Fashion & Beauty

All Dressed Up in Savannah, Georgia

April 16, 2015

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A silk coat and dress from 2006, lent for the exhibit by Mrs. Mercedes Bass. / MyLittleBird photo.

IT WAS BLUE, a bellman at the Embassy Suites hotel in Savannah, who tipped us off.

There was a modern building at the end of our street with colorful back-lit panels on the exterior but no markings. Had we been in Savannah for more than four minutes we might have realized that anything that cool and contemporary had to be part of the Savannah College of Art and Design, or SCAD according to Savannahians and T-shirts all around town. The numbers I’ve seen vary, but SCAD is credited with rehabilitating anywhere from 50 to 88 crumbling commercial buildings all over Georgia’s leafy city of about 350,000 Southern souls.

But what Blue was talking about, specifically, was a temporary exhibit honoring the late Oscar de la Renta, curated by the larger-than-life former Vogue magazine contributing editor Andre Leon Talley. Turns out Talley, a decades-long friend of de la Renta’s, has been on the board of SCAD for years and even has a gallery named for him here.

MyLittleBird photo.

At left is de la Renta’s sable-collared coat for Balmain Haute Couture, on the right Mrs. Bass’s silk coat and dress ensemble. Seated at the center are identical (or almost identical) embroidered and sequined evening dresses, one worn by Nicole Kidman to the 2010 SAG awards and the other by former NYC mayor Bloomberg’s partner, Diana Taylor, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala. / MyLittleBird photo.


How did Talley gather the material for the exhibit to honor his old friend, who died of cancer last fall at 82? As he stated in a slightly different context, he got on the phone. He has, he said, a big Rolodex–and knows a lot of people with a lot of clothes!

The show, with some 70 ensembles, is something of a family affair. There is the wedding dress worn by Eliza Reed Bolen, de la Renta’s step-daughter, in 1998, plus the pale, elegant sheath dress and coat worn by Bolen’s mother and Oscar’s widow, Annette Reed de la Renta.

The rest of us will recognize the velvet Oscar dress Hillary Clinton wore for her 1998 Vogue magazine cover; there are also four of Laura Bush’s Oscars. Talley’s longtime colleague Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue, shows up in the form of a gold evening dress (which seems far too long for a woman of her diminutive stature) and a sable-collared fitted wool coat that de la Renta designed for Balmain Couture. Wintour’s daughter, Bee Shaffer, is also in evidence, with confections more suited to her youth. Other garments included in the show include gowns worn by Taylor Swift(!), Beyoncé, Sarah Jessica Parker and Nicole Kidman.

Oscar de la Renta was not a cutting-edge designer; nor did he particularly want to be. What he designed were gowns and dresses made from exquisite material, often embellished with a lavish hand. The exhibit runs through May 3. That plus dinner at Sapphire Grill would make a quick hop to Savannah vaut le voyage, as the old Michelin guides say–worth the trip.

–Nancy McKeon

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