x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The Instant Expert: fashion trailblazers

The Instant Expert offers her take on the fashion world's most eccentric figures over the years.

Float through any event with M's fast facts. This week, to celebrate the Fashion Issue, McKenzie Mandich looks at some eccentrics of the industry over the last 200 years

THE BASICS There have always been a handful of people who refuse to dress like everybody else. They wear animals as jewellery, are never seen in the same garment twice, and earn mixed reactions from the public. What they wear often becomes a trend decades later, and they are a constant source of inspiration for designers. Here are some of the best-known eccentrics from the 19th century until now.

BLUE RINSE Lady Mendl (1865-1950), interior decorator. Elsie de Wolfe, otherwise known as Lady Mendl, was celebrated as much for her gymnastic skills as for her clothing choices. According to American Decade, the prominent society figure in New York, London and Paris "was probably the first woman to dye her hair blue, to perform handstands to impress her friends, and to cover 18th-century footstools in leopard-skin chintzes" - and all this past the ripe old age of 60.

LIVING ART Luisa, Marquise Casati Stampa di Soncino (1881-1957), socialite. Having once exclaimed "I want to be a living work of art", Casati certainly achieved her goal, though at the price of going US$25 million into debt. The Italian heiress wore snakes as jewellery, and had gilt-encrusted male servants walk leopards behind her on diamond leashes. An art patron and muse to many, she died in relative poverty.

TUTTI FRUTTI Carmen Miranda (1909-1955), samba singer/actress. The short-lived Hollywood star was immortalised in 1943 when she wore a legendary fruit bouquet hat in the film The Gang's All Here. Said hat has since inspired many references and designs in popular culture. Miranda's slightly more down-to-earth personal style featured round skirts and men's jackets.

YOU'RE AS OLD AS YOU FEEL Iris Apfel (1921-), interior designer. Having famously called herself "the world's oldest teenager", the New Yorker turned 90 on August 29. Instantly recognisable by her dinner-plate spectacles, she was featured in a 2005 exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York that inspired hundreds into a bit more bravery in their sartorial choices.

FROCK SHOCK Anna Piaggi (1931-), fashion journalist. Proclaimed by Manolo Blahnik as "the last great authority on frocks", Piaggi has never worn the same outfit twice (as far as the Instant Expert knows). However, certain things remain unchanged - two distinctive pink dots of blush, electric blue eyeshadow and a swirl of blue hair under an ever-present hat (or, if the occasion demands it, a pompom).

MAN OF THE MOMENT Patrick McDonald (1956-), dandy/reality TV star. Known to many as New York's biggest dandy, McDonald has done just about everything there is to do in the fashion industry, having written, modelled and designed. His pencilled-in eyebrows, fedoras and bright suits are often featured on Bill Cunningham's Street Style page in The New York Times.

LIPSTICK AND HATS Isabella Blow (1958-2007), fashion journalist. Blow was never without one of her eccentric Philip Treacy hats and a slash of red lipstick. She wore these as a sort of shield to protect herself from strangers, and to hide her self-perceived ugliness. She discovered the designer Alexander McQueen and the models Sophie Dahl and Stella Tennant.

FASHION DEFENCE Daphne Guinness (1967-), artist. With her black-and-platinum-blonde hair, Guinness's over-the-top clothes and heels have made a her a style icon. Famous for being the first to wear McQueen's armadillo heels in public (and not fall down), she nurses a preoccupation with the use of armour in fashion.

 

Red carpet wonders and blunders

Fashion is always paramount at the Academy Awards. Here are seven of the most outlandish outfits that Oscar has ever seen.

BARBRA STREISAND (1968) An Arnold Scaasi outfit that despite being sheer and sparkly, still managed to look girlish.

CHER (1988) An almost non-existent sheer, sequinned Bob Mackie number and shawl.

DEMI MOORE (1989) A self-designed biker short/open front/back-half-of-a-skirt creation.

WHOOPI GOLDBERG (1993) A purple and lime green jumpsuit and long jacket so awful nobody claimed ownership.

BJÖRK (2001) That unforgettable white swan dress by Marjan Pejoski.

HALLE BERRY (2002) An Elie Saab dress featuring a red velvet skirt and a sheer floral top.

UMA THURMAN (2004) Several yards of fabric by Christian Lacroix that we think was intended as some sort of medieval dress.