Celebrity, Hollywood, vintage clothing

Valentina

Who knew that Milwaukee holds a treasure trove of a couturier for some of the icons of fashion history? At Mount Mary College, in their Historic Costume Collection, there are almost 400 original Valentina toiles and garments, as well as personal documents and more. In Milwaukee. I’ve always said that the hidden gems are held in places you’d least expect, and now Milwaukee is on my bucket list.

Valentina was born in 1898, and was orphaned during the Russian revolution, and reportedly was rescued at a train station by George Schlee, who she subsequently married after escaping the country. They were married in Russia in 1920, and emigrated to New York via Paris in 1922. She is shown in the 1925 New York census as a housewife to George and notes herself as a naturalized US citizen. In 1930, she is found living in Manhattan with George, again as a housewife, though reports state she started her business in 1928, with dresses she pulled out of her own closet. Of note, the 1930 census states she is still an alien, and not a US citizen, and she subsequently applied for citizenship in 1932, noting herself again to be a housewife. In 1937, papers laud her for her costumes in the play “Idiot’s Delight.” She costumed a few movies in the early 1950’s, but was most known for the celebrities she dressed, such as Greta Garbo and Lynne Fontanne. (The photo above are of garments from Ms Fontanne’s collection and was worn in Idiot’s Delight.)

Valentina was known for her monochromatic designs, often having a stark monastic look. She costumed many stage shows, including dressing Katherine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story. The drape of the garments is beautiful and so simple in design as to not distract from the wearer. She loved to use opulent fabrics to create a lush effect that had customers flocking to her. She was held at the same level as Claire McCardell would be later, and there are some similarities in their garments, as both created simple garments that were comfortable to wear. Much of the work was hand done and there was not a lot of ornamentation. She truly was the torch bearer for the minimalism that we see today, but would not be popularized until the 1990’s.

Valentina wore her designs and was able to build her business in that way, given her status as a fashion icon of the time. Barry Paris noted in his book Garbo that Garbo and Valentina had a falling out over George in the years before he died, and though they lived in the same apartment building, they created a schedule where they would never run into each other in the lobby. She died in 1989 from Parkinson’s Disease in New York.

Valentina’s name is not as widely known today, being overshadowed by Valentino, who is not only male, but Italian. Her work still deserves to be seen and studied, because she set the bar in many ways for many designers to come.

Photos: Threads Magazine

Celebrity, Hollywood, Uncategorized

Hindsight is Compelling

I listed a book in the shop today. It’s called “Tell it to Louella,” and it’s written by Louella Parsons, the famed Hollywood columnist of years past. Ms Parsons was the person who knew all the gossip coming out of Hollywood, so you can only imagine the things she tells in this boo about people like Frank Sinatra, Princess Grace of Monaco, Lana Turner, and many more. But it was Marilyn Monroe’s story that I found most compelling.

I’ve long said that it’s hard to look at pictures of Marilyn, because I see so much sadness in her eyes. This book, published in 1961, acknowledges that. Ms Parsons calls it fear though. She said “if I were asked to choose one adjective with which to desribe Marilyn, I would choose ‘frightened.'”She said that when she looked at photos of Marilyn very early in her career, she saw sheer fright, to the point that it made her feel compassion for the poor girl. She described her as a Cinderella who is sure that the clock will strike midnight at any moment, and stated that this is why she could never achieven her full potential.

Marilyn was dead a year later.

Interesting that others have seen what I see through almost all of her pictures. Look past the beauty, the sex appeal, and the “it” factor, and you see sadness. And fear.

Mentioning the ‘it” factor, Ms Hopper says in her book that Clara Bow, the original IT Girl, had written her a letter the previous Christmas and said “not to [Elizabeth] Taylor, not to [Brigitte] Bardot, but to Monroe did I mentally bestow the “It Girl” tag some time ago. She and Jean Harlow are the only women I’ve ever seen who possessed the flesh impact that people said I had on the screen.” What an interesting way to put it.

Other interesting tidbits: Hollywood agent Ben Lyon always said Marilyn was a natural blonde which, of course, was not completely accurate. Ms Parsons brought this up to him one time, to which he responded “She is a naturaly blonde. I didn’t make the mistake. Nature did.” Hilarious.

Another thing that is really interesting in retrospect: Joan Crawford called Marilyn out for showing up to an event in form fitting gold lame dress which left nothing to the imagination. (This was not JFK’s birthday party.) Ms Crawford compared it to a burlesque show, and said “Miss Monroe should be told that the public likes provocative feminine personalities, but it also likes toknow that, underneath it all, the actresses are ladies.” Marilyn did not take the criticism well, being known for being very sensitive, and esponded that “I didn’t mean to do anything that the industry wouldn’t like. I just thought that I was expected to look alluring. Maybe my choice was bad, but my intention wasn’t. And the way so many people jumped on me — as if I’d committed a crime. Especially Joan Crawford.” She then added something that to Ms Hopper seemed to be out of contect, saying “I’ve always admired her [Crawford] for being such a wonderful mother. For taking four children and giving them such a wonderful home.”

Wow. Reads a little differently today, doesn’t it?

She ends the chapter by saying “no matter what, one thing I do know. Marilyn will make news for a long, long time. I hope, for her sake, that it will be happy news.”

I guess it’s up to the reader to decide whether memories of Marilyn are happy or not.