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.


  1. Hello:
    Without doubt, this is an exceptional collection on any terms and, from your photographs, looks to be beautifully presented by the Phoenix Art Museum.

    It is rather reassuring to see fur coats, nowadays almost universally vilified but which are the best possible solution to sub-zero winter conditions [and still de rigeur in Budapest]. Fur trousers, however, well, suffice to say that we cannot see them as a fashion trend for the C21.

    If we were closer, we should undoubtedly pay a visit. We shall, however, content ourselves with the V and A.

  2. Many of these are works of art - amazing.

  3. As are a PRISM for knowledge to refract for those who worship at the altar of Beauty.

    Love this storyline...and of course all the Masters of Couture that stands to this day - never to be seen again are featured.

    RARE gift to all!

  4. My dear Diane, this is such a gorgeous post. Charles Janes gown is absolutely stunning and that Givenchy's piercing green which takes my breath away. Thank you so much for your charming comment on my blog. Hope you had a fabulous time in London xxx

  5. Hello, Jane and Lance--

    Very astute comment about the furs. Note however that Ann's were Mongolian lamb (plentiful, and a mountain animal) and these were jackets worn for snowy mountainous conditions (Vail, Montana). I think the red paint brigade would not attack her, in the mountains, for wearing these sporty jackets made of lamb grown for meat/nomadic tribes. Quandary, still. Much to be discussed on the fur issue.I appreciate all sides of the issue.
    The Stylish Swan:Thank you for your kind words.
    I worship Beauty and appreciate those who create it and those who are patrons of beauty. In this case, Ann was a woman of sure style and grace. John Dickinson said 'Style is Consistency' (I think Diana Vreeland said it too)---and in this case, Ann's style was totally and utterly consistent. Note: no patterned fabrics, consistent flattering colors (that aqua, the turquoise). She must have looked stunning arriving at a party in Paris or New York. Imagine.
    Hi Dear ASD over there in Angleterre-I did have a magnificent time in London. First days of spring and gloriously beautiful. Great spirit.
    Yes, the piercing green. The exquisite turquoise. Can you imagine. This is a woman of fabulous taste (a word I seldom use...good or bad, it is all's 'no taste' that is a problem)...
    Everything has her signature, style, silhouette. What beauty. Bravo to Dennita Sewell for this show.
    Have a lovely week in Angleterre! My best to you.
    cheers, DIANE

  6. Another marvelous post. I was not familiar with this sublime creature of exquisite taste and striking beauty. She looks like an earlier and more refined Daphne Guinness, with all the style and without the silliness.

  7. Fabulous post! That is a retrospective of a true style setter!
    I did not know of her and am greatful you brought her to my attention!

    Have a wonderful day!
    Jamie Herzlinger

  8. Diane- The accompanying book has been on my wish list because I had an inkling that I would find this woman interesting. Your post confirmed it! Thank you!

  9. melisSALEE22@MSN.COMApril 26, 2011 at 8:38 AM

    Wow, if I was the daughter of Ann, I would have loved to inherit this collection of fashion...
    There are not many that live a life like this and with so much gusto!!!!!
    I wonder whom was the designer that she loved to wear that was for more daily use???
    I love the sheep skin coats and matching boots....
    You always have such interesting post....


  10. Very inspiring was dessert for the eyes!

  11. As usual, your post sent to scurrying to find more information on this multi-talented doyenne. What a perfect sense of self--an inspiration on so many fronts. Thanks for starting my day with a desire to be fully present, as Ann must have been. Mary

  12. Diane,

    I dont think I have seen anyone more chic! To be honest I had not hear of her so thanks for sharing. Her winter furs are over the top and her collection of Givenchy and Balenciaga is I think unsurpassed. I will need to go to the Phoenix Art Museum at once! It's a short plane ride from Santa Fe. I assume you have seen the Isabel de Borchgrave exhibit??

    All the best,


  13. Dear Diane, the photographs of Ann and the clothes are divine. Thank you for a truly wonderful post xx

  14. Dear Diane, the photographs of Ann and the clothes are divine. Thank you for a truly wonderful post xx

  15. I am delighted to learn of this exhibition. There seems to be a growing interest in such shows based on a single personality, such as previous exhibitions of the clothing of Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, and Iris Apfel.

    The 18th century style military uniform is smashing. I'm wondering if it was in keeping with the 1976 Bicentennial celebrations and the wave of patriotism. I've always thought that original costumes such as safari, Tyrolean, Chinese, saris, ethnic pieces, specific athletic pieces such as fencing jackets, military, etcetera are often better in their original versions than the interpretations of even very gifted designers. This is why very stylish teenagers often look better and have more chic in thrift store treasures than rich people in couture.

    The romantic, charming photo on the rowboat reminds me of the character "Truly Scrumptious" in the 1960s film, Chitty, Chitty Bang Bang.

    I'm glad to see that Ann Taylor appreciated Givenchy. Givenchy (the original, Hubert) has fallen off the fashion radar, but people forget how in the 1960s and 1970s he continued to created sober, elegant fashions similar to those of his master and idol, Balenciaga. Some of their designs, especially in this selection of images, seem almost interchangeable.

    Great selection of photos, but I long to know the dates of the means so much when one can imagine them in the milieu of other design, political, and cultural trends. For example, for a visit to the White House in about 1962, Princess Grace (ogling John F. Kennedy) wore a very vivid green Givenchy couture day outfit in a shade similar to one you have a photo of. Perhaps they are from the same year/ collection.

    When a woman like Ann Taylor, or Iris Apfel dresses, I really think they are more responsible for the look and statement than the fashion designers. They sift through hundreds of designs, select and accessorise with shoes, bags, jewels, add movement and gestures, make-up, and coiffure. There are so many distinctly original touches in her wardrobe, such as the shaggy jackets in primary colours, the military costume, the ski outfits...really she is the designer and has a very good eye, and therefore unquestionably suitable and of interest for such a museum show.

    How typically American to be so outdoorsy and stylish at the time. I'm thinking of Jacqueline Kennedy, and C.Z. Guest also in their ski or riding ensembles. What a fun statement those shaggy jackets with sunglasses would make on the slopes of Gstaad, Cortina, or Vail. It is a shame so few people devote such time and creativity to the art of is a pleasure for themselves and those around them.

    Enjoy your posts immensely. Thank you so much.

  16. Dear Friends-

    Love, love, love your comments!

    I wish I'd known Ann--and wish we had the precise dates of each outfit.

    I so appreciate your keen insights, your wit, your great and original ideas (Daphne Guinness!), and yous generosity.
    cheers and please stay in touch, DIANE