As 2011 winds down and the holidays race towards New Year’s Eve and Day festivities, our thoughts turn both forward and back – to the shape of days to come and those shape-shifters we lost in the last year. In recent weeks, we took leave of both Steven Jobs, whose aesthetic rigor transformed the way we live, and Christopher Hitchens, whose wit enlivened it and, even when we disagreed with him (which was often), brought it into sharp focus. I ran out of space before I could mention another notable passing over the last week or so; but readers of this blog have probably already seen several obits and tributes. Among the artisanal houses that support the haute couture in Paris, there are few as distinguished as Lesage. Lesage embroidery, trim and ornament have graced the garments of almost every major fashion house in Paris – and quite a few well beyond Paris, from Bombay to L.A. Although the house was acquired by Chanel, it has retained its independence (though it now seems impossible to conceive how Lagerfeld could have executed much of the Paris-Bombay Métiers d’Art show without the extensive contributions of the Lesage atelier). Still more importantly for the couture, François Lesage established schools both in Paris (Montmartre) and India – where his son, Jean-François, opened an atelier in Chennai – to sustain the craft and nurture the mastery of those who will soon take their places at Lesage and the couture houses.
Looking back, we also catch a glimpse of the fascinating people whose work and lives were quite distant from fashion, yet who captivated eyes, ears and imaginations, and influenced (whether in exemplary or cautionary fashion) the way we see ourselves and live our lives. Although the deaths of iconic figures like Jobs and Elizabeth Taylor tended to eclipse other obits, the passing of others reminded us of an equally enduring impact on the culture. Although Taylor and her film and still images are forever a part of Western iconography, many other film professionals left an unforgettable mark. Consider this pair: Sidney Lumet and Theoni Aldredge. Is it even possible to think of Lumet’s film, Network (written by Paddy Chayefsky) without the Aldredge wardrobe Faye Dunaway wore as Diana Christensen? (That style was a template for working women’s style everywhere throughout the late 1970s.) Beyond the look of the film was its Watergate-current, post-corporate consolidation message: “We’re as mad as hell and we’re not going to take this anymore?” Remind you of anything recent? The look of Lumet’s films, the conflicted characters at their center are in stark contrast to the vacuity of so much contemporary Hollywood cinema. But as today’s toyboys grow into hollow men, we may see a return to that level of risk and substantive engagement with political and psychological issues – though, judging from recent releases (e.g., Angelina Jolie, Dee Rees), women may be leading the way.
Interesting that the kind of film deal packaging specifically geared to the toyboy demographic spelled the end of careers like that of Sue Mengers – another tough player in the very macho world of L.A. talent agents. Sue had her own style, as she did with almost everything. She wooed, she wheedled, she charmed, she cajoled – and then she told it like it was, as bluntly as she saw fit. She could be rude and was always relentless. But she knew stars and scripts and understood how to put them together. She got results and she also got laughs. Let’s not forget that humor was a big part of Sue-Style. You can’t survive in this town without it; and she got that it was important. Her sartorial style, you ask? We all know about the caftans (frequently by Zandra Rhodes); and believe it or not, she also wore Alaïa (nothing that was inappropriate to her body type, according to my source). But who cares?
We also lost a few of Mengers’ clients (twice lost, as Sue might have put it) – but as one of my doctors is fond of saying, “our time is up.” “Tomorrow might not be another day,” as Sue would say; but you can always leave a message with the service or dial 9-1-1.