When Coco Chanel introduced her revolutionary little black dress in the 1920s, the editors at American Vogue predicted that it would become a “uniform” for “modern women of taste.” How right they were. Today, all it takes is the mention of three little letters, LBD, and the images come flooding past. Audrey Hepburn in shades and a sleeveless Givenchy in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Marilyn Monroe in skimpy black beads and not much else in “Some Like it Hot.” Any number of Avedon and Irving Penn fashion photos, and (for me, at least), my mother in three-quarter sleeves and full skirt at a party just before she married my father.
The first year I worked at Vogue, I bought a YSL couture knockoff from a last chance sale rack at Bergdorf Goodman, for, I swear, something like $50. It had a wide square neck, cap sleeves, and a nipped in waist, and it took me everywhere I went, which, in that year, was a lot of places. There were dinners at Mr. Chow’s, the first Seventh on Sale AIDs benefit, a CFDA Awards dinner where no less a personage than Diane von Furstenberg complemented my cheap frock. In winter, I wore it with my mother’s borrowed (forever) diamond brooch pinned in one of the corners of the neckline, and in summer, I wore it with the white Chanel camellia given to me by my friend Andre Leon Talley, who has curated a fabulous LBD show featured in this week’s Fetch.
For the Vogue 100th anniversary bash, I borrowed an LBD from the great Bill Blass, a long strapless sheath with a sheer chiffon overlay at the bodice and a simple satin ribbon at the waist. Blass’s design assistant took a long look and told me I should get married in an identical white version. By the time I tied the knot, alas, Bill was no longer with us, but Carolina Herrera was (and, thankfully, still is), and she made me a truly spectacular black dress with a tight lace bodice and full organza skirt with a raven feathered petticoat underneath. That dress was pure fantasy, but then that’s the enduring charm of the LBD. Put one on and you’re instantly safe and unquestionably chic, you can be whomever you want to be underneath. As Andre told Maureen Dowd at the opening of his exhibit, “It’s something you know is right even if it’s wrong”.