Continued from the WSJ May 28, 2011...
Ann Bonfoey Taylor has been described as fierce, focused, elegant and selective – a woman with an innate sense of style, a survivor, an original. Ann was the subject of 19 editorials in Harpers Bazaar, Vogue and Town and Country from the 30's to the 70's. In any milieu, particularly that of fashion and society, that is serious staying power. Why is it then, that in a line up of 20th century style icons repeatedly referred to, her name is glaringly absent? Why is there little written beyond those editorials in the 70's? Well, that is what I wanted to know and the timing was perfect.
Every year spring break takes us to Aspen for a week so I decided to take a day trip down to the Phoenix Art Museum to see the exhibition FASHION INDEPENDENT, the couture collection of Ann Bonfoey Taylor. I spent most of the day reviewing the collection with Dennita Sewell, Fashion curator at the Phoenix art museum. We watched the documentary by David Boatman, and she described her three years of work leading up to the exhibition, including her first phone call from the Taylor family and what it was like opening the boxes of well loved and cared for clothes all carefully wrapped in tissue. Mrs. Taylor was selective without a doubt, Charles James and Madame Gres couture dresses and suits for day would make anyone stand out in a crowd. There was also Balenciaga and Givenchy evening, custom Hermes hunting attire, and the military accessories she often added to her skiwear because she thought it all rather bland.
This wardrobe spoke volumes about its original owner. Classic, disciplined, and self-confident Ann Bonfoey Taylor knew what suited her. She bought well-made, tailored, high quality clothes for her active lifestyle; she wore it well, and not just for one season. In some ways she is a lesson in anti- fashion, the throwaway, disposable kind of today. Always better to have fewer of better quality, but you've heard that one before.
Ann often asked Givenchy and Madame Gres to make subtle 'adjustments' in her clothes. Everyone accommodated her requests because she was gracious and practical, she had her own style, and they appreciated that.
My curiosity was confirmed by Dennita’s assessment of Mrs. Taylor, ”she personifies what can be achieved by an American woman; she was independent, gracious, stylish, accomplished and spirited."
Ann Bonfoey Taylor lived life to the fullest until 2007 when she died at the age of 96.
It was the fashion that led me to the Phoenix, but it was the life at the heart of it all that I knew would prove to be the big lesson in living. The muses for all time are those that have lived a life of curiosity, determination, discipline, beauty and joy.
Before the war Ann Bonfoey Taylor became a flight instructor to Army and Navy pilots as a single mother supporting her family, She was on the US Olympic ski team, she modeled in the '30's and designed a successful line of skiwear that landed her editorial coverage, a Harpers Bazaar cover, and meeting Diana Vreeland.
She was an enthusiastic and flawless hostess, equally skilled with a rifle and schooling her jumper, Andarko. There is a certain irony in the fact that Ann was one of the first skiers to wear a racing drivers crash helmet, each one covered for her in a twill fabric compatible with her Mongolian lamb parkas. Moving swiftly, purposefully and elegantly was how she went through life.
To bring the spirit of Ann Taylor into the museum Ms. Sewell chose paint colors from Sherwin Williams similar to ones in Mrs. Taylors home in Denver, creating a sense of peace and welcome. For example, the family picture gallery is painted in SW6334 Flower Pot and the little theatre area where the documentary can be seen is done in SW 6549 and 6556, Ash Violet and Obi Lilac, the colors of her ballroom. (Grey was one of her preferred daytime wardrobe colors, and Ms. Sewell selected SW7641 and 7643 colonnade grey and pussy willow for the background color of the couture.
Mrs. Taylor knew what suited in most other matters as well. Her friend Robin Chandler Duke said with Ann, “everything had to be JUST right." When it came to entertaining, she was the most gracious hostess. She was a voracious reader that studied her guest’s interests, a lesson for anytime and anyone aspiring to be a good hostess. Regardless of your entertaining budget or style this is a lesson that will pay dividends later as your invitations will be the ones sought after.
Ann favored a color scheme of yellow and white in her flower arrangements. She preferred simple flowers like white geraniums, marigolds and Colorado carnations. There is elegance in simplicity so you can make it easy on yourself, create your own signature style and keep it simple. She was organized. Mrs. Taylor had a flower room in the house in Denver where she had everything she needed at her fingertips. She taught Doris, her housekeeper of 30 years how to make flower arrangements for the tables and the importance of having just a single blossom on a bed tray.
Everyday was approached with fresh eyes, as it was understood in the Taylor household that the china was to be rotated at mealtime right down to the salt and pepper. Her china ranged from the classic blue and white Royal Copenhagen, a grisaille Spode pattern and the iconic leafware of Dodi Thayer collected by other style Icons such as the Duchess of Windsor and CZ Guest. Ralph Rucci described her style as "...sparkling.” And went on to say when it came to her wardrobe selections her Madame Gres were the most astounding...she used fabric to create sensation...” Mr. Rucci was directly inspired by Mrs. Taylor last season. It took my breath away when the red Mongolian lamb came around the corner as his opening to the collection. I knew the inspiration came from somewhere, I found out later, Ann Bonfoey Taylor.
Her taste was consistent in her entire pattern of living, Mrs. Vreeland said. "...It is not the clothes they wore, it is the life they lived in them"' that's what interested her. Who could not agree with that? Mrs. Vreeland revealed in her diary as a teenager that her first step was to find role models for behavior and beauty. She found one in the 30's, but they went on to lead separate lives. When they met again in 1971 in Mrs. Vreeland's office at Conde Nast both women were in their 60's. Vreeland asked, "What do women want in life?" she then answered the question herself directed at Ann, " you just wanted everything and you wanted everything to be right". WHY NOT?
In a room with tall white lacquered walls and doors and a floor of white patent leather, the Ralph Rucci Fall 2011 show began with 'Innocente' a dance remix, music by Delerium. As I sat and waited for the show to begin I wondered what inspired him this season. As I have been in his office with him explaining previous collections, showing me whole notebooks of sketches, a photo of a dancer, a fabric fragment and piles of photos, nothing quite prepared me for the volcano of red that erupted by way a red Mongolian lamb coat met by over the knee red suede boots.
Where did that inspiration come from? I found out later, Ann Bonfoey Taylor. Ralph Rucci described her style as “…. Sparkling,” and went on to say when it came to her wardrobe selections her Madame Gres were the most astounding “… she used fabric to create sensation…”
I asked Dennita Sewell, the curator at the Phoenix art museum, what she thought. Here are some of her selections.