There is nothing I love more than a frock in an old movie. The army of designers, seamstresses, makeup, hair and jewellery experts (not to mention the set, lighting and cinematography) that work together to create perfection on a person that lets face it, is pretty close to perfect already, has always intrigued me. The reason we can never acheive the heights of glamour acheived on celluloid is quite simply because we cannot afford the time or money that it takes, even if you are lucky enough to be born with the looks and grace of Grace, Marilyn, Audrey or Elizabeth.So this page will be dedicated each week to a different piece of cinematic perfection.
my first week I'm going to start with a dress and a movie that until 6
months ago I'd never heard of before but am now an enormous fan. The
VIPs (1963) has a true superstar pedigree. It is written by playright
Terence Rattigan, inspired by the real life story of actress Vivien
Leigh leaving her husband Laurence Olivier for lover Peter Finch, but
when fog stranded them for hours in the VIP lounge at Heathrow Airport,
she changed her mind.
The VIPs stars Elizabeth Taylor
as Frances Andros and Richard Burton as her emotionally stunted husband
Paul. She is leaving him for aging gigilo Louis Jordan (who provided his
own wardrobe and is always immaculately dressed). When the VIPs filmed
Taylor and Burton were the height of their tempestous passions and
astronomical fame, immediately after Cleopatra. During production Burton
was still dithering between his wife and Taylor, and it was in the
middle of filming that he finally left his wife and proposed to Taylor.
is playing a character so similar to herself that one almost hesitates
to call this costume design, although Frances is much more passive
character than I imagine Taylor would have been. But playing a famous,
wealthy socialite wearing the height of fashion is no stretch for
Taylor. Like many old school Hollywood actors, the lines between on and
off screen persona were blurred, and despite her infamous personal
problems, she knew how to present herself as an immaculate product.
this scene she has a major confrontation with her husband, injures her
wrist on broken glass, and then is comforted by her lover. It is very
important then that she wears the dress and is allowed to take centre
stage, rather than the dress wearing her. In the rest of the film Taylor
wears extremely showy jewellery, but in this scene the styling is
underplayed as to be almost non-existant.
In many ways
dress is a typical hostess gown, an essential item of clothing for any
1960s woman of class. It was designed to be worn at home only, although
in this case it is worn in the privacy of a hotel suit. It is typically
empire line to ensure more comfort as you wouldn't have had to wear your
girdle with it. It was relaxed but elegant, making an occassion of
quiet entertaining at home.
this deceptively simple dress is a masterpiece of construction. The
flimsy fabric fits like a glove around her bodice and the collar
provides a frame for her face and decollatage, esential for on screen
close ups. On most other women this very 1960s shade of lolly pink would
appear overly girly, but the simplicity of shape, texture and colour,
combined with the subtle sheen of the fabric, give this dress a subtle
strength. The dress does up with a simple self covered button at the
front and the collar is a single rolled piece of bias cut fabric that
sits with amazing smoothness. The complementary dark pink sash adds a
flash of interest to an otherwise plain, but by no means simple dress.
is shot of Taylor in the same film, again wearing a stunning Givenchy
dress. The jewellery is a copy of the emeralds Burton presented to her
on their engagement, the real ones being to expensive to wear on a film
mention of the VIPs can be complete without giving credit to the
supporting cast, including Orson Welles, Margaret Rutherford and Louis
Jordan. But the sexual repression between Rod Taylor and Maggie Smith in
only her third onscreen role is electrifying. Burton famously said that
Smith not only stole the scene they were in together, she "committed
Maybe I shouldn't have a mere tea gown
as my first 'Frock', but when it's designed by Givenchy and worn by
Taylor, I think that is enough to promote any 'Dress' to 'Frock' status.