THE COLLECTION OF ELIZABETH TAYLOR
On a mild Tuesday night in December, while some of us were composing final papers or suffering through an episode of “Glee,” Christie’s was setting the world record for highest grossing sale of a private jewelry inventory with the auction of the Collection of Elizabeth Taylor. The sheer quantity of iconic couture and the priceless jewelry is enough to make any poor, hungry child think, “Damn, this is some nice stuff.” Each case a microcosm of effervescent beauty, its landscape is populated with the kinds of gems that mythically crammed the tombs of the pharaohs. It’s hard to not think it solipsistic that one woman would possess what appears to be the collection of a royal dynasty. America’s royalty might not be official, but it sure thinks it is (tiaras being no exception). All cynicism aside, to say that a 33.17-karat diamond ring is intoxicatingly transfixing is a bigger understatement than saying that Lizzie’s kids might be slightly annoyed that they aren’t getting any of this loot. You feel the same jealous awe of a child who receives milk in his lunch when the kid next to him gets chocolate milk in hers as you are forced to approach the ring with complete objectivity, its cut perfect to optimize its radiant sparkle . Somewhat ironically, there’s nothing like standing six inches away from a colonnade of Oscars to wash away all prejudice of glamour and excess. They’re just so fancy. In a way, they solidify the concoction of fame projected onto these individuals as they remind you that actual talent might have been involved.
Initially, it was difficult to take anything in the exhibition seriously as I have just recently watched the HBO filming of Carrie Fisher’s one-woman show “Wishful Drinking” in which the first segment viciously satirizes the celebrities of Taylor’s time and is titled “Hollywood Inbreeding 101” (“Then they got divorced. Keep that in mind because it just might come up again.”). In light of this mindset, the rooms upon rooms of objects soon to be dispersed around the world for millions of dollars ($150 million, to be approximate) underscores the ephemerality of glamour and fame (even superseding the perennial “15 minutes” doesn’t make you totally immune). Some may call it a legacy, but the disparate pieces are far less sparkly when separated from the whole.
Continuing through the lens of the collector (an unusual though enticing perspective), the clearly less famous though probably more interesting Daphne Guinness has opened her curiosity-cabinet closet doors at the Museum at FIT, exposing a world that amalgamates reminiscence of forgone days with a fierce (no Christian Siriano pun intended) vision of futuristic self-expression. Guinness’ fame is delineated from her love of couture clothing coupled with a family heritage of European aristocracy and a cultural education usually only read about in Romantic fiction. Amateurishly curated, it was clearly trying to emulate the Met’s Alexander McQueen retrospective that was this summer’s blockbuster exhibition (five-hour lines are typically akin to waiting for the latest Apple product, not museum exhibitions). Despite the shaky presentation (and occasional misspellings in the wall text), it’s a lovely homage to a true lover of fashion’s homage to great and innovative design.
Viewing the wardrobe is an extrapolation of the collective consciousness of the fashion elite, though forcibly dictated by the taste and psychological determination of the amasser. Her view of fashion as armor is clearly expressed with the sea of monochromatic (black, white, the occasional metallic, and the almost ostracized pops of color) mannequins staring blankly back at you—though less blankly than actual models would have—and the protruding of feathers, spikes, metal pieces, and even sequins truly aimed at diffusing interaction. The spirit of imagination and true creation, characteristic of many of the represented designers like McQueen, is an unpronounced theme that overrides the segregated communities of garments on display. Despite the vast collection and perceived vanity of fashion, Guinness uses it to make an empirical observation about consumption: “We need better things, not more.” Attention, Walmart shoppers…
And finally, an open letter to Lady Gaga: I love you, but please stop making it so difficult to do so. I can handle the supposed plagiarism and obvious propaganda of “Born This Way,” and the subtle mediocrity of the uninspiring “Marry the Night,” even with its awkward mid-song bridge, but Gaga’s Workshop—on sale at Barney’s New York for the holiday season—is just distressing. A collection of over-priced cheap garbage derivative of her most famous antics, it’s like Whoville if Dr. Seuss had a slight drug problem and an affinity for Pop Art. A pair of acrylic rings I got for a quarter in a toy machine at a Steak and Stake in Kentucky (seriously) is on sale for $25. If you’re in the market for cookies shaped like meat dresses, corsets, and gyroscopes, you’re in luck. Admittedly, I don’t frequent superfluously high-end stores, but I’m still somewhat certain that $265 sunglasses typically aren’t packaged in shrink-wrap. The self-aggrandizing that she typically so narrowly escapes in her over the top performances is completely negated by the display.
Her most recent album, “Born This Way,” though questionable in musical quality, addressed an incredibly pertinent issue of pop culture as modern religion, reappropriating elements of Christian religious tradition to make this point. Her monologue at this year’s VMAs done in drag made a profoundly philosophical commentary on the performative nature of personality. Anyone who can describe their single (“Bad Romance”) as “industrial, Russian, Gothic, pop” has something awesomely transcendent working in their favor. Where was that creativity and depth in this exploitatively commercialized presentation? I’m an avid fan of her art (well, I guess I now need to use quotes: “art”), so it seems incredulous that the Lady would support such a venture. But she incriminatingly appeared at the opening in custom Chanel that comfortingly (and now ironically) made her look like Mother Gigogne in a contemporary dance rendition of The Nutcracker. So Mama Monster, while I applaud the effort toward stylistic attainability, please don’t abuse the fans who made it all possible. Sincerely, a Little Monster whose claw is disgruntled and limp.
Suggested wine pairing: But what else? Champagne of course! The elegance of Golden Age Hollywood and European aristocracy beats a musicians’ Jack Daniels 2 to 1. And if I’m being too harsh on any of these lovely ladies, the poppy frivolity of a champagne cork heals all wounds.