwriter and well-known fashionista and jewelry expert Mona Nesseth. Welcoming his audience, Barr explained that the privileged class of women in 18th century France, known as the haute bourgeoisie, were Parisian ladies from the merchant and banker class, "one step below royalty with money," he said.
Barr went on, "Many of them married royalty to have a title, often when the royals did not have the money."
The crowd chuckled when Barr, while dressing his model, explained that women of this period changed their clothing four to eight times a day, depending on their social schedule. He went on to demonstrate, live on stage with the model, what a lady would wear for her undergarments (called the morning toilet), then luncheon, dinner and party (ball) attire.
Women also had special attire for travel, hunting parties, picnics and every other social occasion or event. "All the clothes were handmade, as sewing machines were not invented for another 100 years."
An interesting element of Barr's presentation, which was interspersed with video images of 18th century design drawings, was the inclusion of an explanation of "fan language."
A most serious manner of 18th century communication for the bourgeoisie lady was the fan. It was indeed the 18th century version of Twitter and Facebook, as ladies used their fans to communicate often intimate personal messages, to gentlemen in particular. Barr demonstrated some of the lost art.
"Holding the fan closed meant 'Do you love me?' Fanning slowly meant 'I am married.' And opening the fan slowly meant 'Wait for me.'" There were apparently hundreds of messages. Fanning was a language of its own.
Chapman University VIPs in attendance included Sheryl Bourgeois, Andi Doddridge, Tamp Thompson, Delite Travis, Kim Greenhall and Joanne Jurczyk. Also spotted in the upbeat crowd were Ramona Morrissey, Leslie Cancellieri, Susanne Campbell, Judy Chang, Sandra Chiles, Peggy Goldwater Clay, Brenda Yeskin, Sheri Nazaroff and always best-dressed Karen Hardin-Swickard.
THE CROWD runs Fridays. B.W. Cook is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.