Mar 24, 2011
Like many people around the world, I was shocked and saddened by the death of Elizabeth Taylor yesterday. It just seemed like that Dame was going to live forever -- she'd been through so many health emergencies and always pulled through. Alas, this time it was not to be.
I've always enjoyed Elizabeth Taylor as an actress and admired her very public support of the gay community and people with AIDS at the height of the AIDS crisis. In fact, I got to hear her speak at an AmfAR (American Foundation for AIDS Research) fundraiser about twelve years ago. It was exciting to see her in person, though even then her health was not great.
Elizabeth Taylor was a symbol of so many things -- perhaps most notably a lust for living life to the fullest. No one would argue that at seventy-nine she hadn't filled her cup to the brim.
It seemed like she'd been around forever and she felt like an old friend we begin to take for granted.
Today I'd like to talk about Liz as style icon, both in her film roles and her private life. With her dark hair and heavy brows, her full figure and kittenish voice, she was the epitome of a kind of pull-out-the-stops glamour that seems, if not gone, then self-conscious and labored today (think every starlet at the Oscars).
I hope I don't offend, however, when I say that Elizabeth Taylor was extremely poorly served by the styles of her heyday period, the 1960s. With her ripe hourglass figure, she often looked shoehorned into the mini dresses and wacky psychedelic youth-quake fashions of the period. Moreover, while sometimes slim, she was never skinny, in a period whose fashion icons were Twiggy and Penelope Tree.
This only made us love her more, I'd argue, because with her high-profile marriages and jet-setting lifestyle, she made it clear that she didn't care particularly what anybody thought. She gained weight and lost weight and wore as much jewelry as she wanted. She wouldn't make anybody's Best Dressed list -- she was no Audrey Hepburn or Catherine Deneuve -- and she clearly wasn't trying. No Paris couturier made her his muse. Even before camp, Liz was campy. Refreshing!
In her MGM days, her public image was carefully controlled by the studio, and dressed by Helen Rose or Irene Sharaff, she looked elegant and alluring, both demure and vampy.
Then the Sixties happened and everything got bigger: the career, the scandals, the jewelry, the hair -- and la Liz herself.
If you've ever seen 1965's The Sandpiper you know that tent-like beach cover ups and caftans were not her best look, yet that movie spawned a thousand sewing patterns...nearly always with a facsimile of Liz on the front.
As the headlines and scandals eclipsed her acting career, the outfits got kookier and the films less memorable.
Into the Seventies it all got bigger still, and you just knew Liz was in on the joke -- she didn't care if she raised eyebrows or invited criticism, she was going to do her own thing.
Into the Eighties and beyond, it was more of the same, and she continued until health problems slowed her down, and even then, she was always around, showing up at celebrity weddings and funerals, launching a successful perfume line or a jewelry business.
Liz was the model for taking what life gives you -- in her case, beauty, talent, and drive -- and running with it.
She will be missed.
Any favorite Elizabeth Taylor movies, looks, or other memories you wish to share? Please leave a comment below.