And boy, what an afternoon-- I made the good/bad decision to overindulge in pad thai from across the street for lunch, and while my raging, breakfast-less appetite is sated, dear Lord I am dragging this afternoon. Luckily, only three more hours left at work, and then some friends are coming over to play Matthew's recently acquired copy of Mario Kart WhatevereditionitisIwillbeluckynottoembarrassmyselfatthisgame. :) However! You didn't think I'd forgotten about you? Fallen into the chasm of Internet Archive scary comics? Nope, I'm still here, though weighed down by my lunch choices, and ready to tell you about a gal who I'm frankly surprised has 'scaped my laser-like notice of vintage socialite fashion icons (say that three times fast).
Folks, come hear the good word about Millicent Rogers!
Daughter of Standard Oil scion Henry Huttleston Rogers II, Millicent Rogers was born around the turn of the century with aristocratic good looks and a massive family fortune to back them up. In the thirties' and forties', the thrice married beauty cut a romantic figure in the pages of Harper's Bazaar and in newspaper gossip columns as her love life and eccentrically exquisite couture ensembles turned heads in America and Europe. There was a book written about her colorful exploits, creative endeavors, and philanthropic work published in 2011, called Searching for Beauty: The Life of Millicent Rogers, the American Heiress Who Taught the World About Style, which seems to sum up the life of this singular creature. While the reviews I've seen about the biography have been tepid, I'm looking forward to grabbing a copy from Interlibrary Loan anyway so I can find out more about the life of one of the most interesting looking people I can recall from recent history.
"Lisa, how can you tell all that from the scant information available on Wikipedia and Pinterest?", you may ask. And shame on you for not knowing me better-- I have my sources (and a lot of free desk time to pursue them, haha)! I was trawling the Met Museum's online collection to begin with, and trying to pin point some of the donors for the more eye-catching 20th century pieces. A lot of them were listed as " Gift of Arturo and Paul Peralta-Ramos"...who would beeee.... Millicent Roger's sons and the executors of her estate! And some donated herself to the Brooklyn Museum for safekeeping before she shifted to a different, more Southwestern inspired look to go with her adopted home of New Mexico, where she spent the last years of her short life.
Ok, blah blah blah....but seriously, EXAMINE THESE CLOTHES. If there was ever so definite an example of my dream closet, it's Millicent Rogers. Three amazing designers dominate the collection, and those would be Mainbocher, Charles James, and Elsa Schiaparelli. As I actual faint from delight. Let's take a look!
1) Elsa Schiaparelli
I never save the best for last, and this is no exception! I'd actually featured a number of Millicent Rogers's Schiap designs, extolling the various virtues of the visionary designer, in an earlier blog post without ever realizing that the clothes shared a common wardrobe. What I love in the tongue-in-cheek-meets-opulence of these designs is the idea that the most absurd thing can be rendered elegant by the wearer's tone and mood. The genius of Schiaparelli, in my mind, is in making the outré look soignée, just on account of the confident, sure hand with which she presented the bizarre in her design.
I like to think of these clothes the same way-- they're only clownish if you think of them in a clownish context. On Millicent Roger's willowly, assured frame, I'm sure they looked sumptuously surreal, without a soupçon of silly...exactly as Schiap meant them. PS THAT HAT.
Charles James produced some of the most memorable garments ever made. He began his design career in the 1930s. It peaked between the late 1940s and mid- 1950s, when his scarce and highly original gowns were sought after by society's most prominent women. Personally draping and constructing the garments that bear his label, he is considered to be the only American to work in the true couture tradition. James saw himself as an artist and sculptor of dress rather than a dressmaker. He manipulated fabrics into dramatic shapes using complex seaming and sometimes complicated understructures to create his singular vision of timeless elegance. A master of the relationship between form, color and texture, he often heightened the drama of his evening wear by combining several like fabrics of different colors, or different fabrics in like colors but with different light reflective qualities. Also a perfectionist, he worked for years on refining certain seam lines, shapes and constructs that particularly expressed his vision of artistry through rigorous engineering. Many of his pieces are conceived asymmetrically and possess a sense of movement and vitality that is a signature characteristic of his work. Many historical references in shapes and construction, especially the drapery forms of the 1870s and early teens, are also prevalent throughout his work.
I love the phrase "heightened the drama of his evening wear" ... because if the volume goes up to 10, James cranks it to way on past an 11. Look at the proportion and design of this evening dress:
The coat! The architectural pieces of the bodice! The bell sleeves! I don't know what to praise first, so I'll just go with an overall "WOW". And then, to the other end of the spectrum, this "simplicity-itself" marigold colored evening gown, which would look just as good on some in 2017 as it did on Millicent Rogers in 1947:
Can I please take a moment to remind you, these are all from the same woman's clothes. I can't get over it! I'd be happy just to have somewhere to wear most of these, much less own them myself!
Millicent Rogers, the original owner of this ensemble, was a woman of great personal style. She often worked closely with designers to infuse her own sartorial aesthetic into her clothes, including touches authentic to her most current surroundings. This particular ensemble by Mainbocher is an example of the custom designs Rogers enjoyed wearing. One of three examples in the Brooklyn Museum's collection (see 2009.300.172), this design is inspired by the 1830s, the Biedermeier period, which held particular fascination for Rogers. She began to collect Biedermeier furnishings during her years in Austria before World War II, and upon her return to America at the onset of the war, she decorated her home in Virginia, Claremont Manor, built in 1750, with Biedermeier furniture. Often exhibited as an example of her unparalleled sense of style, this Mainbocher creation is also a unique example of Rogers' working relationship with many designers and her inimitable sense of style.Can you imagine? "Yes, I have a houseful of 1830's furniture, can you make me match the chairs?" Enchanting. I can only hope (but not be 100% sure) that she eschew the hairdressing of that era (see this picture to find out why I would hold a strong opinion on that...pauvre femme!)
Mainbocher was particularly well known for the diversity of designs he created using Indian sari silks. This evening dress is an exquisite example of one of his creations, which he likely discussed with its wearer, Millicent Rogers. She had a great affinity for non-Western materials and garments which no doubt inspired the designer, especially when he designed specifically for her.
There are a million other editorial pieces from Rogers's closet on the Met website...why not go while away an hour or two poring over the oddball details and brave imagination of her sense of style? I really cannot wait to read a book about such an iconically well-dressed woman (when I grow up, I definitely want to be MR). What do you think? Could you wear some of these out on the town, or are you more sedate in style? Which one makes you want to learn how to sew so you could have one of your very own? You tell me!
I gotta run and sew up a few details before I get out of here for the evening-- a hopefully more punctual post will be waiting here for you tomorrow! Take care, we'll talk then. :)