Sneak Peek: Dreaming of Dior

For every clotheshorse, the closet tells a story.
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Dreaming of Dior

It takes a village to amass such serious style: much of Smith’s pieces were bequeathed to her by her oh-so-chic Quaker godmother, Doris, at age 87.
Illustration by Grant Cowan, courtesy of Simon and Schuster

To Accessorize Lightly

Classic, chic, elegant. It’s pure 1960s glamour. Rich black crepe de chine to ankle and wrist, this evening gown is ingeniously constructed to gently caress each curve of a woman’s body, giving me the perfect silhouette. So I like to think. Above its sleek off-the-shoulder bodice, sheer silk rises to a sumptuous collar of marabou feathers encircling the neck. Another circlet of feathers floats at the base of each sleeve. Outrageously lavish and yet subtle. It would be a sin to add a single thing to adorn it. I just scoop up my hair and wear a pair of diamond stud earrings. Choose a simple black evening bag that will disappear against the fabric, stilettos with finely pointed toes, and my favourite oriental scent. It fits me like a glove-and so it should, since my own very special fairy godmother left it to me.
Illustration by Grant Cowan, courtesy of Simon and Schuster

High School Halloween Costume

It was 1934 and Doris’s first Halloween party at her new high school. It was a costume party so she asked her mother to find her something special in her ‘dress-up’ trunk. Thanks to her choice, an otherworldly black taffeta gown with a long train, Doris did feel special. Most of the partygoers went the usual route and came as ghosts, wearing a torn sheet made into a ‘peculiar and lumpy arrangement’, as she recalls. But newcomer Doris was a standout and thoroughly enjoyed all the attention, especially from the boys. When the party was over and the students were walking up the stairs, someone stepped on Doris’s train and ripped it. Her heart sank – her mother expected her to take care of her things and she would be disappointed. Two days later she received a note in the mail: ‘I am the clod who stepped on your train and I would like to get to know you better’. It was signed ‘Howard Darnell’. Doris and Howard went out on their first date soon after.
Illustration by Grant Cowan, courtesy of Simon and Schuster

College Girl Style

One of only two precious evening dresses my godmother Doris could afford during her college years, this drop-dead elegant 1930s gown shows her inimitable style. But its daring low back, all the rage at the time, upset Doris’s mother, Faith. She observed wryly: ‘Doris’s impression is that one tended to take off for the dance wearing the jacket and reassuring one’s parents about being well covered, and then take the jacket off as soon as you arrived so that you were viewed in all your glory.’
Illustration by Grant Cowan, courtesy of Simon and Schuster

Eliza Dolittle Inspired

Doris always thought of this as her My Fair Lady cloak because it was every bit as dramatic as the one Eliza, portrayed so unforgettably by Audrey Hepburn, was draped in before her triumph at the ball. It was worn in the 1930s to the opera, ballet and orchestra recitals by a young woman who never missed an opening night. When her mother died, Emma’s father asked her to give up her job teaching to keep house and take care of him. Fortunately her father loved music and ballet as much as his daughter did, so she was constantly going out to opening nights – and dressing the part. Doris said she knew Emma’s job had been important to her, but believed she enjoyed this period of her life even more. In her later years she started to lose her hearing, so Doris was glad Emma had all those years of beautiful music.
Illustration by Grant Cowan, courtesy of Simon and Schuster

Fit For a Broadway Star

Attention must be paid,’ says Linda Loman in Arthur Miller’s play, Death of a Salesman. And that sentiment certainly applied to the owner of this 1950s lace cocktail dress for her electrifying performance as Linda in the 50th anniversary production of the play on Broadway in 1999. Elizabeth Franz garnered the best reviews of her career and picked up her first Tony Award. After years working in repertory theatres across the United States, playing roles in soap operas and small parts in film, she had finally arrived. Doris witnessed the award-winning performance and said Elizabeth was ‘magnificent’, as always. For her part, Elizabeth wryly observed that her drama teacher’s prediction all those years ago that her best work would come later in life had indeed come true. Best of all was the verdict from Arthur Miller, who declared hers the best interpretation of the part he had ever seen.
Illustration by Grant Cowan, courtesy of Simon and Schuster

The Classic LBD

Every woman has to have a little black dress in her survival kit. But when Doris was arming me for a year in Paris with a suitcase full of vintage clothes, she outdid herself with a sensational black raw silk 1960s Dior. So simple yet so, so elegant, this little gem seemed to give me entrée to any soiree. And no matter where or why I wore it, good things always happened to me in this dress …
Illustration by Grant Cowan, courtesy of Simon and Schuster

Wedding Gown

Doris might have been a Quaker, but there was no way she was going to let Quaker modesty about dress or anything else get in the way of her dream wedding dress. Rebellious as ever, she planned an extravagant gown made of fabric brought over specially from Holland for her big day in 1937. The final touch would be a spectacular eight-foot train but when the Quaker Elder heard of this he said enough is enough. Knowing Doris all too well though, he wisely came up with a compromise. He asked if Doris would consider meeting him halfway and cutting the extravagant train by half. Doris acquiesced, but of course made up for it in other ways. Needless to say, she was a beautiful bride.
Illustration by Grant Cowan, courtesy of Simon and Schuster

Christmas Clothes

It was Christmas and I was six. I remember the rustle of her billowing skirt as she led me through the book-lined foyer of her Philadelphia townhouse, past the tree with its twinkling silver baubles and fairy lights. As I followed behind, I was mesmerised by the fur trim on her cloak and her extraordinary hat. I’d never seen anything so grand. She looked like she had stepped out of one of my favorite picture books. She turned and bent down to show me a basket of holly sprigs and other goodies, and then she smiled at me. My godmother Doris. What she said to me, I don’t recall, but from that night on I was smitten. Every time we went to visit after that I couldn’t wait to get inside and see Doris and race up to the third floor where she would lay out her collection of treasures from the past and tell me stories about the women who wore them. For this little girl, it was better than Aladdin’s cave.
Illustration by Grant Cowan, courtesy of Simon and Schuster

Monaco Style

In the summer of 1986, a wedding in Monaco led to one of the most unforgettable weeks of my life. As the bride was the daughter of Prince Rainier of Monaco’s right-hand man, it was to be no ordinary wedding. Joining a large group of the groom’s friends from New York, I was just thrilled to have the opportunity to see the glamorous backdrop for To Catch a Thief for myself, but the prospect of a week of fabulous parties there didn’t hurt either. For the pre-wedding cocktail party, I dressed as only a 24-year-old who felt she had the world at her feet would dare- in a tiny strapless white cocktail dress with stitched silk hot-pink polka dots and a flowing pink scarf. It certainly helped get me the right sort of attention because I met Prince Albert at the bar and we hit it off straight away. He offered to show me around Monte Carlo, and later made good on his promise with a spectacular tour around the Grand Corniche in his silver Porsche. That was just the opener for what would be a fairytale week. *FOR A SLIDESHOW OF FASHIONABLE BOOKS TO GIVE-AND TO GET CLICK HERE*
Illustration by Grant Cowan, courtesy of Simon and Schuster

First Published Tue, 2010-03-23 10:44

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