Liz Smith: Vicky Tiel Tells — "It's All About The Dress" (Especially The Ones I Designed For Elizabeth Taylor)
“HOW TO describe Elizabeth Taylor? She was not a movie star; she was the entire galaxy of stars in one package. That was the energy she emitted when she walked into a room. People froze. When they spoke to her, they stuttered.”
That’s designer Vicky Tiel describing her friend and frequent client Miss Taylor, in her book, “It’s All About the Dress: What I Learned in Forty Years About Men, Women, Sex, and Fashion”. This is a delicious, sexy, gossip-heavy memoir of Vicky’s rise as a designer in the Swinging 1960s.
It’s lots of fun. It is dotted with little essays on wisdom she learned from the likes of Chanel, Miles Davis, Kim Novak, Ursula Andress, along with recipes she picked up along the way.
She is candid about affairs with such disparate types as Woody Allen andWarren Beatty, as well as her own long extra-marital affair with Elizabeth and Richard’s makeup man, Ron Berkeley,which eventually led to a marriage — one not fated to last forever.
If you are at all interested in fashion and how it morphed so drastically in the 1960s, side-by-side (thigh-by-thigh!) with a new liberated society, this book will dazzle. Sometimes, Vicky’s adventures become exhausting. Too much of a good thing can be enough, with apologies toMae West. But readers will adore snippets such as her erotic encounter with Warren.
During the (expert) lovemaking, Warren took a phone call from an ex, sensitively talking her down from some emotional extremity. He never lost his, ah — resolve, during this dual duty. Fun, sexy, gossipy. A good solid, witty read. (That Vicky and her partner Mia Fonssagrives creations for Elizabeth were riotously inappropriate, hardly matters. “Elizabeth never gave a damn. She was always over-the-top.”
HOWEVER, I really was most interested in Vicky’s observations on the Burtons with whom she was close for years, joining at times, Elizabeth’s cacophonous entourage.
Some various snippets: “Elizabeth’s eyes were dark navy blue, like the deep sea, with an indigo light some people might call violet … Did she likebeing holed up in an enormous hotel suite with all her favorite food and wine and her favorite people flown in from all over the world? She loved it! … The things that mattered most to Elizabeth were being Earth Mother to her loved ones, sex, food and drink, helping the unfortunate (humans and animals) … Her fame and beauty did not matter much to her … She hated snobs almost as much as she hated cheap producers … She loved losers as friends. The bigger the loser, the more she loved him. She was a sucker for a sob story, she believed everyone …. Her generosity was her foremost quality.”
Burton, whom Vicky clearly adored as well, was a different breed. Although he and Elizabeth were always “deeply connected,” they had “little in common.” Richard hated almost everything that Elizabeth loved. He preferred solitude, quiet, reading. And he was jealous.
Tiel believes the night he lost the Oscar for “Virginia Woolf” but Elizabeth won, “Richard never got over the loss, nor his childish jealously.” (For her part, Elizabeth was devastated by Richard’s loss.)
But there is one more Taylor story that is so “her.” After Burton’s death, after being excised from the funeral by Richard’s last wife, Sally Hay, Vicky — who still designed for Richard’s subsequent wives — was called by Sally to help her dress for the service. To Vicky’s shock, Sally also tried on three elaborate evening gowns. “Now I’ll finally be able to go and wear smart things,” she said.
Tiel immediately called Elizabeth, barred from the services, distraught in L.A. “Can you believe she is so cold?” Vicky exclaimed. Elizabeth quietly replied, “Oh, no, Vicky. She must be in shock.”
Immediately following this book, I read the complete diaries of Richard Burton, soon due. Fascinating and rather melancholy. I tell all that, later in the week.
VERY INTERESTING piece in a New York tabloid the other day, attempting to explain why Janet Jackson, who always tried to keep herself above and away from her wildly dysfunctional family, became embroiled in the matter of overturning Michael’s will. She is terribly worried that she will have to end up supporting the Jacksons, depleting her own fortune. Especially as her career, like that of so many others who were big in the 1980s and ’90s, is no longer red-hot.
Unfortunately the plan backfired, and not only is Janet still worried about having to boost the finances of the other (far less talented) Jacksons, she has damaged her public image. Although this might not be fatal. Miss Jackson has a wildly devoted fan base. Many of them think Michael’s daughter Paris deserved a slap-down (literally or figuratively).
The real singer in trouble is Gladys Knight who went on “The Talk” and said that had Paris called her a “bitch” — the epithet she reportedly hurled at her aunt Janet — “she wouldn’t have any teeth.” Support for Ms. Knight’s proposed knuckle sandwich was not overwhelming in cyberspace. She needs to talk that one back, as they say in politics.
It’s all pretty trashy, but when was it not?
ENDTHOUGHT: Boy, some things never change. I do mean the public’s ferocious desire to build up celebrities only to tear them down with ferocity. I was struck over the weekend by near-gleeful coverage of Olympian Michael Phelps’ first loss to competitor Ryan Lochte.
“Loser!” “Disaster!” “Pholp!” went the website and newspaper headlines about this young man with eight gold medals to his credit. Aside from a little bong-smoking, I wondered what innocents Phelps had killed to engender such satisfaction over his loss?
Well, now that Lochte came up short in the anchor leg of the 400-meter freestyle relay, he’s not the golden boy (with that vulgar diamond grill in his mouth) that he was only 72 hours ago. See, how fleeting backside kissing is, Ryan?
I’ve never met either athlete, but Phelps comes across in a more appealing manner. Lochte expresses his confidence with, well — too much confidence. Humility — even if it is false — is not to be despised.
As Phelps has announced his retirement after the London Olympics it would be nice for him to collect a little gold. And Mr. Lochte, too. The latter just needs a slight attitude adjustment. As does the ravening media. The people who write these headlines and stories — what have they won in life?
This column originally appeared on NYSocialDiary.com on 7/31/12