Monday, April 25, 2011

Just glorious!

An exclusive view of style-setter I love: Ann Bonfoey Taylor

The couture wardrobe of an accomplished American style-setter has its premier showing at the Phoenix Art Museum through May 29.

Highlights of the exhibit, curated by the great Dennita Sewell, include super-glam Balenciaga gowns, austere and elegant Givenchy eveningwear, swooping skirts by Charles James, and superbly draped gowns by Mme. Gres.

Come with me to meet Ann, enjoy her style, and encounter her custom-crafted wardrobe, made for her by masters of twentieth-century fashion.

Ann Bonfoey Taylor, 1910-2007, lived a hard-working, focused, cosmopolitan, life of adventure.

An accomplished aviatrix, Olympic ski champion, skiwear designer, business woman, she overcame early obstacles with determination, and later traveled extensively with her businessman husband, Vernon Taylor, Jnr. who followed in his father’s footsteps in the oil business.

If you’ve never hear of Ann Bonfoey Taylor (she was named one of Harper’s Bazaar’s One Hundred Great Beauties of the World in 1967), simply flick through treasured copies of 1960s and 1970s Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. Taylor was also a fixture of Town & Country, and was often photographed by Slim Aarons, Toni Frissell and Bob Richardson.
Well into her eighties, whether she was in Denver, Vail, Montana or abroad, Ann continued to practice a discipline of daily exercise and skiing until the very end of her life.

You are in for a surprise here.

You might think I’m rather fixated on Cristobal Balenciaga when you read this story. I’ve written about three Balenciaga exhibits recently. See my March 2011 report on the gala opening night of ‘Balenciaga and Spain’ currently as the de Young Museum in San Francisco in THE STYLE SALONISTE archive.

Ann Bonfoey Taylor’s collection features hacking jackets by Savile Row tailors and Hermes. Her first glorious and sumptuous couture dresses were by Balenciaga. You’ll also see blazingly beautiful dresses by Givenchy, and subtle gowns by Madame Gres.

‘Fashion Independent: The Original Style of Ann Bonfoey Taylor. Couture Originals Created by Legendary Designers’

This fashion design exhibition exclusive to Phoenix Art Museum opens the closet of an acclaimed American tastemaker to reveal an extraordinary wardrobe of custom-made couture and personally designed sporting ensembles, along with Hermes tweed jackets, chic skiwear, custom-designed fur jackets (for Montana winters), and Charles James gowns. With their classic lines and simplicity, any of them could be worn today. They transcend ‘vintage’.



“She was so chic. Women like this plotted my course in life. She has such an enormous influence on me, from just one article in Vogue.”—Ralph Rucci

Cristobal Balenciaga was one of Taylor’s favorite couturiers. The secret to her style: luscious plain silks and wool fbrics, the simplest and purest lines, and flattering silhouettes that would look chic for decades to come.

“When I saw you in Paris, I thought you were the best-turned out woman I’d seen for many years in Paris.” — Excerpt from a 1971 letter to Ann Bonfoey Taylor from Diana Vreeland, editor-in-chief of Vogue.




“Ann Bonfoey Taylor did not know that her clothes were going to be in a museum. She saved them because she loved them and had a deep appreciation of their design and construction.
When selecting Taylor’s ensembles for this museum’s collection, very little editing was done. Her personal wardrobe was very well edited. Each piece was carefully considered and intended for long-term use. Cohesive in style and color, her choices feature minimalist designs in a palette of black, gray and pastels, accented with bright jewel tones for evening.
Ann’s extraordinary personal drive led her to become a woman of impressive character, and it was through her strong sense of self that her distinctive style emerged.”
—curator Dennita Sewell

After Mr. Balenciaga retired, the young Hubert de Givenchy became Taylor’s chosen couturier. Once more, she demanded the crisp lines, sumptuous fabrics, practical shapes and flattering cuts. There are ensembles that could be worn with ease today.
“For me, Mrs. Taylor was a friend and the ideal client to dress—her kindness and friendship were more than warm. She knew perfectly well what suited her and was able to adapt my new pieces, with a sense of rigor, to her personal style. One cannot be indifferent to the beauty of the Taylors as a couple. Tall, athletic, and full of distinction, they made the most surprising and spectacular pair.” — Hubert de Givenchy

Charles James


Who was Ann Bonfoey Taylor

In 2008, the wardrobe of socialite, designer, and sportswoman Ann Bonfoey Taylor's was gifted to the Museum by the Taylor family.

Collected over thirty years, her wardrobe included a rich archive of works by the most masterful fashion designers of the 1940s through the 1970s including James Galanos, Charles James, Madame Grès, Balenciaga, Givenchy and Fortuny.

Raised in Quincy, Illinois, Taylor had a passion for sports and adventure at an early age. At six years old her father took her flying in his open, two-seater biplane and later taught her to fly it. When World War II broke out, she became a flight instructor for Army and Navy pilots. In the 1930s, she was a competitive tennis player, and an alternate on the Women's Olympic Ski Team. Complimented for her stylish look on the ski slopes, she started her own line of innovative skiwear, which was sold at Lord & Taylor.

In 1947, she married Vernon Taylor, Jr. and they established residences in Denver, Colorado, where they raised their family. With her love of the outdoors, Taylor developed a passion for horses and each year fox hunted in Virginia and England. 

The Taylors also built one of the first ski chalets in Vail. They maintained a cattle ranch in Montana where Taylor was known as a gracious and elegant hostess to her worldwide circle of friends.

“Elaborate beading, embellishment and flounces and embroidery were unnecessary: a woman of Taylor’s poise did not require bolstering from such ornamentation.” — Curator Dennita Sewell

Exhibition Overview
Features more than sixty full ensembles, including thirteen Balenciaga suits and evening gowns; a wide range of apparel from the 1940s and 50s by Charles James; two iconic dresses by Fortuny; Givenchy cocktail dresses, coats and accessories, and rare, spectacular designs by Madame Grès,

‘Fashion Independent’ is significant due to the depth and quality of the designs and artists.

Large-scale photographs of Taylor taken by noted fashion photographer Toni Frissell and a short documentary film enhance this extremely engaging exhibition.

This exhibition is organized by Phoenix Art Museum and is presented in Steele Gallery through May 29, 2011.

About the Fashion Design Collection
Founded in 1966, Phoenix Art Museum's fashion design collection is notable for its quality and comprehensiveness and is comprised of more than 5,000 objects of American and European men's, women's and children's dress and accessories dating from the late 17th century to the present. The Museum organizes three exhibitions a year in the Kelly Ellman Fashion Design Gallery featuring objects from the permanent collection as well as international fashion houses, collectors and museums.
Curator Dennita Sewell

Madame Gres was one of Taylor’s last discoveries—and among her favorites.

Madame Gres

Madame Gres

Madame Gres

Madame Gres

Art and Antiques magazine named the Ann Bonfoey Taylor couture wardrobe, donated to the Phoenix Art Museum, one of the top 100 art museum gifts in 2008.

An outstanding 144-page book/catalog, ‘Fashion Independent, The Original Style of Ann Bonfoey Taylo, has been published by the museum It has an excellent introduction by the show’s curator, Dennita Sewell. Extensive photographs include a lifetime of chic images from the albums of Taylor herself (including her Vuitton luggage, which was donated to the museum, along with her hunting jackets and couture gowns), and tributes by the women who fitted her dresses at the couture houses.

On May 25, Hamish Bowles will speak on Cristobal Balenciaga at the museum.

About Phoenix Art Museum
Phoenix Art Museum is the Southwest's premier destination for world-class visual arts. Popular international exhibitions are shown along side the Museum's outstanding collection of more than 18,000 works of American, Asian, European, Latin American, Western American, modern and contemporary art, and fashion design. 

Phoenix Art Museum is located in downtown Phoenix at the corner of Central and McDowell Road

To learn more about Phoenix Art Museum, visit, or call the 24-hour recorded information line at (602) 257-1222.

All photographs courtesy of the Phoenix Art Museum, presented here with express permission. 

Photographs of Anny Bonfoey Taylor by Toni Frissell and Ken Howie. All photographs courtesy of Phoenix Art Museum and the Library of Congress, presented here with express permission.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Brilliant, Inspiring Charlotte Moss

Designer I Love:  New York designer Charlotte Moss has just published her newest book, Charlotte Moss Decorates with the great Rizzoli international publishing house (my publisher).

It’s Charlotte’s seventh book—and her finest.

Rich with inspiration and ideas, tips and directions and insight, each page is beautifully illustrated with her interiors. The book covers basics (lighting, fabrics, color, scent in a room) as well Charlotte’s wide-ranging and often arcane and always fabulous inspirations.

Charlotte Moss Decorates (in a great collaboration with the amazing Mitch Owens) is an essential addition to a design reference library, an instant classic.

I recently had a great chat with Charlotte, who I’ve known and admired for years.

Pour yourself a glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc, settle into your favorite chair, and come and meet Charlotte Moss.

DDS: Charlotte, this is your seventh book--and absolutely your best. It's full of the richness and wisdom of your experience—plus very pretty pictures. You say 'An empty room is a story waiting to happen, and you are the author'. You leave lots of space for individual expression and personal taste here!
CAM: An empty room is an opportunity and that’s why I chose showhouses for this book. To most people, an empty room presents a dilemma – where do you begin? Which is what every designer is faced with when they begin work on a decorator showhouse. It is their opportunity to create a client. I think that client is always themselves, therefore decorators doing showhouses and anyone beginning a project is faced with the same empty room…dilemma –where to begin…their chance to tell a story.

DDS: Your early life — your Southern heritage — shaped your unique style. How so? Is it about hospitality? A generous way of life? Family?
CAM: Unmistakably. There is an ease of doing most things. And an instinct that is nurtured from birth. Sometimes I think I was born with recipes in one hand and garden clippers in the other. (Ha.) I grew up helping our mother set the table, with gardening, I learned how to sew, cut flowers, went in the woods to cut some more – made an arrangement. I just did things and didn’t really think about them. Family was a huge part with family picnics, a crab roast, waterskiing afternoons, baseball games, Easter egg hunts…fishing, fashion shows, you name it.

DDS: You've lived in New York City for decades and are very much part of the design scene, the philanthropy world, the arts and culture at the heart of Manhattan. That informs your design.
CAM: Yes, absolutely. I also have a country house, so there’s a very relaxed side of my work. I work on design around the country—Santa Barbara, the south, and townhouses in New York, or example.

DDS: You're a great traveler. When you travel you go to antiques galleries and art galleries and new shops and hidden corners. For a designer, what is the best way to go about finding great things on these kind of design travels. What are your tips? How do you research?
CAM: I read a lot. Magazines, books, online. I ask friends. I’m always gathering, researching.

DDS: Antiques and vintage pieces are on your radar at the moment?CAM: I have three houses, very full. My fantasy is to fill a French farmhouse. Until that time, I need nothing. But when shopping, I always keep an open-minded with a roving eye.

DDS: You're obsessed with fabrics. Current passions?
CAM: I have always been fascinated by textiles since I raided my Grandmother’s attic when I was a child and got to play dress up with all of those marvelous outfits. I think some of my early memories are “tactile moments” – to texture has been very important.

Yes, I am obsessed with textiles --new and vintage, and I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to create new ones under license. My new collection comes out in the fall with Fabricut.

DDS: I love the way you've incorporated inspirations from the likes of Pauline de Rothschild, for example.
CAM: Great women of style have always interested me. They are constant muses. Their styles are as varied as their backgrounds, all rich with experience, joie, curiosity and discipline. And peppered with eccentricity.

DDS: Your book is full of ideas. On every page you have collages and drawings and sketches, and portraits, flowers, antiques, art, color swatches, architecture, art, paint chips, postcards, photos. It's so inspiring.
CAM: What got reduced to an 11 x 17 inch collage board are fragments of paper, photographs, fabric, etc collected over years. Selecting takes hours, sometimes days – and committing each piece to a location can even be agonizing. What is adjacent to what – sometimes random, sometime ironic. It is more than a story board for a design concept, they are visual narratives. Once I begin, sometimes it’s easy to stop, other times I am hopelessly obsessed – and possessed. I want to make it twice the size. That will have to be another project. 

DDS: Clearly, the best way to be a good designer is to be voracious — to read hungrily and to travel courageously, and to rip pages from every magazine, and to be a vibrant collector and observer. To know design, you must learn a
nd study and be open-minded and adventurous. Any other secrets? Tons of vitamins, I guess?
CAM: You must learn how to restore yourself and your creativity by stepping away form it. By doing something completely different. And to be really good, you have to get outside of this business altogether. Get outside of the business of design. Travel. Study. Garden. Meet new people. Embrace new ideas. And understand what the world is about, the future, how we are all connected on this planet. HOW TO LIVE. How to think, and how to connect all the dots.

DDS: Thank you, Charlotte. As always it is a great pleasure to chat with you...rather like sipping a crystal flute of very chilled Champagne Henriot 1976 Cuvée des Enchanteleurs. Dream destination for pure relaxation?
CAM: The Seychelles and Bali have always been on my list. A trip to Bali had to be delayed and I can’t wait to travel there.

DDS: Dream destination for culture, art, study, inspiration?CAM: I have my yearly European garden trip this summer, India in the fall. And I want to do Sweden in the peak of summer.

DDS: Charlotte, I will see you there!

All photography from ‘Charlotte Moss Decorates’, by Charlotte Moss with Mitch Owens, courtesy of Rizzoli, used with permission.

Charlotte Moss

24 East 71st Street 
New York, NY 10021