Thursday, March 24, 2011

Goodbye, Elizabeth Taylor

Taylor and Montgomery Clift in A Place in the Sun, 1951

Hollywood legend and screen idol Elizabeth Taylor has died at 79. Known for her glamour, both on and off screen, her many marriages, and her jewels, Taylor was one of the best actresses of her generation, winning 2 Oscars for Butterfield 8 and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.

Many of the costumes that Miss Taylor wore in her 50 films sparked fashion trends of their own. Edith Head designed the costumes for A Place in the Sun. In it, Taylor wore a strapless evening gown with a bodice covered in white violets and a skirt made from miles of white tulle over green satin. Paramount studios sent the dress on tour, displaying it in department store windows across the country. Thousands of copies were sold and the style was the look for that year's proms and parties.

In 1959's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Taylor only wore three costumes: a simple blouse and skirt, this white slip, and a dress that launched a new phase in designer Helen Rose's career. The deceptively simple slip was actually designed more like a dress. It had darts and a side zipper and fit Taylor like a second skin.

Miss Taylor was the one who persuaded director Richard Brooks to allow the third costume for the last portion of the film. Helen Rose designed this white chiffon dress with a plunging neckline to show off Taylor's cleavage. The actress liked the dress so much, she asked Rose to make extra copies and variations for her personal use. In the months following the film's release, Rose received so many requests for the dress, she decided to go into the wholesale garment business. Her ready-to-wear line met with great success.

Taylor will always be best remembered for her role as Cleopatra in the 1963 film of the same name. The photo above was taken by Bert Stern for a Vogue magazine article promoting the film.

Irene Sharaff designed Taylor's wardrobe for the film. She did extensive research in art museums and it showed in Taylor's 65 costume changes during the nearly 3-hour film. The incredible headdresses and wigs and the exotic make-up styles were influential in fashion for years to come.

In this video montage, you'll see several of the costumes shown above in action. It is a beautiful and fitting tribute to one of the greatest actresses of our time. Farewell, Liz. Your legacy will not be forgotten.