An Ode To Fashion Icons Through The Ages
A look back at the muses who inspired their favourite designers, as well as generations of women, with their immaculate taste
“I’m Princess Diana,” four-year-old me answered, while strutting around at a party in a fancy hat and matching purse to boot. Sure, it was a laugh for the aunties wondering who the little girl in the floppy hat with a giant bow was, but in the eyes of that toddler, she was the most stylish person in the world. Thanks are in order to my British-royalty-loving Parsi mother’s collection of books on the late Queen of Hearts, but also to those fashion brands — from Valentino to Versace — who gave her some of history’s most iconic looks. The Princess of Wales wore over 1,000 outfits by Catherine Walker through her lifetime — and was even buried in a black dress by the French designer. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Diana was her most famous client. For some dressmakers, muses are often as important as their own creations.
Who hasn’t worn a black dress with a string of pearls, held an oversized cigarette holder (for me it was two straws joint together) and tried to pose like the one and only Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s? One can’t deny that Audrey Hepburn’s fashion ‘marriage’ with Hubert de Givenchy was a major factor in her success; many of the ensembles he created for her became stars in their own right. But she wasn’t his only source of inspiration. From former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to Princess Grace of Monaco, many of the globe’s style icons have been dressed by the master couturier. Her pill box hats, A-line skirts, pumps and long jackets complete with pearls or brooches made Onassis one of the White House’s most stylish residents of all time (I’d tell you about my exhausting five-day hunt for oversized sunglasses à la Jackie O, but that’s a story for another day).
Marilyn Monroe, one of Hollywood’s greatest beauties, was known not just for her screen presence, but for her undeniable style as well. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you can picture her in that white halter-neck dress standing on a subway grate. And if she’s still remembered for the ‘dress blowing in the air’ scene, she’s got William Travilla to thank. The award-winning costumier designed for her in several hit films, and was her go-to person for all things sartorial. She reportedly once gifted Travilla a nude calendar that was autographed with the message, ‘Billy Dear, please dress me forever….’
While these international stars and royals caught the world’s fancy with their outfits, closer to home there is Maharani Gayatri Devi whose grace and beauty continues to enthrall generations of women. French chiffon saris, resplendent but delicate jewels (most often from Cartier and Van Cleef and Arpels) and a heartwarming smile were her constant companions. It’s no wonder then, that she was the muse of not only many designers (Sabyasachi came out with a limited-edition collection of floral saris inspired by Her Highness in 2013), but of the many ladies who aspired to replicate her sense of style.
When you think of timeless Indian stylistas, Madhubala comes to mind, her gorgeous smile and shoulder-length waves proving the perfect accessory for anything she wore. Remember her stunning outfit in Jab pyaar kiya toh darna kya…from the cinematic wonder that was Mughal-e-Azam? It finds a place in the wardrobes of just about everyone, and today’s couturiers, from Anita Dongre to Manish Malhotra can’t do without including the ubiquitous anarkali in their collections; named after her character in the romantic tragedy. Sure, Bollywood has had its fair share of fashion darlings through the decades — from hippie-chic Zeenat Aman’s effortless looks and Dimple Kapadia’s Bobby style to Sonam Kapoor breaking the internet with anything she dons — but it’s Madhubala who’s a constant on any Indian designer’s list of inspirations.
And while the world goes gaga over Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge’s stylish ways, it’s her late mother-in-law who will always remain my first fashion love.
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