“Find Your Red Carpet,” urged Currey & Company’s Brand Ambassador Denise McGaha during a presentation in the company’s Manhattan showroom last week. The point of her talk, When Worlds Collide, was to inspire her audience of design professionals to consider the attitudes that make the fashion industry so dynamic—a timely topic given New York Fashion Week takes to the runways tomorrow.
Be First, Not Forced
“Why shouldn’t the furnishings industry be just as adept at making products available in as timely a manner as fashion houses do?” she so wisely asked, and her caveat “be first, not forced” was also spot-on considering the subject. This assertion intermingled with the red carpet mention brought the film industry to mind for me, perhaps because Hollywood’s leading ladies are in the throes of combing fashion houses for “that perfect gown” to wow everyone on the red carpet at the Oscars in just over two weeks.
While some of these “be first, not forced” arbiters of taste will opt for the newest creations to flow from the dressmaker’s form—many of which will be our next century’s vintage valuables—others are searching for tried-and-true treasures from decades past. A third group of A-listers, which includes Nicole Kidman, are known for tapping new creations that harken back to vintage designs. The actress’s choice (in the video below) for her red carpet premiere of Queen of the Desert during the Berlin Film Festival is a vintage-inspired couture dress designed by Maison Valentino.
The Allure of Couture
I asked Currey & Company’s Vice President/Creative Director Cecil Adams why he believes haute couture retains its seductive qualities for those who can afford it. “The allure of couture is the fantasy—the idea that a designer’s vision can be brought forth onto a persons body and that it is specifically created only for them is a wonderful experience,” he says. “I am enthralled by the work that goes into each tiny element of a haute couture garment. Everything must be made by hand and often includes fabrics that are rarely seen or produced in any other type of fashion. For inspiration nothing is better, in my opinion, and especially the vintage pieces that are displayed in museum collections. One outfit can contain a world of ideas.”
During an interview in The New Yorker, Silver tells a hilarious story about how treacherous it can be combing the attics of the wealthy to snag vintage treasures on par with a celebrity’s desires. He’s dishing about a fellow high-end dealer who was hoping to avoid an eager seller because he was allergic to cats. She wouldn’t stop calling so he manned up, bought a respirator at the Home Depot, and paid her a visit: “In the attic of the house—a Westchester Tudor decorated by Dorothy Draper in the forties and, by the time Walsh got there, populated by a couple of hundred cats—he found more Vuitton trunks than he had ever seen. In them was a pristine collection of couture, dating from 1905 to 1925.” A number of the outfits were so outstanding The Metropolitan Museum of Art included them in the exhibition “Poiret: King of Fashion.”
When Today’s Vintage Was New
The mention of Dorothy Draper, America’s first professional designer, is apropos here since she was queen of luxury interiors about the time the current crop of vintage gowns were debuting on runways. She also exemplifies the crusader who defended the “be first, not forced” motto, as her push to create a business, beginning in 1925, took place during an era when a woman daring to brand herself was extremely rare.
Two other equally resolute women were making their marks as Draper was defining her sense of style, these in film. One was a leading lady who had transitioned from the silent screen to talkies, and the other was an award-winning screenwriter. Janet Gaynor is the former, a big name who was nominated for three Oscars in 1929 for roles in 7th Heaven, Street Angel and Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. It was the first year the Academy awarded the statuette for excellence in all things related to moviemaking. The latter was none other than Dorothy Parker—a theater-critic-cum-dramatist who wrote a number of hit films, including one that earned Gaynor an Oscar nomination in 1938.
The movie is the 1938 version of A Star is Born (two others have been made since). The original film also earned Parker and her co-writers—Alan Campbell (her husband at the time) and Robert Carson—Oscar nominations for best screenplay. It hit the silver screen during a time when the cloche was on its way out and lacquer was on its way in, thanks in great measure to Draper’s influence.
For a little trip down memory lane, take a moment to watch the video snippet below in which Walter Matthau introduces Gaynor, who will present the Oscar for best actress. It’s 1978 and the Academy is celebrating 50 years of handing out its now lauded awards. This is two years after the 1976 version of A Star is Born starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson appeared. It won a number of awards, including Oscars and Golden Globes. Be sure to scroll all the way to the end of this piece to see which actress Gaynor handed the Oscar off to that evening.
The film industry released only a handful of movies each year when the Oscars came into being—the following decade one of great change for the furniture world, which underwent revolutionary mechanization. It has now become the norm that hundreds of movies are released each year; the fashion industry is equally prolific as it rolls out continual debuts—pre-fall, fall/winter, ready-to-where, resort and spring/summer.
These facts figure in Denise’s point during her talk—that the furniture industry, now in its ninth decade since the great sweep of mechanized manufacturing occurred during the 1930s, could be equipped to provide well-made furniture in as timely a manner as these other industries do with a bit of resourcefulness. Her example is the Currey in a Hurry program, which includes the Paramour chandelier (above), that I nominate for a smaller dash of Draper-esque luxury à la the Greenbrier Cameo ballroom (below). The initiative begs the question, “Why sacrifice panache when you are in the mood for instant gratification?”
Draper understood luxury intermingled with style as well as anyone working in the design field since she served as an agent of change, and history has been kind to her for her tenacity where her legacy is concerned. Her designs for The Carlyle and The Greenbrier are celebrated to this day with good reason.
The past has not been quite as kind to Parker’s brand of tenacity, even though she had extremely successful periods as a writer. She wrote for a storied list of magazines—Vogue and Vanity Fair among them—and held court at The Algonquin as a central figure in the famed Round Table. In her book Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin: Writers Running Wild in the Twenties, Marion Meade notes how it took Parker no time at all to replace the English humorist P. G. Wodehouse as theater critic at Vanity Fair. “To Dottie, who had always loved the stage, the chance to become New York’s only woman drama critic was incredible good luck, the first she’d ever known. But she soon discovered a tiny worm in the apple: Vanity Fair prided itself on being a magazine of no opinion, and she had nothing but opinions.”
Taking on the film genre without missing a beat, she penned roles for some of the biggest actors in Tinsel Town at a time when, according to John Keats, who wrote “Hollywood was raiding New York’s writing talent.” Besides Gaynor, actors and actresses who mouthed her words included Jean Harlow, Cary Grant, Fredric March, Gary Cooper, Judy Garland and James Mason. She has 40 credits listed on her IMDB profile, a handful of them major motion pictures. She was nominated for two Academy Awards and she received the O. Henry Award, which recognizes outstanding short stories, in 1929.
Taking on the film genre without missing a beat, she penned roles for some of the biggest actors in Tinsel Town at a time when, according to John Keats, who wrote You Might as Well Live: The Life and Times of Dorothy Parker, “Hollywood was raiding New York’s writing talent.” Besides Gaynor, actors and actresses who mouthed her words included Jean Harlow, Cary Grant, Fredric March, Gary Cooper, Judy Garland and James Mason. She has 40 credits listed on her IMDB profile, a handful of them major motion pictures. She was nominated for two Academy Awards and she received the O. Henry Award, which recognizes outstanding short stories, in 1929.
Red Carpet Style
It was her marriage to Alan Campbell that propelled her to Hollywood in 1933, said Keats—their exodus from New York City launching them into a lucrative career that earned them the equivalent of $15,000 a week today, astonishing given the Great Depression was in full swing. Though she was no longer living in LA at the time and her stint at screenwriting was behind her, the piece of footage below proves her writing legacy lives strongly on in the 1954 remake of A Star is Born. The premiere was one of the biggest events of the year when the film opened at the Pantages Theater on September 29th.
As Greer Garson said in the clip, “It is Hollywood at its most Hollywood”—a milieu that distressed Parker for its lavishness, even while she was known for excess. Keats quotes the writer as saying, “Sure, you make money writing on the coast…and God knows you earn it, but that money is like so much compressed snow. It goes so fast it melts in your hand.” Many of the compositions in her Complete Poems, such as Faut de Mieux below, reek of a similar tone of cynicism, which Parker seemed doomed to feel.
Travel, trouble, music, art,
A kiss, a frock, a rhyme,—
I never said they feed my heart,
But still they pass my time.
Given a frock was not what it took to feed her spirit, Parker would definitely have been in the wrong town for a large chunk of her writing life. Fortunately for those of us who are voyeurs where fashion is concerned, not everyone feels that way. And making those of us who are also devoted to design even luckier is the fact that manufacturers like Currey & Company understand—just as fashion houses do—that quality rules, though not necessarily at the expense of timeliness.
Just for fun, I looked to the red carpets for pairings of Currey & Company products to show how well their designs intermingle with couture. For those of you looking for “frocks” for your Oscar parties, I also added a vintage find on 1st Dibs, the link for each under the pairing. Happy shopping you lucky few!
Currey & Company’s Vert de Chine table lamp echoes the richness of Scarlett Johansson’s Versace gown, worn during the 2015 Oscars. At the ready for an Oscar party debut is a Jean Desses chiffon stunner on 1st Dibs.
Actress Liz Taylor proves she can illuminate the color just as stunningly as Johansson—the deep green equally alluring paired with Taylor’s dark complexion as it is with Johansson’s paleness.
Currey & Company’s Karma pendant in red is as artful as the Fortuny Delphos gown worn to the Oscars by Lauren Bacall and the pleated claret-colored silk Fortuny Delphos version available now on 1st Dibs.
The Tidewater chandelier by Currey & Company is as elegantly pale as Vanessa Williams sheathed in feathers on the red carpet at the Emmy Awards and the Versace goddess gown in stretch silk velvet on 1st Dibs.
Victoria Justice walks the VMA red carpet in a sassy ensemble that calls to mind Currey & Company’s Boho chandelier. In a newsworthy move, Margot Robbie wore this Van Cleef and Arpels Zip Antique necklace to the Oscars. Valued at $1.5-million, it was originally created for Wallis Simpson when she was the Duchess of Windsor. Robbie told the Daily Mail, “It is worth more than my life!”
And it wouldn’t be a fully fleshed-out piece about Dorothy Parker if I didn’t lob a dash of tongue-in-cheekiness toward the writer’s memory so I dedicate the Odeon bar cart in the Currey & Company line-up (above) to the wordsmith who coined so many of the witticisms we continue to quote today. It takes smarts to be as clever with words as she was, as this maxim proves: “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.”
Lastly, as promised, I give you Diane Keaton who receives her Oscar from Janet Gaynor in the above video. Get a load of that #TBT hair! And if you want to walk even further down memory lane, the Daily Mail has a fabulous post featuring every gown worn by the best actress winners since the Oscars were born in 1929.
The Diary of an Improvateur and this entry, Find Your Red Carpet, © Saxon Henry, all rights reserved. Saxon is an author, poet and journalist whose books include Anywhere But Here, Stranded on the Road to Promise and Four Florida Moderns. She is also a contributor to Architizer.” This is a sponsored post but this fact in no way swayed the opinions contained within it because Saxon Henry would not have chosen to write about these products or this company had the aesthetic attributes not resonated with her.by