Liz Taylor’s gift of glamour

Image of Vanessa Friedman

As summer draws to a close (wah!) and September looms, with all its related back-to-school and back-to-work associations, I have a prediction to make for those who may still be at the beach/in the woods (yours truly) but are nonetheless getting a jump on things and readying themselves mentally and organisationally for The Return: this will be the autumn of Elizabeth Taylor.

Think brunette! Think eye make-up! Think cleavage and glittering jewels! Think unabashed glamour. Starting in September, Christie’s, which won the battle to auction the film star’s jewels, clothes, furniture, art and memorabilia after her death in March, will begin a world tour of the lots, passing through Moscow, London, Paris, Dubai, Geneva, Hong Kong and Los Angeles before it all culminates in the sale in New York from December 13 to 16 (put it in the diary now). Meanwhile, V magazine’s September issue launches, guest-edited by Carine Roitfeld, complete with a 72- – count ’em! – page “tribute” to Taylor. Already Agent Provocateur, the lingerie specialist, has announced that their autumn/winter collection was in part inspired by Taylor, and the idea of “eclectic representations of powerful women in history”. Minimal this is not going to be.

It’s ironic, given the economic uncertainty surrounding us, that La Liz, with her love of consumption, husbands and lots of stuff, is set to be the style icon of the season – but sometimes fate works that way. (A friend who worked with Taylor for years has seen the Christie’s warehouse and said the amount of clothing it contains was truly mind-blowing, even for someone who knew what Taylor had.) In some ways, this sort of escapism, this yang to our current yin of malaise-related minimalism, may be just what we need.

After all, as per Sir Isaac Newton, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and this is true in no other industry quite as obviously as it is in style. After the palate-cleansing, dress-down force field launched by Céline last year, with its streamlined functionality precisely geared towards a more-work-less-play period, it was only a matter of time before a movement towards something more ... baroque reasserted itself.

The fashion mantra is “sell the dream”, and Taylor certainly embodied one kind of dream: not the kind teenage boys pin on their wall (though there was some of that) but the dream of giving in to your desires; revelling in them, following them to their ultimate conclusion, come what may – whether food, booze, diamonds, sequins or men. She was the id unleashed, with an unapologetic joy in consumption that those tired of today’s hair-shirted mea culpas may find truly thrilling. I mean, just imagine saying in our “bling is bad” culture: “You can’t cry on a diamond’s shoulder and diamonds won’t keep you warm at night but they are sure fun when the sun shines.” It would be a hard sell.

Except you don’t have to say it; Taylor said it for you. Her sense that fashion and sparkles are for fun, and that there is value in that fun, helped make her so compelling as a style icon, then and now. She didn’t ask for anyone’s approval and she wore her diamonds with great joy, even in her hair.

Think of her in her most notorious poses, all undoubtedly to be recreated in the V shoot: smouldering in a white slip on a bed in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and in a lace-trimmed version in Butterfield 8; in the surf in a white one-piece in Suddenly Last Summer; making sparks with Richard Burton in Cleopatra and various plunging necklines (many of which will probably be sold at Christie’s). She was unapologetic about her appetites and had the ability to live vicariously through her roles, to channel a personality where indulgence, not abstention was the rule.

Catwalk translation: instead of actual jewels, expect a lot of jewel tones: the emeralds of Gucci, Ralph Lauren, Diane von Furstenberg; the amethyst of Versace and Preen; the ruby of Akris, Rodarte and Lanvin; the sapphire of Haider Ackermann and Dior. Instead of her Edith Head-designed curve-enhancing corseted numbers, see belted daywear, especially in tweed and fur. And instead of the Nolan Miller sparkles of her later years, think easy metallic numbers from Reed Krakoff, Marc by Marc Jacobs and Balmain.

This is the great gift of fashion: it lets you play at experience without having to risk most of the downside; instead of being Taylor, who aside from (or because of) her superstardom had a complicated emotional and physical life, you get to dress like her. Instead of committing yourself to swimming against the tide, you can have a stolen moment of glitz.

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