Famed for its FALL OUTS, feuds and FROW SPATS, fashion, realises Penny McCormick, is NOTHING WITHOUT ITS RIVALRY …
Watching Feud – the small screen adaptation of the legendary animosity between actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, on BBC2 recently, reminded me of those days anticipating the latest spat between Alexis Carrington Colby and Krystle Carrington and their witty put-downs in Dynasty during the 1980s. Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange duke it out as the divas on the set of Whatever Happened To Baby Jane. Crawford complained to the director about Davis’ body odour problem, while Crawford reportedly said of her co-star “She slept with every male star at MGM, except Lassie.” Who doesn’t love a cat fight at a safe distance?
Lamenting the dearth of models with personality (aka Supermodels), Donatella Versace wistfully recounted (in Love magazine) the frequent fights between supermodels Kristen McMenamy and Linda Evangelista. “One day they had a fight about roots. Kristen had arrived with black roots in blonde hair, and Linda arrived with black roots in blonde hair; and both of them went mad, both saying they were first. Really, that is a big thing for models – roots!” Another instance she cites, “I remember one time backstage: Linda needed to go on the runway. She was about to put in her fake boobs and found one of them had been taken. ‘Where is my boob? Where’s my boob?’ she was screaming over and over. I think it was Kristen – it is always Kristen.” So much for model behaviour.
Fodder for tabloid gossip columns, fashion feuds have fascinated those of us in the stalls, as well as the dress circle, for decades. No hallowed maison seems exempt; a quick jeté through the 20th century reveals a tiff at every turn. In the 1930s, Coco Chanel pushed Elsa Schiaparelli into a candelabra at a dinner party, setting her dress on fire, such was the animosity between the conservative Française and her flamboyant Italian counterpart. In the same era, fashion plate Wallis Simpson, a Schiaparelli client, declared “one can never be too rich or too thin”, called the rotund Queen Elizabeth “Cookie” – the fashionable Mitford sisters also called HRH “Cake”. The queen would exact revenge later on Wallis (when her husband died) but secured a sartorial triumph when she had Norman Hartnell create an all-white wardrobe, which embraced her curves, and was a coup on the royal tour of Paris in 1938.
On the silver screen, Phantom Thread depicts the simmering tension below the superficial glamour of the fashion world in the 1950s. It’s supposedly based on the life of designer Charles James, who took designer Halston to task for stealing his designs in the 1970s, branding him a copycat. In the 1980s the murder of Maurizio Gucci and indictment of his ex-wife Patrizia for the crime made for riveting courtroom drama (Sara Gay Forden’s The House of Gucci is a must-read). Also fascinating is The Beautiful Fall by Alicia Drake which documents the power play between the courts of Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld, set against a backdrop of sex and drugs. Lasting 40 years, it ended only with Saint Laurent’s death in 2008. Pierre Bergé, YSL’s pugnacious partner, did much to sustain the animosity, fanning the legacy of art and hedonism at the heart of the story. While Karl Lagerfeld has undoubtedly surpassed Saint Laurent in design, who has he not fallen out with? He has carped about Diane von Furstenberg and Tina Brown, called Adele fat, Pippa Middleton ugly, Heidi Klum “irrelevant to fashion” and weighed in on Meryl Streep’s choice of outfit for the Oscars last year. Digital vigilantes were quick to point out she chose an Elie Saab gown over a bespoke Chanel. This sort of egotistical behaviour between designers is well-documented in the chick-lit classic, The Stylist (by Rosie Nixon), and is grist to the mill for a burgeoning genre in my bookcase.
Recent additions to these shelves include The Bettencourt Affair (by Tom Sancton), The Vanity Fair Diaries (by Tina Brown) and The Price of Illusion (by Joan Juliet Buck) – biographies and memoirs detailing the intensity of life in fashion’s vortex and the personal and professional toll it takes. I enjoyed Buck’s passionate account of her life as editor of French Vogue (she was ousted from power by her publisher who accused her, wrongly, of drug abuse and was replaced by Carine Roitfeld) much more than I did her counterpart Alexandra Shulman’s much-hyped lacklustre memoir of last year. That said, Ms Shulman’s Vogue never inspired me as much as Liz Tilberis’ brief tenure as editor-in-chief, or when I picked up Beatrix Miller’s iterations when I was a child – flicking through the glossy pages, dreaming of flared jeans and blue eye shadow. Fortunately, both now are back with a bang.
Also on trend has been a designer merry-go-round that requires a Venn diagram to understand who’s out and who’s in. Kim Jones, Phoebe Philo, Christopher Bailey and Jonathan Saunders are just some of the designers who have exited their posts as creative directors, leaving us with unanswered queries. Official press releases will diplomatically not refer to creative differences. And, when interviewed, designers invariably cite the commercial pressure of providing six shows a year. I remain sceptical. I wonder what Stefano Pilati, Frieda Giannini, Alessandra Facchinetti, Peter Dundas and Albert Elbaz are doing currently – after stints at Zegna, Gucci, Tod’s, Pucci and Lanvin. Peter Copping, anointed by Oscar de la Renta as his successor on his death bed, resigned barely a year after taking the reins of the design house favoured by the Waspy ladies-who-lunch brigade. Copping remarked (in W) of his client base “They’re kind of a dying breed, aren’t they?” before retiring to his home outside Paris. So much for biting the hand that feeds one …
Talking of which, the Olsen twins’ carefully curated image was blown asunder last year when their workforce of interns took them to court and in so doing, changed my opinion of their covetable label (The Row) forever. They were ordered to pay a total of $140,000 to compensate 185 interns and cover legal fees. Each former unpaid employee received $530, a snip considering the twins are worth $300m. Similar litigation involving publishing giant Condé Nast resulted in the company paying more than 7,000 interns, retrospectively, between $700 and $1,900.
Finally, no superficial glossary of feuds would be complete without mentioning editrice Anna Wintour. This year is acknowledged as belonging to the late Azzedine Alaïa. Two exhibitions in Paris (“Je Suis Couturier”) and London (“Azzedine Alaïa: The Couturier” at the Design Museum) celebrate his life, before a foundation opens in his honour later in the year. Don’t expect Ms Wintour or US Vogue to cover any of these events. None of Alaïa’s designs has appeared in the fashion bible for 20 years, and he was unceremoniously left out of the Met Costume Institute exhibition “Model As Muse” (2009). No staffers were allowed to attend his shows or wear the brand. His response; “When I see how she is dressed, I don’t believe in her tastes one second.” Cat fight? I rest my case.
FAMOUS FASHION FEUDS
Karl Lagerfeld vs Inès de la Fressange
What: In a public dispute lasting 20 years, Lagerfeld fell out with his former muse when she was asked to pose as Marianne – the symbol of the French Republic. Lagerfeld thought this very bourgeois. He said: “I wish her all the luck in the world, just as long as I don’t have to hear any more or hear her spoken about.” They made up in 2010 with Inès returning to the catwalk at Chanel’s 2011 show, and Lagerfeld declaring, “She is beyond stunning. Also she is the Parisienne.”
Kim Cattrall vs Sarah Jessica Parker
What: Rivalry between SJP and Cattrall has simmered for a decade, with rumours of a Mean Girls ambience on the set of SATC. In an interview with Piers Morgan, Cattrall said of the series, “I just wish Sarah had been nicer”. Pay rises, promotion and the amount of nudity required in scenes also grated. She ruled out a third movie and took to Instagram last month when her brother died suddenly, accusing SJP (who had offered condolences) of “exploiting our tragedy in order to restore your nice girl image”.
Giorgio Armani vs Gianni Versace
What: Versace reportedly said to Armani, “I design for sluts. You dress church ladies.” Donatella refuted this conversation, calling the comments rude and tasteless. Armani also fell out with Dolce & Gabbana in what was called “Trousergate”. The duo supposedly copied a pair of his quilted trousers in 2009. D&G commented, “Stylistically, the Armani style is not and has never been an inspiration source for us and we stopped seeing his fashion shows years ago.”
Tom Ford vs Yves Saint Laurent
What: It was always going to be hard for Yves Saint Laurent to watch someone else work on his label. Ford took over as creative director from 1999 – 2004, simultaneously designing for Gucci for a few seasons. Tom said: “At the very beginning we were quite friendly and then I believe when I started to deviate from what he felt was appropriate for the house and we started to get quite a lot of press for it, he didn’t really like it much.” Yves said: in a letter to Ford, “In 13 minutes you destroyed 40 years of my work.”
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