Dorothy Donegan’s Sequined Statements

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Dorothy Donegan (1922-1998) was an American pianist and singer who specialized in jazz, blues, and classical music. She is best known for her animated performances on the stride piano and owning Club Morocco in Los Angeles.

Just like her lively piano playing, Donegan’s on-stage attire was attention-grabbing. She wore curve-hugging, intricately decorated gowns that mirrored the fashions worn by Hollywood starlets. She didn’t skimp on her beauty routine either. Her hair was styled in curly or voluminous bobs that were often accented with a flower or turban.

Born in Chicago, Donegan performed in jazz clubs at a young age. During these shows, she developed her stage attire. “My mother would get me a pretty good dress, you know. Then, you could get a whole outfit for $15,” the singer said to Jeannie Cheatham for the Smithsonian Jazz Oral History Program. “The shoes were $2 or $3. We’d go to Rothschild’s. I didn’t know a thing about Neiman Marcus, ‘needless markups.” 

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In 1945 Donegan received a call from Hollywood. “They (MGM)  paid our way there and gave me I think $3000 a week … Gene Rodgers and I played against each other. He was a very good pianist. Cab (Calloway) was directing and shaking his hair.” 

An example of her style is seen in a 1944 performance with Calloway and his band in the musical comedy film, “Sensations of 1945.” Donegan wears a long-sleeved gown with a deep V-neck and slightly squared shoulders. The white coloring of the dress is contrasted by gold sequins dotted at the neckline and in spirals around her wrists, which accentuates her piano playing.

Despite being a famous musician, Donegan often challenged sexism in the male-dominated jazz industry. “There shouldn’t be a separate role for women and a separate role for men. They either can perform or they can’t.”

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Although this may have shaped public opinion of her as difficult or overbearing, the musician knew her talents and worth. Her persistence was mentioned in a February 9, 1961 edition of Jet. The passage reads, “Jazz pianist Dorothy Donegan and her retort to the New York Roundtable Club owner after he suggested ordering some elevated shoes for her to compensate for the high ceiling Dorothy complained about: “How about some elevated money?”

As she entered her later years, Donegan combined her signature razzle-dazzle with streetwear. When she performed at the White House in 1993, she wore “a silver coat and a Chanel copy baseball hat,” and “a bugle beaded jet top and a black sequined skirt” with a bangle bracelet around her left wrist.

When not performing in the 1990s, Donegan received a National Endowment of the Arts “American Jazz Masters” fellowship (1992) and an honorary doctorate from Roosevelt University (1994). In 1997 she was diagnosed with colon cancer and passed away at the age of 76 in 1998.

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Throughout her career, Donegan faced hardships for being an opinionated woman in a male-dominated industry. Instead of giving up, she continued to shine with the help of some sparkle.  

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The Glamorous Style of Candy Darling

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Candy Darling was a Warhol Superstar who led a life of parties, men, and disappointments, but the one constant in her life was style. Even on her deathbed, Darling stayed true to who she was, a Hollywood glamour puss.

Born in Long Island in 1944, Darling spent her childhood idolizing Hollywood. In this world, she learned about glamour, which exuded from the fabulous women on her screen. From then and there, she wanted to become a famous actress.

Darling’s love for cinema may have also been a form of escapism from her less than charming childhood. Darling was an only child of divorced parents who was often bullied; a group of boys once attempted to lynch her when she was 16, which caused her to drop out of high school.

Although she was born a male named Jimmy, she identified as a female. It was only her outside appearance that appeared masculine. In order to embrace, and be accepted, for her true self was a difficult task for anyone in the conservative suburbs of Long Island during the 1940s and 1950s.

Darling often escaped this world for the excitement of local gay bars or the Manhattan LGBTQIA scene. There she could be herself, dressed to the nines as a woman. It was during one of these trips that Darling’s mother spotted her in public and confronted her when she arrived home, who was then back in her boy drag. Darling instructed her mother to sit at the kitchen table while she went to change into her evening attire. Her mother later said to a friend, “I knew then… that I couldn’t stop Jimmy. Candy was just too beautiful and talented.”

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Darling’s acting aspirations took off when she met Andy Warhol. Attracted to her outgoing personality and beauty, Warhol saw her potential as a star. How could he not? She was the living embodiment of Marilyn Monroe, Joan Bennet, and Jean Harlow all in one.

As a Warhol Superstar, Darling’s personal aesthetic was a combination of Hollywood nostalgia and 1970s bohemian. She blended prints with furs and lace, and because of her tall frame, she never veered into tacky territory. She accessorized these looks with platinum hair, patterned headscarves, and kohl-rimmed eyes.

At the young age of 29, Darling died of lymphoma. Her funeral was a star-studded event with Gloria Swanson saluting the coffin. While in the hospital, Peter Hujar created the famous photo series “Candy Darling on her Deathbed,” which documented the actress in the hospital. Although extremely sick, she still looked like a movie star.

Candy was both brave and brilliant by just being herself. She once said, “There is one thing I must tell you because I just found it to be a truth …You must always be yourself no matter what the price. It is the highest form of morality.”

To learn more about Candy Darling, check out the 2010 documentary, Beautiful Darling.

Jayne Wrightsman’s Dazzling Style

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Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

American arts benefactor and philanthropist Jayne Wrightsman passed away on April 20, 2019. An often private presence on the New York social scene, Jayne and her husband Charles Bierer Wrightsman helped develop the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s French Decorative Arts wing (Wrightsman Galleries) through extremely generous donations (Vanamee, 2019). They have been dubbed the museum’s “most important benefactors (Baetjer, 2019).

Another element of the former model’s persona that dazzled American society was her personal style and in particular, her jewelry collection. “What really struck me about her taste was how educated it was while not being overly academic,” said the head of Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels Auctions in New York Catharine Becket to Vanity Fair (Vanamee, 2019). Some examples of her jewelry collection can be seen in a 2012 Sotheby’s auction that garnered millions of dollars. Included were collections of pearls, diamonds, a 17th-century emerald rosary, and a mid-19th-century diamond bow brooch worn by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II (Vanamee, 2019; “Magnificent Jewels from the Collection of Mrs. Charles Wrightsman,” 2012). These jewels display Jayne’s taste for dazzling pieces in classic and referential shapes. “Everything was beautiful, but she had broad cultural interests,” says Becket (Vanamee, 2019).

Like the fine and decorative art that the Wrightsmans’ donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a portion of Jayne’s wardrobe has been given to the museum’s Costume Institute. Included is a collection of gowns, evening separates, and accessories that showcase her signature style. “Her clothes, which were incredibly well-tailored, served as a blank canvas on which to hang jewels,” said Becket (Vanamee, 2019).

During Jayne’s early beginnings in the 1960s social scene, she wore fashionable gowns that blended classic shapes with ornate details. As she got older, her clothing continued to incorporate eye-catching detail, but with a streamlined silhouette.

A famous example of her personal style is seen in a 1966 Cecil Beaton photograph of Jayne at her Fifth Avenue home (Bowles, 2019). She is documented wearing a 1965 Balenciaga quarter-sleeved gown that is accessorized with feathers and a silk ribbon belt. The photograph has been so inspiring that it was the basis for a 2010 Steven Meisel photoshoot featuring model Amber Valletta (Wintour) and is featured in the Costume Institute’s exhibition, “Camp: Notes on Fashion” (Bowles, 2019).

Jayne’s signature style is also seen in a photograph of her wearing a white Middle Eastern-inspired Balenciaga coat while posing in front of a Georges de la Tour painting entitled “The Penitent Magdalen” (Vanamee, 2019). Both in this photograph and the Beaton piece, Jayne is wearing clothing that blends fashion trends with cultural influences. She would continue this theme in her wardrobe years later with a 2000 ensemble made with a colorful ikat print and simple green trousers. As with her taste in jewelry, she chose pieces that initiated conversation and thought.

To learn more about Jayne Wrightsman and her contribution to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, visit the Charles and Jayne Wrightsman and The Metropolitan Museum of Art page.

References

Baetjer, Katharine. “Jayne Wrightsman (1919–2019).” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 23 April 2019, https://www.metmuseum.org/blogs/now-at-the-met/2019/jayne-wrightsman-in-memoriam.

Bowles, Hamish. “Hamish Bowles Remembers Jayne Wrightsman, Esteemed Arts Connoisseur and Legendary Hostess.” Vogue. 24 April 2019, https://www.vogue.com/article/jayne-wrightsman-tribute-hamish-bowles.

“Magnificent Jewels from the Collection of Mrs. Charles Wrightsman.” Sotheby’s. 05 December 2012, http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/2012/magnificent-jewels-from-the-collection-of-mrs-charles-wrightsman-n08925.html.

Talley, Andre Leon. “Talking Fashion: Couture.” Vogue Oct 01 1989: 480. ProQuest. Web. 22 Apr. 2019 .

Talley, Andre Leon. “Talking Fashion: Vogue’s Spring Spree.” Vogue Apr 01 1990: 414,414, 415, 416. ProQuest. Web. 22 Apr. 2019.

Vanamee, Norman. “Jayne Wrightsman’s Jewelry Collection Was the Stuff of Legend.” Town & Country. 25 April 2019, https://www.townandcountrymag.com/style/jewelry-and-watches/a27259640/jayne-wrightsman-jewelry-collection/.

Wintour, Anna. “Editor’s Letter: Letter from the Editor: All the Right Roles.” Vogue May 01 2010: 78,78, 84, 86. ProQuest. Web. 22 Apr. 2019 .

From Maharani to Schiaparelli Muse: Princess Karam of Kapurthala

 

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“BEAUTIFUL PRINCESS KARAM OF KAPURTHALA IN REBOUX’S TANGERINE VELVET HEAD-DRESS AND MAINBOCHER’S SILVER FOX CAPE” by André Durst (©Condé Nast)

Imagine you’re a princess from a far-off land who hobnobs with fashion icons, wears haute couture and is always decked out in opulent jewels. This was a reality for Princess Karam of Kapurthala. 

Also known as the Maharani of Kapurthala, the Princess built a reputation in the mid-to-late 1930s for blending Western couture with South Asian saris and opulent jewels. She may have also been one of the first faces of Indian descent to grace the pages of Vogue and partake in Western high society.

Princess Karam was born in 1915 to the Kumaon royal family. At the age of 13, she was married to Maharajkumar Karimjit Singh, the son of Maharaja Jagatjit Singh of the House of Kapurthala, a Punjabi royal house. The affluence of Princess Karam’s in-laws provided a life that allowed for travel and the enjoyments of upper-class society life, no matter the location. This wealth also allowed the Princess to purchase saris and Parisian-made haute couture, which at 19 years old, she wore well.

The couple arrived in Paris in 1934 and instantly made a scene for her eye-catching saris. “I prefer them to be georgette or mousseline de soie, because when made of these materials, they hang well and give one a better line,” Karam explained to Vogue in 1935. “..I generally wear them in bright colours at all important functions” (“Beauty In India Ncess Karam Of Kapurthala,” 1935, pg. 72) (1). Princess Karam also attracted attention for wearing Mainbocher, Suzy, Madame Gres, and Schiaparelli with jewels that were sourced from India and reset by Cartier (“As Seen by Him: Forever England,” 1934, pg. 94) (2).

Princess Karam’s style was often featured in the pages of prominent American publications, including American and British Vogue, Town & Country, and Harper’s Bazaar. A clothing piece that garnered so much attention that it was incorporated into a Vogue photo shoot was an evening wrap made with dark brown gauze with pale pink gardenias placed under ruffles. According to the Vogue article “Features: Two London Successes,” Princess Karam wore the piece over a silver or pale pink sari and accessorized it with strings of pearls (1934, pg. 56)(3). In 1939, she was described by The New York Times (1939) as “evoking memories of Racine’s Phedre ” in a draped Madame Gres white jersey gown with a knee-length cape attached to the shoulders (p. 49) (4). Wraps were a way she could add a “semi-European touch” to her South Asian wardrobe (“As Seen by Him: Forever England,” 1934, pg. 94) (5).

Aside from Vogue, Princess Karam’s personal style inspired Elsa Schiaparelli. The designer incorporated sari-like evening gowns, dresses with harem pants, and long lame scarves for her 1935 collection. On being the source for one of the leading designers of the decade, Princess Karam exclaimed, “I was thrilled to see that some of the dressmakers were actually inspired for their new models this year by some of the saris I wore in the summer of 1934” (“Beauty In India Ncess Karam Of Kapurthala Karam, Princess,” 1935, p. 72) (6).

Figure 2
“PRINCESS KARAM OF KAPURTHALA, WHOSE EXTRAORDINARY BEAUTY HAS MADE HER A CONTINENTAL LEGEND” by Cecil Beaton (©Condé Nast)

Princess Karam was often placed on ‘best-dressed’ lists and was even used as a promotional tool. She found herself as one of twelve stylish women to attend a presentation on healthy eating by Hollywood dietician Dr. D. H. B. Hauser and is said to be the inspiration for Ira Gershwin’s Maharanee (At the Night Races in Paris) in The Ziegfeld Follies of 1936.

According to a 1934 Vogue article, Princess Karam’s appearance was shaped by the influence of her husband. “Prince Karam, who has a great deal of taste in women’s clothes, has taken his beautiful wife in hand and made her into one of the best-turned-out women in Europe to-day. He sits with her at Antoine’s while she has her hair done, and at Paquin’s while she is being fitted” (“As Seen by Him: Forever England,” 1934, p. 94) (7). It’s not determined whether the Maharaja was the sole influence of Princess Karam’s appearance or was one of the many hands that helped shape her appearance.

The couple returned to India before the beginning of World War II, raised their children, and she passed away in 2002. As like in Paris, Princess Karam became a style icon in India for her saris, opulent jewelry, and social standing. Although she lived her life as a wife and mother, she was also a style icon who introduced Indian fashion to Parisian society.

Resources

(1) Beauty In India Ncess Karam Of Kapurthala Karam, Princess. Vogue; New York Vol. 86, Iss. 1, (Jul 1, 1935): 72.
(2) As Seen by Him: Forever England Vogue; New York Vol. 84, Iss. 5, (Sep 1, 1934): 94.
(3) Features: Two London Successes Vogue; New York Vol. 84, Iss. 5, (Sep 1, 1934): 56.
(4) Costume Ball Forecasts Fall Elegance (1939, July 23). The New York Times, p. 49.
(5) As Seen by Him: Forever England Vogue; New York Vol. 84, Iss. 5, (Sep 1, 1934): 94.
(6) Beauty In India Ncess Karam Of Kapurthala Karam, Princess. Vogue; New York Vol. 86, Iss. 1, (Jul 1, 1935): 72.
(7) As Seen by Him: Forever England Vogue; New York Vol. 84, Iss. 5, (Sep 1, 1934): 94.

 

 

More Than Chintz: The Opposing Styles of Sister Parish

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Images from Sister Parish: American Style (2011)

It’s not unusual to see an artist dressed in a uniform. Johnny Cash became the ‘Man in Black’ because he wore the color so much, and Steve Jobs put his genius on display by forgoing conservative suits for a comfortable turtleneck and jeans combo.

This act of hiding oneself to reveal their craft is also seen in the wardrobe of American interior designer Sister Parish. Sister’s work was built around a bright aesthetic, but when examining her own sense of style, there are extremes. Her professional attire was consistently colored in somber hues and designed in structured silhouettes. This countered the way she transformed her rooms, which were festooned with rich fabrics and quirky embellishments for customers with social status’ as bright as the patterns she used.

How Dorothy Became Sister

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Image from Sister Parish: American Style (2011)

Sister was born Dorothy Kinnicutt to a wealthy American family. She earned the moniker Sister as a familial nickname, which followed her into adulthood. Her childhood occurred during the early twentieth century, which was a time where the occupation of an interior designer was not realized. Instead, it was a set of duties based on societal rules to be taken on by a wife or female relative. Sister came into her own appreciation of the craft through both genuine interest and designing her first marital home with her husband, Albert. In 1933, Sister began her interior design business in a small one-room office in Far Hills, New Jersey. The fact that she was a married woman owning a business was considered scandalous and resulted in her husband losing his inheritance.

Sister established herself as an interior designer by designing for her friends, which led to one project after another. By 1962, the business was so successful that Sister needed a partner. She found a then-young interior designer named William Hadley who specialized in combining classic and contemporary styles. Together the duo designed rooms for some of the top names in American society, which included the Astors, Paleys, and even the Kennedys.

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Image from Sister Parish: American Style (2011)

Sister is credited for creating and popularizing the American Country look, an interior design aesthetic that was described by a 1999 profile in Architectural Digest as, “…a certain kind of cozy old-money look, part opulent, part hand-me-down.” This upscale ‘lived-in’ feel was created by using antiques and assorted furniture that was complemented with wicker accents, graphic rugs, and handmade textiles. She also liked to include artistic details like scenic panoramas, which elevated the rooms to suit the needs and societal lives of her clients.

Dressing as Sister Parish
There is not much text on Sister’s wardrobe, but she was frequently photographed during the height of her career. By analyzing her wardrobe in these photographs and comparing them with her work, a greater understanding of her own aesthetic is revealed.

Sister’s first identity in American society was of a wife. However, her passion for interior design created a new path that let her use her own name and voice. She reveled in this new identity with an outgoing personality and a matching design aesthetic. This passion did not translate into her own professional wardrobe, which was based on darkly-colored outfits with small touches of white neck collars, pussy bows, or jewelry. Constructed, conservative silhouettes channeled her aristocratic upbringing through variations of pencil skirts with jackets or knee-length dresses in crew or V-necklines. Sister’s mainstays were a blonde coif, a flash of red lipstick, and pearls in either a necklace, earring, or brooch form. This personal appearance was that of a diligent professional whose clothing choices were direct and chic, which left the interior design as the focus.

To learn more about Sister Parish, visit SisterParishDesign.com or read one of the many books about her life and work.