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Elizabeth Taylor

Posted by Maria
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Marking yesterday's end of the Zodiac, and to honor the closing month of Pisces, we look back at the style queen of the fish. Although, in truth, Dame Elizabeth Taylor is the style queen of us all. As a sartorial icon, she is resounding – and ingenious, enjoying as many transformations as she did husbands. The dark beauty weathered the transition from spunky child star to bonafide movie star through a crafty blend of intuition, creativity and feminine allure.

In the years where she put forth her candidacy for the role of eminent leading lady, her clothing choices were calm and measured. In the tradition of her first wedding gown (for the occasion of her marriage to Conrad “Nicky” Hilton Jr.), the palette from this era is delicate and cheerful, the silhouettes genteel, the clothes properly tailored and refined. As befitting any screen star of the Hays Code age, she was a lady of elegance and glamour. Yet under the formulaic hand of the studio, her inherent sensuality and zest for living was always abuzz.

 

Elizabeth Taylor and Conrad “Nicky” Hilton Jr on their wedding day, 1950.

 

Take the iconic look that launched a thousand proms dresses, Edith Head’s strapless bouffant gown worn by Taylor in the Academy Award winning A Place in the Sun (1951). A fitted bone bodice and layers of tulle are respectable enough, yet the proverbial daisies suddenly seem less virginal when strewn across the world’s loveliest bosom. It is the woman, not the dress, who is in command; unlike the structural Charles James-esque gown, the tulle relinquish to her kittenish whims – gauzy layers swaying to her body. In Suddenly Last Summer (1959), she again imbues an unadorned, white maillot with distinctive tantalizing vigor through a simple arch of her back. The suit was designed to be arousing as a function of the story, but in yielding to her curves it catapulted to rhapsodic.

 

Taylor wearing a dress by Edith Head, 'A Place in the Sun', 1951.

 

Taylor in 'Suddenly Last Summer', 1959.

 

1950s.

 

1950s.

 

1950s.

 

(L) 1950s. (R) Photo by Sanford Roth, 1950s.

 

(L) 'Elephant Walk', 1954. (R) Photo by Sanford Roth, 1954.

 

(L) Photo by Virgil Apger, 1954. (R) 1954.

 

The belted waists, coiffed curls and tied scarves were all codes of the proper lady, and indeed served as proper on everyone but her. At a time where society demanded that sexuality reside in a festering pool of suppression, Elizabeth Taylor stood as the symbol for this sinful fervor. She was the ultimate temptress, luring innocent bystanders away from the wholesome charms of their wives through the sheer, savage magnetism of her being. Her style is in this period is classic glamour, but in truth, at odds with her existent spirit.

Then came her Damascus: Cleopatra. The role she was born to play, alongside her own great love, Richard Burton. The costumes were seismic. Designer Renie Conley forewent historical accuracy in lieu of his star’s bombastic aura. Her wardrobe was built around waspish waists, dramatic makeup, elaborate hairdos and bold colors. In the end, over 26,000 were created. Taylor herself had 65 costume changes, coming in at $194,800. Most impressive of all was the 24-carat gold cloth cape, designed to look like wings of a phoenix (sold at auction in 2012 for $59,375). On the back of her personal charms, the film was enormously influential on fashion trends, setting off a wave of contemporary-tinged Egyptomania.

 

Taylor in Cleopatra, 1963. (R - wearing the 24-carat gold cloth cape).

 

Taylor in Cleopatra, 1963.

 

Taylor in Cleopatra, 1963.

 

Taylor in Cleopatra, 1963.

 

Taylor in Cleopatra, 1963.

 

In terms of cultural impact, it was a moment where art matches cultural transformations; the sexual revolution was pushing the rest of the world to match to Taylor’s natural proclivity for sensual living. In terms of her own style, it was a watershed moment. No doubt the opulence, magnificence and bravado of Egypt’s last Queen inspired Taylor to embrace her own brassiness. If the production rubbed off on her, we are all the better for it, as it is this next era of her life as style icon that is the most fascinating. Hot pants Liz. Kaftan Liz. Hairspray Liz. Liz of the blue eye shadow and golden glow. Everything got bigger, from jewels to men, shoulder pads to torrid emotions. Only a star of her magnitude could have shouldered the heft of such gilding.

What is so wonderful about this time is that her clothes truly played off her singular spirit. Elizabeth Taylor lived every moment with a twinkle in her eye. In his 2010 article for Vanity Fair, Sam Kashner tells a fantastic anecdote from her final years in Hawaii. It is not a sartorially minded tale, but when looking at her most splendorous moments, it is that which most perfectly captures her commitment to audacity.

“Elizabeth was introduced to a pastime that she described as one of the most thrilling in a life crowded with thrills: swimming with sharks. Not satisfied with six decades of tangling with the sharks of the movie industry, Elizabeth decided to go face-to-face with the real thing, a testament to her fearlessness. In August 2006, at age 74, she had herself lifted from her wheelchair and lowered into a Plexiglas shark cage. Before taking the plunge into the Pacific, Elizabeth, clad only in a white T-shirt over a one-piece bathing suit, and wearing lots of bangles, spat into her goggles like a pro and bit onto her snorkel. When the tour guide cautioned her to remove her jewelry because their flash and glitter would drive the sharks into a frenzy, Elizabeth reportedly answered, ‘Isn’t that the fucking point?’”

 

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton on their Wedding Day, 1964.

 

(L) Taylor and her daughter, Liza, for Look Magazine, April 1964. (R) Taylor in Balenciaga 'Sari' gown, with Richard Burton, 1964.

 

(L) Print by Andy Warhol, 1964. (R) Photo by Richard Avedon, 1964.

 

(L) 'The Sandpiper', 1965. (R) 1965.

 

(L) Photo by William Klein, 1965. (R) Photo by Angus McBean, 1966.

 

(L) 'The Sandpiper', 1965. (R) 1966.

 

'Dr Faustus', 1967.

 

(L) Photo by Henry Clarke, 1967. (R) 'Reflections in a Golden Eye', 1967.

 

(L) Taylor in Beverly Hills, 1967. (R) 1968.

 

(L) Taylor dancing with Rudolf Nureyev, 1968. (R) Burton and Taylor at JFK, 1968.

 

(L) 'Boom!', 1968. (R) Taylor in a Tiziani gown, 1968.

 

Photos by Gianni Bozzacchi, 1969.

 

(L) Photo by by Cecil Beaton, 1971. (R) 1971.

 

(L) Photo by Daniel Angli, 1971. (R) Photo by by Gianni Bozzacchi , 1972.

 

Taylor with the 'Richard-Burton Diamond', 1970s.

 

(L) 1971. (R) 'That’s Entertainment!', 1974.

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