Currey & Company’s Brand Ambassador Denise McGaha presented two terrific maxims during a talk in the company’s Manhattan showroom last week—“Find Your Red Carpet” and “Be first, not forced.” The point of her presentation, When Worlds Collide, was to inspire the audience of design professionals to consider the attitudes that make the fashion industry the dynamic force it has become, a timely topic given New York Fashion Week took to the runways this morning with Nicholas K leading the charge.
Find Your Red Carpet First
Denise so wisely asked, “Why shouldn’t the furnishings industry be just as adept at making products available in as timely a manner as fashion houses do?” This question intermingled with the red carpet mention brought the film industry to mind, likely because Hollywood’s leading ladies have been combing fashion houses for “that perfect gown” to wow everyone on the red carpet at the Oscars, which air 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 the next century’s vintage valuables—others are determined to find tried-and-true treasures from decades past. A third group of A-listers, which includes Nicole Kidman, often tap new creations that are based upon vintage designs. The actress’s choice in the video below—which she wore on the red carpet for the 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
This topic inspired me to pose a question to Currey & Company’s Vice President/Creative Director Cecil Adams. I asked him 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 answers. “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.”
Another tastemaker who advocates for vintage couture, particularly for his celebrity clients’ red carpet moments, is Cameron Silver, the founder of the Los Angeles boutique Decades. He has seen an uptick in starlets reaching back into the past to create ensembles that express a uniqueness they all but own. In fact, he’s written a book about it titled Decades: A Century of Fashion—a sumptuous survey of trendsetting personalities by decade that I highly recommend for a design library. Reporting for Harper’s Bazaar, Silver taps Lauren Bacall in Fortuny Delphos, Julia Roberts in Valentino, Kristin Davis and Renée Zellweger in Jean Desses, Vanessa Paradis in Chanel, and Carolyn Murphy and Nicole Kidman in Loris Azzaro as standouts in vintage. He goes so far as to credit Kidman for a substantial uptick in his notoriety when she wore an ensemble she bought from him to the New York premier of Moulin Rouge.
The New Yorker published a lively interview with Silver during which he tells a hilarious story about how slippery it can be combing the attics of the wealthy for vintage treasures. He’s telling the reporter about a fellow high-end dealer who was hoping to avoid an eager seller because he was seriously allergic to cats. She wouldn’t acquiesce so he manned up (after buying 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.” Some of the outfits were so remarkable The Metropolitan Museum of Art included them in “Poiret: King of Fashion,” an exhibition dedicated to the French designer’s ability to elevate fashion to an artform.
When Today’s Vintage Was New
The mention of Dorothy Draper, now known as America’s first professional designer, is quite apropos since she was queen of luxury interiors when the vintage gowns now topping the retro charts were debuting on runways. She also exemplifies the design influencer who defended the “be first, not forced” motto because she dared to create a business in 1925 when it was extremely rare for a woman to do so.
Two other equally resolute women were making their marks as Draper was turning heads with 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 made a big name for herself in Oscar-nominated roles in 1929 for 7th Heaven, Street Angel and Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. It was the Academy’s first year of awarding the statuette for excellence to moviemakers and their minions. The latter was Dorothy Parker, a theater-critic-turned-dramatist who penned hit films that included one for which Gaynor earned an Oscar nomination.
This film, the 1938 version of A Star is Born, has had two other debuts since, and the original one resulted in Oscar nominations for Parker and her co-writers—Alan Campbell (her husband at the time) and Robert Carson—for best screenplay.
The film industry released just a handful of movies each year when the Oscars came into being, which segued with the era when mechanized manufacturing began revolutionizing the furniture world. Now, hundreds of movies are released each year, and the fashion industry is equally as 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 mechanization 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 reflects a dash of Draper-esque luxury à la the Greenbrier Cameo ballroom below. This 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 put her stamp on high-end interiors, 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, the projects representing two of the finest vintage interiors extant from the heyday of Hollywood glamour, which was then the watchword for indulgent style.
Red Carpet Style
I’d like to thank Denise for inspiring this fun post, which I’ll wind down by presenting a few red carpets pairings with Currey & Company products to illustrate how well their designs intermingle with couture. If you are looking for ensembles to wear to your Oscar party, I also included a vintage find on 1st Dibs, the link for each under the pairing.
Scarlett Johansson’s Versace gown, worn during the 2015 Oscars echoes the richness of Currey & Company’s Vert de Chine table lamp. For your Oscar party debut, this Jean Desses chiffon stunner on 1st Dibs should do the trick!
Actress Liz Taylor is no less alluring in the color, the deep green equally pretty when paired with Taylor’s dark complexion as it is with Johansson’s paleness.
The Fortuny Delphos gown worn to the Oscars by Lauren Bacall is as artful as Currey & Company’s Karma pendant in red. And the pleated claret-colored silk Fortuny Delphos version available now on 1st Dibs would make your Oscar-party debut one for the history books!
The Tidewater chandelier by Currey & Company is as elegantly pale as Vanessa Williams sheathed in feathers on the red carpet at the Emmy Awards. Equally gorgeous is the Versace goddess gown in stretch silk velvet, available on 1st Dibs.
Victoria Justice carries off this sassy ensemble on the VMA red carpet. It calls to mind Currey & Company’s Boho chandelier, as does Margot Robbie’s choice of the Van Cleef and Arpels Zip Antique necklace for her night at the Oscars. It’s valued at $1.5-million and was originally created for Wallis Simpson when she was the Duchess of Windsor.
I close with a nod to Dorothy Parker’s brand of tongue-in-cheekiness by dedicating the Odeon bar cart in the Currey & Company line-up (above) to the wordsmith who coined so many of the witticisms we quote today, such as this gem: “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.”
I always enjoy a behind-the-scenes angle. If you do as well, there’s a blog on the #nyfw site called “Back of the House” that is maintained when the runway shows are in full swing that you might find interesting. And—also quite fascinating—you can see the history of Oscar fashions on the Daily Mail, as the editorial team has put together images of every gown worn by the best actress winners since 1929. Do you have a favorite gown that has graced a red carpet that you’d like to share?
Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read our exploration of fabulous vintage and haute couture paired with our products.