If you’re looking for a book with lots of racy gossip about famous personalities, glimpses of trendy fashions, and risqué humor in large doses, Vicky Tiel’s new book is just for you. It’s all about the Dress: What I Learned in Forty Years about Men, Women, Sex and Fashion is escapist reading at its best. You won’t regret reading about this spunky designer’s very colorful past.
After a lackluster performance at Parsons School of Design, Tiel and her closest classmate, Mia Fonssagrives, headed off to Paris to make their names as dress designers in 1964. They knew little about the industry or the intense competition, but they were adventurous and enthusiastic and young, and so disappointments had little effect on their ambitions or their social lives.
Luck was with them. They focused their talents on mini-dresses, jumpsuits and evening wear, and began establishing a reputation when Woody Allen commissioned their costuming talents for his film, What’s New, Pussycat? Along the way, they began designing clothing for stars like Elizabeth Taylor, Goldie Hawn and Raquel Welsh. And they were routinely included in social circles that boasted names like Martha Stewart, Miles Davis, and Faye Dunaway.
Tiel has a great memory for the wild times of her past, and she recounts almost unbelievable stories with a sassy humor. She tells us, for example, how Brigitte Bardot chose her evening’s sexual partners from winning sprinters in random foot races. She tells of Marlon Brando’s teasing comments as she measured him for a film costume. She recalls lavish feasts accompanied by vintage wines, like a particular evening spent in Michael Goldman’s cellar guzzling Chateau d’Yquem 1959 and Mouton Rothschild 1945. She openly discusses the foolish adventures that she attempted, like her ill-planned drive into the territory of Jordan, days after the 1967 Six-Day War. She also speaks freely of her own liaisons and lists details of her seduction techniques.
If you wish to read this romp of a book, but want to justify it with a worthwhile consideration, there are the recipes Tiel includes. Sophia Loren’s pasta or Elizabeth Taylor’s caviar ‘sandwiches’ are highlights of the chapters, as is Dorian Leigh’s plain & simple vinaigrette. And there are the rules of eating that Tiel insists supermodels of Paris follow, rules like never drink anything carbonated and always eat vegetable and fruits skins.
Even more interesting are the little “life lessons” that Tiel has picked up from celebrities over the years. From Coco Chanel, for instance, we read that designers must create something classic that can be worn forever, and they must network in life without shame. Martha Stewart told Tiel that one can turn a failed marriage into a good thing. Miles Davis urged Tiel to surround herself with young people to stay forever young. Kim Novak told Tiel to go barefoot and feel the earth between her toes. And you won’t want to miss Tiel’s advice in which she urges readers to go into business without a backer because backers may want to dictate or fire those they back.
Perhaps the best lesson to be learned from the book is Tiel’s wonderful ability to avoid taking herself too seriously. In the opening of the book she recalls observing two young ladies examining one of the Vicky Tiel designer gowns in Bergdorf Goodman’s. One of two exclaims, “Vicky Tiel? Isn’t she dead yet?” Tiel was delighted with the exchange, and reminded herself that there is much to be learned from watching others. Her enthusiasm and wicked sense of humor make for terrific light reading.