Friday, November 11, 2011

Book: It’s All About The Dress, by Vicky Tiel (2011)

Some phrases automatically conjure up feelings of retroactive jealousy, a nostalgia for something you weren’t even around to experience. One such phrase is “jet set.” If you want a sense of the heyday of international playboys and globetrotting decadence, you could do worse than read memoirs by people in the fashion business.

Vicky Tiel went from a fairly middle-class upbringing to the full bohemian life in 1960s Greenwich Village, where she passed the hat for Bob Dylan and developed the scandalous alter ego Peaches LaTour. While studying design she met Mia Fonssagrives, whose worldly background provided an entrée into fashion circles when they moved to Paris to start their own business. Soon the twosome, credited with creating both the miniskirt and hot pants, were plucked to design costumes for What’s New, Pussycat?

What follows is a catalog of sex, food, clothes and general fabulousness, the kind of life that simply doesn’t exist anymore. A night with Vicky is the prize in a contest between Pussycat director Clive Donner and co-star/writer Woody Allen. (Read this article if you want to learn the winner, complete with great Woody Allen punchline.) She becomes part of the famous Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton entourage, wandering the world with the tempestuous couple and eventually becoming business partners with Taylor. Only Tiel could be captured with actress Romy Schneider while trying to buy caftans in Jordan in the wake of the Six Day War during production of a Richard Harris movie no one has ever heard of.

Put it another way: you know you’re dealing with a woman who has an in with the universe when she takes up painting as a hobby, develops a coffee-table book featuring her work, has it rejected by New York publishers – so Connecticut neighbor Martha Stewart can snap it up.

The book is dishy, breathless and hugely entertaining, thanks to Vicky’s flair for the dramatic. She’s convinced she warped Woody Allen for life and offers the final scene of Manhattan as proof, believes a single romantic indiscretion on her part is indirectly responsible for the entire Arquette family, and thinks that her late life successful marriage to a man outside her social circle inspired Liz Taylor to hook up with Larry Fortensky. The book is punctuated with original Tiel illustrations, recipes, and life lessons from luminaries. (Kim Novak says foot massages are key, while Ursula Andress suggests foregoing undergarments.) Vicky joins Oleg Cassini as fashion demimonders who recount their charmed lives very well.

One side note: as Tiel reels off the list of truly horrible movies that Burton and Taylor made during her time with them – Burton was personally convinced by Yugoslavia’s Marshal Tito to play him in a film that would only screen in the Soviet Bloc – I realized that I have no sense of them as actors. Taylor won two Oscars and Burton was nominated multiple times, but their proto-Brangelina status dwarfs those accomplishments. La Liz is the woman who married eight times, and while I love Dickie in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold I confess my first image of him is the star of crap like The Medusa Touch. I need to change that. Maybe I’ll start with this book. Vicky liked it.